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Film / Ip Man Film Series

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A Hong Kongese-Chinese martial arts movie series very loosely based on the life of Bruce Lee's master, Ip Man (or Yip Man), portrayed by Donnie Yen.

If you are looking for an in-depth biography of the master of Bruce Lee, you are looking in the wrong place. If you are looking for great martial arts flicks with exceedingly tight choreography and likeable characters, you are in the right spot. The series is credited for re-popularizing the appeal and uptake of Wing Chun, as it prominently features that traditional Southern Chinese style of kung fu and often confronts it to other martial arts, including Western boxing.

The main films were directed by Wilson Yip, and the spinoff was directed by Yuen Woo-Ping. The series includes:

Herman Yau's 2010 film The Legend is Born: Ip Man sometimes gets lumped into this franchise as a "prequel" of sorts, due to the reuse of a number of actors from the first two films, despite not being part of it and not being produced by the same company. That film got a sequel, Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013, also directed by Herman Yau). Other works about the character that don't have ties to the Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen series include The Grandmaster (2012, directed by Wong Kar-wai) and the 2013 Ip Man TV series (which had Wilson Yip as artistic consultant nonetheless).

Note for Western readers: The character name is rendered in traditional Chinese style, so "Ip" is the surname. Additionally, it is not a superhero name. Please do not be confused.


Tropes for the series as a whole:

  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: The series offers no shortage of braggart opponents who want to challenge Ip Man, and most of them really should know better.
  • Artistic License – History: None of the adventures and fights Ip Man goes through in the films happened historically. Does it matter? Not really.
  • Asskicking Pose: True to genre convention, all the martial artists in the movies assume one before fighting.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Typically all defeated fighters show this.
  • Combat Pragmatist: A number of characters, not least the titular hero, who can easily go from smiling genially like the nice guy he is outside combat to kicking your joints in and raining Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs on your torso and face. Subverted with Zealot Lin.
    • Ip Man 2 takes Ip's pragmatism to another level. Twister is also a Pragmatist, doing things like repeatedly slugging Master Hung in the face when he refuses to let go of the rope or hitting Ip just as the bell rings.
    • Ip learned his pragmatism the hard way. It took a forced 180-split from an elderly medicine seller to teach him that improvisation was acceptable in Wing Chun.
  • Cool vs. Awesome: Many of the fights could be argued to be this, showcasing wing chun vs. karate in the first film, and wing chun vs. boxing in the second. However, the third film tops them all, with one of the focal points of the marketing being Donnie Yen vs. Mike Tyson!
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Most of Ip Man's fights against mooks have him kick their asses in a matter of seconds.
  • David vs. Goliath:
    • Ip Man versus the Twister in the second film is this very straight. The Hero may have got his badass cred down pat earlier, but the Twister is not only physically larger, he had destroyed the Old Master who fought Ip to a draw and gleefully beat him to death in cold blood, so there is a definite underdog vibe.
    • Ip versus Frank in the third film is also this. Any one of Frank's punches would have KO-d Ip if he could hit a vital area, and he even sent Ip staggering backwards with one of his straight punches. He's also played by Mike Tyson, who's a lot stockier and more menacing than Twister could ever be.
  • Defeat Means Friendship:
    • Double subverted with Wong Leung. After Ip trashes him the first time they meet, the latter up and leaves. He comes back with three friends to try to defeat Ip. It's only when this fails that Wong asks Ip to accept him as a student.
    • Played straight from the first movie to the second: The leader of the ne'er-do-wells from the first movie gets defeated by Ip in it, and in the second movie comes to his aid. He even credits Ip for helping to turn his life around.
    • Played with in the third film as well. After Frank and Ip's battle, Frank seemed to leave Ip alone, even though they never became friends, and their match was a draw.
  • Foreign Wrestling Heel: The main villains of the first two films.
  • Foreshadowing: In the second movie, Ip Man defeated Wong Leung who was fighting using a boxing stance. Fast forward to the later parts of the movie where Ip Man took on a British boxer.
    • In the third movie, Ip Chun and Choong Fong fought at the beginning of the movie, announcing their school's names and all. The final battle of the movie is between their fathers.
  • Harbinger Of Ass Kicking: When Ip rolls up his sleeves, someone is getting served.
  • Honor Before Reason: Ip Man himself obviously. He lives by and breathes this trope.
    • Surprisingly enough in the first film, Miura, who honors the code of the warrior even towards his Chinese enemies.
    • Ip rejecting the ten bags of rice after destroying the ten black belts. While he was obviously trying to make a point, as well as avenge Master Liu's death, you have to wonder just how many of his people Ip could've fed with all that rice. Considering the fact that his wife and child were starving at the time, that moment is extra stupid.
    • In Ip Man 2, Master Hung offers protecting the honour of Chinese martial arts as the reason why he does not back down against the Twister despite his suboptimal condition.
  • Iconic Item: Ip's wooden training dummy, which is specifically designed for wing chun, with two arms and one leg.
  • In the Back
    • How Zealot Lin tries to defeat General Miura in the first film, and fails.
    • Similarly, how Leung tries to take out Twister in Ip Man 2, with similar (though not as fatal) results.
  • Karma Houdini: Jin. In the first film he begins as an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy incarnate, becomes a bandit, and then sells out the location of Ip Man to the Japanese. In the sequel, he's treated as an old friend and is seen happily married with a child.
    • This is averted in a deleted scene where Miura has Jin killed after he sells out Ip Man.
    • And in Ip Man 2 Twister was not killed, or even at-least crippled, for killing Master Hung and destroying his school.
    • In Ip Man 3 Ma, who kidnapped a bunch of schoolchildren and nearly tortured Ip Man's son is never caught by the police, and is last seen running away after being Punched Across the Room and fired by Frank.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Ip Man generally avoids direct confrontations and attempts to pass this onto his students.
    Wong Leung: I bet you can go up against 10 men!
    Ip Man: The best way to deal with it is to not fight at all.
    Wong Leung: What happens if they have weapons?
    Ip Man: [Briefly chuckles] Run.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Master Ip is friendly, humble, and laid back almost to the point of laziness. Insult him and he'll brush it off with a laugh. Even when forced to fight, he normally uses minimal force to stop the attack and avoids causing injuries beyond a few bruises. However, when he rolls up his sleeves, it means someone's really pissed him off and they're about to get absolutely demolished.
  • Old Master: Discussed by Ip Man himself, who tells a student that no matter how good he is, his abilities will degrade with age.
    • Deconstructed with Master Hung, as exhaustion starts setting in during the match against Twister.
  • Period Piece: The movies were made in the 2000s and 2010s, and take place between the 1930s and the 1960s.
  • Perspective Flip: An early part of the first two films involves a newcomer challenging established martial arts masters. Thing is? In the first film it's a villain doing so, who Ip puts in place. In the second, it's Ip himself who's the outsider.
  • Politically Correct History:
    • Averted when it comes to foreign behaviour; the first film doesn't try to whitewash wartime Japanese behaviour, while the second doesn't shy from depicting Western racism.
    • Played straight in other instances. To be more Communist China-friendly, the first film does not mention that Ip Man was a Kuomintang supporter who left for Hong Kong to escape the Communists, not the Japanese.
  • Pummel Duel: In the second and third films.
  • Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs: Literally used by Ip Man, as his preferred fighting style was Wing Chun which included a technique called 'chain punching'. Definitely some Flynning here as students aren't meant to do more than a few blows in a sequence, and definitely not to use it when closing distance.
    • The sequel has pummel duels. MUDAMUDAMUDAORAORAORA anyone?
    • Downplayed in the third film, as most of his fights has the opponents getting knocked out in a single hit. One notable instance of pummeling happens with Frank, who's so durable Ip had to resort to this.
  • Showy Invincible Hero: The titular character Curb Stomps all his minor enemies and mooks, but the choreography is tight enough to minimize boredom.
    • Averted in the second film, where Master Hung manages to fight Ip to a draw and Ip defeats the Twister, but not before he gets knocked down a few times.
    • Also averted in the third film, where the goal in fighting Frank isn't even to try and win, but rather just to hold out long enough.
  • Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: In-Universe <Insert fighting style here> vs. Wing Chun. Let's rock! Subverted in the final fight against Cheung in the third movie, where it's Wing Chun vs. Wing Chun.
  • Young Future Famous People: The young Bruce Lee, of course. He starts showing up in the series with Ip Man 2.


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