“Compelling” is a word that is infrequently used to describe a Kung Fu film. Often you will hear descriptions such as: “lots of fun” or “adrenaline fueled” or ”goofy” or in the best case scenario, a simple “awesome”. Ip Man is that rare bird, in that it not only provides the hard-hitting fight scenes that a Kung Fu fan is expecting, but it also satisfies the deep-seeded need to be intellectually stimulated, allowing it fall into the “compelling” category, if only on a very basic level.
Starting in 1935, the film tells the story, more or less (actually less), of Wing Chun, Master Ip Man (the man who first taught Bruce Lee), and the town of Foshan, Guangdong Province in southern China, where he was born and lived a life of privilege and prosperity. Martial arts clubs were prominent and competition was rare among practitioners. This would all soon end when an invading force from Japan reached southern China in 1938, destroying all but a handful of industrial buildings and killing citizens indiscriminately. With the Japanese subjugating everything and everyone around him, Ip Man must choose whether to fight or flee.
In a biographical situation, such as this, filmmakers are expected to take a bit of license with a character and the circumstances in order to heighten the drama or give a pivotal moment a punch of emphasis. In the case of Ip Man, 95% of the on-screen content is fiction. But in creating that fiction, the players add a dimension to the story and to the character of Ip Man himself that pops off the screen and completely draws you in.
Donnie Yen as Master Ip Man is flawless. Donnie Yen, as a general statement of fact, is flawless. Although he is known for incorporating many styles of combat into his filmed fight scenes that usually involve big jumps, big kicks, and big falls, Donnie embraces the short fast motions of the Wing Chun style and really shows off the power of its aggressive close-range combat. Donnie Yen is widely regarded as one of, if not the fastest on screen fighter in the film industry and that is proven over and over again in the fight scenes in Ip Man.