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The Legend is Born - Ip Man

The Legend is Born - Ip Man

Dennis To and Fan Siu-Wong enjoy a friendly fight in The Legend is Born - Ip Man.

Chinese: 葉問前傳  
Year: 2010
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
Producer: Checkley Sin Kwok-Lam
Action: Tony Leung Siu-Hung
Cast: Dennis To Yue-Hong, Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung Kam-BoHuang Yi, Rose Chan Ka-Woon, Ip Chun, Lam Suet, Kenya Sawada, Bernice Liu Bik-Yi, Xu Jiao, Lee Lik-Chee, Hins Cheung King-Hin, Louis Cheung Kai-Chung
The Skinny: Subpar for Herman Yau but watchable nonetheless, The Legend is Born - Ip Man is a passable if unspectactular martial arts drama. Not as over-the-top or bombastic as Wilson Yip's films, but also not as exciting or dramatic.
by Kozo:
If Ip Man and Ip Man 2 taught us anything – besides the money-earning potential of xenophobia – it's this: Ip Man is one popular dude. Producer Raymond Wong and company succeeded in transforming the famed Wing Chun teacher from revered master into fictionalized folk hero, tapping into the pride of the Chinese people and making more money than anyone ever expected. Since this is Hong Kong, the land where no idea is too good not to be copied, Mei Ah has become the first bandwagon jumper with The Legend is Born – Ip Man. Is this unrelated prequel an obvious cash in? Or does Mei Ah have at least a passable martial arts flick on their hands?

The answer, actually, is "yes" to both. Calling Legend is Born anything but a cash in would be disingenuous because, despite what some might say, moviemaking is ultimately all about money. However, the film gets the "passable" tag thanks to director Herman Yau, whose ability to do more with less has become legendary in Hong Kong filmmaking circles. Yau doesn’t apply his trademark smarts or satire to Legend is Born, meaning the film isn't surprising or unexpected. Instead, it's a decent if somewhat generic martial arts movie with a few extra bonuses for longtime Hong Kong Cinema fans. Those bonuses: legendary actors Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, neither of whom plays Ip Man.

Donnie Yen isn't Ip Man, either. Instead, it's Dennis To Yu-Hang, who may be best known for essaying Sammo Hung's haughty tabbed-sleeve shirt-wearing student in Ip Man 2. To is a decent martial artist, and carries Leung Siu-Hung's action sequences with convincing physicality. However, his acting chops are only average, meaning he doesn't provide the presence or righteous dignity that Ip Man should possess. Ironically, the best performance here may belong to perennial second banana Fan Siu-Wong, who shows up as Ip Man's childhood friend Tin Chi. The two are brought into the school of Master Chan (Sammo Hung) at an early age, and grow up alongside Mei Wai (played by Xu Jiao as a child and Rose Chan as an adult). A tentative love triangle grows between the three, with Tin Chi on the outside looking in.

As an adult, however, Ip Man meets Cheung Wing-Shing (Crystal Huang Yi), who holds a torch for Ip Man for a few years while he's off at St. Stephen's College learning English and bettering his martial arts. His Wing Chun gets some upgrades thanks to some teaching from Leung Bik (Ip Man's real-life son Ip Chun in a ballyhooed supporting role), and he even shows up an annoying gweilo in an amusing and likely unintentional reference to the Ip Man-Mister Twister battles from Ip Man 2. However, Ip Man's new form of Wing Chun earns him disdain from master Ching So (Yuen Biao), who dislikes the addition of kicks into the usual Wing Chun close-combat fisticuffs. These details on Wing Chun philosophies are among the film's most interesting content, and help give audiences a deeper understanding of Ip Man's world beyond the usual Wing Chun vs. all other martial arts conflicts we've seen before.

However, that stuff is pretty much the "C" plot of The Legend is Born, with the romance between Ip Man and Wing-Shing qualifying as the "B" plot. The "A" plot? How about a foreshadowing of Ip Man's duels with the Japanese? A group of Japanese (led by Kenya Sawada and Bernice Liu) make waves in Foshan, and it becomes Ip Man's job to put those dastardly Japanese in their place. The xenophobia in Legend is Born can be bothersome in the wake of the "Chinese people show pride by beating up foreigners” trend. However, it's much less obnoxious here than in either of the Ip Man films, and seems to fit the mold of the early nineties martial arts actioners quite well. Ultimately, the racism here isn't ugly and can be overlooked. And besides, having Japanese as bad guys means Ip Man gets to fight ninjas.

Why does Legend is Born get a pass on its prejudices, while Ip Man and Ip Man 2 don't? Probably because taking Legend is Born to task for anything would be too much effort. Legend is Born is far less pretentious than any of the previous Ip Man films, and does its job in such a solid, routine and unspectacular fashion that it's hard to get riled up about much at all. There's little bombast here, and the drama is never magnified to unreasonable levels, leaving the film to be judged by its solid action and average character drama. There are fights, family squabbles, and even more support of the Ip Man-style dignity and honor that audiences are now used to. Herman Yau basically does this one for hire, and he does it well enough that one can enjoy themselves without getting too worked up about the obvious flaws. If we end up getting The Legend Continues then maybe The Legend is Born should be revisited with a harsher eye. (Kozo 2010)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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image credit: Mei Ah Entertainment Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen