Review: THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN 葉問前傳 (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Review: THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN 葉問前傳 (2010)

Review: THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN 葉問前傳 (2010)

The movie tells the story of a young Ip Man (played by real-life kung-fu champ Dennis To), who is trained by his master Chan Wah-Shun (Sammo Hung, in a cameo appearance) ever since he was a kid before his eventual death. Ip Man continues to learn Wing Chun from his senior, Ng Chung-Sok (Yuen Biao) who is now Chan Wah-Shun's immediate replacement. Ip Man is then leaving Foshan to study in Hong Kong's St. Stephen's College. While playing in a hockey tournament, he is subsequently bullied and humiliated by foreigners, in which they love to look down Chinese people like him. He steps up for a challenge against one of the cocky foreigners and beats him down in a matter of minutes. He is gradually earned respect from a small community in Hong Kong. But it is not until he meets a medicine practitioner named Leung Bik (real-life Wing Chun master, Ip Chun) who is actually the son of Leung Jan, Chan Wah-Shun's teacher. Apparently, both Leung Bik and Chan Wah-Shun are rivals back then because both of them adapt a different style of Wing Chun. In an ensuing short duel between Ip Man and Leung Bik in the medical hall, Ip Man soon learns that there is a more adaptable style of Wing Chun than he ever imagined. Four years later, Ip Man returns to Foshan in which he is subsequently falling in love with Cheung Wing-Shing (Huang Yi), the daughter of the vice-mayor Cheung Ho-Tin (Lam Suet). Her father is particularly disliked of Cheung Wing-Shing hanging out with a fighter like Ip Man whom he thinks they have no future together. Added to the complication is Ip Man's fellow disciple, Lee Mei-Wai (Rose Chan) who also happened to hold a secret crush on him ever since they were kids. That's not all, Ip Man's stepbrother, Ip Tin-Chi (Fan Siu-Wong) loves Lee Mei-Wai and apparently he's a Japanese spy-in-disguise.

REVIEW: Banking on the current "it" martial art genre of Wing Chun, which is evident on the hugely successful IP MAN (2008) and this year's IP MAN 2 (2010), it's not surprising that more filmmakers wanted to jump on the bandwagon as well. Such case is Herman Yau's THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN, a prequel that explores the early life of Ip Man as a teenager before he became the master we're all familiar with Donnie Yen's memorable portrayal. Despite the prequel is not headlined with a top martial art superstar like Donnie Yen in IP MAN movies, the movie is fairly entertaining if not overly familiar that aped too much on Wilson Yip's equally formulaic templates.

With too many stories overlapping one after another, it's quite disappointing that Erica Li's screenplay is glaringly heavy-handed. The biggest weakness in this movie isn't just its enormous predictability but also the fact that the story focuses too much on unnecessarily overlong subplot involving romantic complications between Ip Man, Cheung Wing-Shing, Lee Mei-Wai and Ip Tin-Chi. That romantic angle itself has simply suffocated the flow of the overall movie it bogged down the pace into a near standstill. Adding to the injury is the movie's second-half that focuses on the all-too-familiar Japanese occupation which is by now, very cliched.

The cast is adequate at best. Veterans by the likes of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao are efficient in their roles but too bad the main actors are lacklustre. Dennis To is particularly the biggest weakness of them all. While he bears the obvious resemblance to Donnie Yen, his performance is far wooden he's quite a bore to watch for. Except that he manages to excel in his martial art prowess that he is no doubt a new martial art star to be watched for in the future.

Herman Yau's direction is surprisingly pedestrian and it's sad he has to fall victim with the same old templates the two IP MAN movies have preceded earlier. Still, the movie remains a fairly engaging entertainment, thanks to its well-choreographed action sequence. Such memorable scenes including Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao's blindfolded duel and of course, the short duel between Dennis To and Ip Chun are among the highlights of the movie. These are all done with more authenticity but not until the over-the-top ending in which glaring wireworks are used to enhance the fighting sequence between Ip Man and a small army of Japanese villains, lead by Yumi (Bernice Liu).

Although the movie is not as sensational as Wilson Yip's two hugely popular IP MAN movies, THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN does stand on its own as a fairly worthwhile addition of the similar genre.

THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN is a heavy-handed but fairly engaging prequel to the early days of Ip Man that wastes too much time on the unnecessary subplot.

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