-By Soham Bandyopadhyay
Yip Man is a funny name. The Man who was named Yip Man, not so much.
Much in the mould of Bruce lee and all his imitators after him, Donnie Yen plays a quiet, unpretentious guy who kicks ass when challenged in this beauty of a movie. Defeating his opponents with Yip Man’s legendary proficiency in the system of Wing Chun Kung-Fu and his characteristic whippy style of martial arts, Yen outperforms all his previous roles and plays the role that has today defined his own cult image in the western world.
The semi-biographical film focuses on Yip Man’s life from the time he had mastered his art and was living in a large bungalow to the time of the Japanese invasion of China and his subsequent struggles. Yip’s character as an unassuming man is totally in sync with his understated art of Wing Chun. The subtle shades of every character, including even the Japanese commander, are praiseworthy. The North-South regional rivalries of China are sublimely woven into the plot to give both Sinophiles and first-time martial arts moviegoers an equally pleasing experience. The plethora of fight sequences does no harm to the movie either, all of which are superbly choreographed.
But the most pleasing aspects of this movie are the superb conversations between Yip Man and his opponents. Just like Bruce lee, Yen as Yip Man not only is an exponent of his craft, but symbolises it. His calm, composed and unassuming manner is reflective of an art invented by a nun. His politeness and humility are indicative of the future when Yip Man would become the first man to teach Kung-Fu to non-Chinese in Hong Kong. And his refusal to back down, even in the face of weapons, is just plain awesome.
What does take away a little from the film is it’s portrayal of the Japanese as unfair and cruel people who take pleasure in inflicting physical pain. Combine it with a very simplistic portrayal of Japanese Karate, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the huge anti-Japanese sentiment in China was being cynically exploited for financial purposes (even with a Japanese background music director, who has done a fabulous job, btw). The only saving grace in the Japanese characters’ portrayal is the Japanese commander, who seems to be about the only morally sane Japanese shown in the movie.
Finally, in spite of these certain flaws, the film leaves a good taste at the end. If you’re an action movie junkie who likes little bits of nuanced characters thrown in (District Banlieue-13, Matrix, V for Vendetta etc), then this movie is for you.
One last thing, Bruce Lee was the real-life protégé of Yip Man. Thus while the protégé introduced Chinese culture to the wider world, movies based on the Master introduce the complexities of Chinese society. Watch the movie to understand how.