In The Last Great War One Man Defied An Empire…
Starring: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Xiong Dai-Lin, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Lam Ka-Tung
Action Director: Sammo Hung
Director: Yip Wai-Shun
2008 | 107 Minutes | Rated R
“Good kung fu doesn’t depend on age or sex, it’s on you. You’ll understand that in a bit.” – Ip Man
I have never gotten into Donnie Yen the way I have Jet Li, Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung. I imagine it is partially due to him never really getting the U.S. acclaim that the other did but it is still a shame that I have only seen a couple of his movies. I even had a black belt taekwondo instructor tell me that Ip Man was the best martial arts movie she had ever seen so I thought I had better have a look for myself.
In Fo Shan, China during the Sino-Japanese War, Ip Man stood up and refused to teach the occupying Japanese his Wing Chun style of martial arts. Ip Man has always refused to open a martial arts school but now teaches an entire factory full of workers Wing Chun in order to defend themselves against the Japanese. Ip Man is forced to fight for the honor of his country.
Apparently all anyone ever does in 1930s China is challenging each other to fight. The opening of the movie is just different masters of different schools challenging each other to fight. These fights are all essentially sparring sessions with nobody getting overly hurt.
The opening scenes made me think that Ip Man would just be a standard martial arts type of story. Then it quickly turned into a very interesting, complex story with excellent acting by everyone involved.
The Japanese General Miura, a fine martial artist in his own right, is actually a very honorable man. You don’t simply hate him the way you would normally hate an action movie villain. His right hand man, Li, on the other hand is despicable. You can stand to see the general live but want nothing more to see Li die a horrible death.
The humor felt a little out of place at the beginning since the whole movie is seemingly a fantastic tribute to a kung fu master. Luckily as soon as the Japanese armies arrive the humor disappears and we see a transformation in Ip Man himself. The normally smiling Ip Man is now somber. The once proud, seemingly rich Ip Man is now forced to shovel coal just to put food on his family’s table. Ip Man, who once refused to open a martial arts school, now trains a factory full of workers how to defend themselves.
The martial arts are lightning fast and filled with drama. Donnie Yen is a true martial arts master and fight choreographer, Sammo Hung, is a freaking genius. The Ip Man vs. 10 Japanese fighters battle is brutal. The director perfectly films the martial arts as well. It is such a novel concept now a days to film martial arts in a way that it can actually be seen.
The sets and cinematography is absolutely beautiful. Every scene is rich in colors and visuals. If it weren’t for the awesome fights happening in the foreground I might be tempted to spend the movie watching the backgrounds. They are that beautiful, even the dirty cotton mill.
I really can’t argue with the taekwondo instructor, this is one of, if not the best martial arts movie I have ever seen. It isn’t just due to Donnie Yen and it isn’t even simply the kung fu. The entire movie is a masterpiece.