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Ip Man (2008): A wing Chun movie or a movie with Wing Chun?



Release date: 2008 Original Title:  葉問
Director: Wilson Yip Original Language: Cantonese
Actors: Donnie Yen
Simon Yam
Lynn Hung
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
Gordon Lam Ka-tung
Fan Siu-wong


Categorized by many as a Wing Chun movie, the movie offers very little insights on the philosophy of the art. Instead audience is treated to fight scenes where Wing Chun techniques are applied.
This makes Ip Man more of action movie with Wing Chun in it than a wing Chun movie. Regardless of categorization, this critically acclaimed movie which won the 2009 Golden horse for best choreography is a delight to watch.


Characters (with martial arts background)

Yip Man (葉問) played by Donnie Yen

Yip Man is a humble and low profiled martial artist. Unlike other masters, his financial situation allows him to choose not to teach any students. 


Jin Shanzhao (金山找) played by Fan Siu-wong 

A powerful martial artists from the North who chooses to settle in Foshan and open a martial arts school. In order to make his reputation, he goes from school to school to defeat the local masters. During the occupation, he becomes the leader of a band of bandits.


Miura (三浦) played by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi  

A Japanese general and Karate fanatic. During the occupation of Foshan, he uses his dojo to recruit workers to serve as sparring partners to his students. Although somewhat arrogant, he values the code of honor between with martial artists.



The movie follows Yip Man during an episode of his life, in the era that seems to take place in the 1930’s. Living in Foshan, Yip man lives a comfortable life, choosing to spend his time training and hanging around with this friends and family, until the Japanese occupation, where he sees all his assets seized.

Yip Man sparring with a challenger

Training scenes

There is little to no training scenes in this movie. We do see Yip Man train on his wooden dummy a few times but there is no substance to them and mostly serves as transitions.


Fight scenes

The movie does have a few memorable fights. All the fights are as realistic as it gets, for this type of movie. Wire work is indiscernible.

The fights feature fast and crisp choreography, using different move sets for each fight while staying true (for Yip Man’s part) to Wing Chun movements. As such, the fights are believable yet spectacular.

Yip Man vs. 10 karatekas

The scene where Yip man fights against ten Karateka (and his request for ten opponents) has become an iconic moment for the movie.

Although somewhat unrealistic, in the sense that the 10 opponents seem to be standing there, waiting for their turn to get pummeled, we can let this one slide seeing that the opponents trained in what probably amounts to modern karate. Although they were all wearing black belts, we can presume most students were in fact beginners and were unsure how simultaneously attack without getting into each other’s way.

Also, the students may have frozen in place after seeing their colleagues being brutally beat.


Historical value

The movie, is based on an historical character, who most people know as Bruce Lee’s teacher, is probably the only thing that has historical value. Set in the 1930, around the Sino-Japanese war, the events portrayed in the movie are either embellished or downright fiction.

For example, the real Yip man was never forced from bourgeois idleness to into work as a result of the Japanese occupation; also, he never worked as a coolie. Instead, he worked as a police officer. His wealth was taken away when the communists disapproved of his work as a police officer and his wealth, forcing him to voluntarily exile himself in Hong Kong. Because of the coveted Chinese market, it can be easy to imagine the producers conveniently changing the story as to not upset Chinese authorities.



Martial arts practitioners are not all thugs

The movie addresses the common (at least, for some people in Asia) perception that the martial arts world is filled with thugs, hooligans and bullies. This can be seen when Li Zhao (李釗), the police captain tries to calm down a heated argument between a group of martial arts practitioners


[Police captain]:
You hooligans are fighting all the time
What age are we in now?
Still talking about martial arts?
We're talking about arms and guns!
(Pointing the gun towards Yip Man) Got it?

[Ip Man]:
You know, Captain Li...
We martial artists are energetic.
Sometimes we might be a bit too loud,
but that doesn't mean we're not civilized


Humility, self control, respect for his adversaries

Throughout the movie, Yip Man never boasts or show off his skills, never needlessly hurt anyone he spars with, never complains even if for the first of his life, he needs to do manual labor to make barely enough to feed his family.


Victory or defeat is an individual affair and has nothing to do with style.

When Yip Man defeats the northerner for the first time, the northerner shamefully declares the victory of southern styles against northern styles. Yip Man quickly replies that his defeat was not a problem of northern style but rather, a problem with himself.





Last Updated on Saturday, 17 December 2011 09:09  

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