Asia Hong Kong Kung Fu Movie

The Ip Man Series, One Real-Life Hero, Four Unreal Movies – Movie Review

Original Titles: 葉問, 葉問2:宗師傳奇, 葉問3, 葉問4:完結篇

English Titles: Ip Man, Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster, Ip Man 3, Ip Man 4: The Finale

Years: 2008, 2010, 2015, 2019

Language: Cantonese

Created with GIMP

Rating 5/7

What you need to know:  The first thing you need to know is that he was a real guy; a Kung Fu grandmaster in Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s, he even taught Bruce Lee. The second thing you need to is that even though he’s a real person, most of the movie is bullshit, the filmmakers take a whole lot of liberties with the real events of the Ip’s life. The third thing you need to know about the Ip Man movies is that Ip Man is his actual name, not a superhero name. Going into the movies, I seriously thought Ip Man was a superhero name, ala Batman or Antman, it’s not and I’m an idiot. His family name is Ip and his given name is Man (Chinese name go the opposite order of western names), but just because he doesn’t have a superhero name that doesn’t me he isn’t a sort of superhero. 

What you really need to know: Maybe you don’t really need to know all of that(the name thing is a little useful), because the bottom line is these movies aren’t trying to be much than fun Kung Fu movies with a lot of great stunts, fights and lead character who has an understated charisma that makes him undeniably watchable. The plots mostly serve just deliver those stunts and fights in a timely manner, and for the most part, they don’t disappoint, though they get increasingly ridiculous by the end. 

…the bottom line is these movies aren’t trying to be much than fun Kung Fu movies with a lot of great stunts, fights and lead character who has an understated charisma that makes him undeniably watchable.

What they’re about: The series starts with Ip living in China where he is forced to battle against the invading Japanese and ultimately escape to Hong Kong. The middle two movies are set in Hong Kong and give us rumbles with rival Kung Fu schools, a match against an evil British boxer and a fight versus an even more evil American property developer (Mike Tyson!). The fourth and last in the series was my favorite, this one takes place in San Francisco where Ip has managed to piss off both the local Chinese-American community and the US Marines. The film concludes with a racially charged fight between Ip and a giant American drill instructor that needs to be seen. 

Culture Clash: Race and it’s portrayal is one thing that made these movies of particular interest to a western audience. It is so common in western movies to see the bad guys being played by people of color that are basically just a blend of different stereotypes, often point where they are just an evil caricature.  What is engaging about these movies is that it turns that trope around making almost all of the westerners in them one-dimensional evildoers. Whether it’s the corrupt Britts in Hong Kong or the aforementioned American drill instructor, every westerner in these movies only exist to unfairly torment the hero and eventually be beaten. It was a bit disconcerting at first to see because it’s something so rarely seen in western movies, but once I figured out why I found it so jarring, it was refreshing to see the stereotypes turned on their head. 

Should you watch them: Yes! If you’re used to the Jackie Chan style Kung Fu movies, these definitely make themselves a bit more seriously than those and given the biographical premise, it would be expected. Thankfully though, the seriousness only goes so far and you still get tons of over the top fights and a Kung Fu battle involving Mike Tyson, what more could you want really? 

Dr. Pepper Guarantee: If you watch the first one and don’t want to watch any more of them, I’ll buy you, Dr. Pepper, not because I think they’re so great but because I feel sorry that you don’t like having fun. 

Sub & Dubs: As usual I recommend the subtitles, but you should be able to find at least some of these movies with dubbed voices, and it probably wouldn’t be too bad given there’s so much action that doesn’t depend on dialogue too much. 

Where to watch: Depending on where you live the 1-3 are available on Netflix, they are rentable on Amazon everywhere. The fourth isn’t out on home video yet but should be soon.

Further watching: There are quite a few unrelated movies also loosely based on Ip Man’s life, I watched a few of them and they were disappointing compared to this series. However, the spin off movie from this series Master Z: Ip Man Legacy is also worth a watch.

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