Story: Ip Man (Dennis To) enters the Wing Chun-martial arts school under master Wah Shun (Sammo Hung) together with his adoptive brother
Tin Chi (Louis Fan Siu-Wong). The two grow fond of Mei Wai (Rose Chan) over the years until a love triangle unfolds, eventually. After Wah Shun's
death the master's long-term friend Chung So (Yuen Biao) takes over the school and also sees to Ip Man cultivating his intellect, sending him to study
in Hong Kong. There Ip meets the old master Leung Bik (Ip Chun) who teaches him a Wing Chun technique that is more modern and not so deadlocked as
Ip Man's martial art. However, when Ip returns to Foshan with this knowledge the conservative Chung So is everything but happy about this insult
of his student. At the same time Ip Man also meets the girl Wing-shing (Crystal Huang Yi) again who obviously takes an interest in him. However,
Ip also has some more pressing matters to attend to. The Wing Chun school has to stand up to some Japanese business men who want to buy the school's
trust at whatever cost, in order to expand their questionable business. It turns out that the Japanese have already planted a spy among them in order
to have their will in the end.
Review: The second installment of the big budget movie "Ip Man" hasn't been enough. There even has to be a prequel in order to milk out all the
money that possible can be made with the franchise. Having watched the film with this prejudice in mind I was kind of suprised in a pleasant way.
"The Legend is Born - Ip Man" is by far not produced with that big of a budget as Wilson Yip's movies, but you can see that the filmmakers wanted
to go back to the roots of good old-fashioned martial art flicks in the days of old and therefore you will find a good amount of fights scattered
throughout the film in a balanced fashion which can make fans smile while the word "old-school" is popping up in mind. Generally, "The Legend is Born"
may not be quality cinema, but it's nonetheless a well produced martial arts movie which also works in some biographical way, doesn't refrain
from making use of dramatic moments and also features some legends of the martial arts world, namely Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, of course, but also the
86-years old son of Ip Man, Ip Chun, who has a small supporting role. Herman Yau's movie proves to be a thorougly solid and entertaining Kung Fu film,
that will no doubt appeal to fans.
Herman Yau is a guy who produces B-movies which nevertheless always seem to exceed their limited framework in terms of quality. "On the Edge" or especially one of his newer movies, "Rebellion", were already proof of that. He knows how to get the maximum out of a movie despite a low budget and a tight shooting schedule. And you can see this here once again. The cinematography doesn't have that polished look as Wilson Yip's "Ip Man", but instead of that the movie remains true to its Kung Fu character and still shows a certain sense of aesthetics. The movie takes us into Ip Man's youth and even back then he already had to fight the evil Japanese naturally. However, beyond that there is also a story around friendship and betrayal, adhering to tradition and the need to develop martial arts in a world that is in constant change, too. Of course, all of that isn't really that important and is just creating a rough frame that offers the space for some well-done fight scenes. The action of the film is entertaining at all times and definitely on the movie's plus side.
Thanks to the Wing Chun fighting style the audience of the original two installments will soon recognize the typical elements of it, but this time the encounters seem more technical and sophisticated. This maybe makes them less authentic, yet this provides the possibility to illustrate the different techniques very nicely, which all in all is simply more entertaining. Naturally, this doesn't mean that we don't get to see a lot of super-fast punches. Dennis To delivers, at least concerning the fights, even if Donnie Yen simply looked faster in the first two "Ip Man" movies. Louis Fan Siu-Wong (who played a role in "Ip Man" as well, yet a different one than here) is convincing, too, and contrary to Dennis To he can also show more of his acting skills. To oftentimes looks too wooden and this even though the movie has some moments in store which deal about his love story with Wing-Shing.
On a side note, there is a little highlight of the movie and that is the duel between martial arts masters Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. And it's self-evident that Ip Chuns small appearance is memorable as well.
What's a bit unfortunate is that there are clearly wires used in some of the fights. This seems especially unnecessary as the authentic Wing Chun style is actually giving the film its particular charm. It's also a shame that the movie tries to provide us with one or two dramatic moments, but the Japanese as the villians are introduced too late and are sketched too shallow. Moreover, the real villian of the movie comes as a surprise and we can't really feel the hatred for him that would be necessary to make the showdown more enthralling. The built-in love story may be nice and gives Ip Man an additional story thread, but on the other hand it sometimes also seems to go nowhere and isn't by far that convincing as it could have been. Nevertheless, it's especially during moments like these when you realize that Herman Yau is in fact delivering a more entertaining although not necessarily more coherent picture than Wilson Yip with "Ip Man 2". Probably, "The Legend is Born - Ip Man" really does benefit from the fact that the actual sequel was a big disappointment. Nonetheless, as a movie standing on its own feet it is still a nice addition to the Kung Fu genre.
If you look at it from a dramaturgical point of view Yau's movie certainly isn't bad, you can even say that it achieves more in this respect than you would have expected. There are a few moments that simply remind us of the times when there were lots of good Kung Fu flicks and the action is evenly spread throughout the film, meaning that you never get bored. Another reason why it's easier to judge "The Legend is Born - Ip Man" more mildly is that it by no means tries to be an A++ movie, but a B-movie that puts a lot of effort into not looking like one. And this is where the director succeeds. The film really needs to be judged under different criterias than the big-budget movies of Wilson Yip and therefore more lenient as well. This doesn't change the bottom line, though, and this is that we get a well done Kung Fu flick here which just succeeds in delivering nice entertainment.