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Film / Ip Man Film Series

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A Hong Kong-Chinese martial arts movie series very loosely based on the life of Bruce Lee's master, Ip Man (or Yip Man; Ye Wen in Hanyu pinyin), 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 with 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 (2013, 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 get confused.

Tropes for the series as a whole:

  • Adapted Out: Ip had two daughters in Real Life. They don't exist in the films.
  • 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, to the point it needs its own article. Does it matter? Not really.
  • Ass-Kicking 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.
  • Book Ends: The final fights of the first and fourth movies end with Ip Man's final move being a finger stab at the enemy's throat. The former instance had him almost strike General Miura's throat, stopping himself from doing so. But in the latter, he goes through with it and wins the battle.
  • 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.
    • Ip Man 4 Ip shows his pragmatism when he kicks Geddes in the groin when the latter tried to break him, and also used arm break and throat punch, however, Geddes did put in 'No Rules' for the fight.
  • Cool Versus 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. Ip Man vs. Yuri Boyka in the fourth. 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 Versus 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.
    • Ip versus Geddes in the fourth film is played for drama. Ip Man is suffering throat cancer and a injured wrist, the latter of which Geddes noticed and tried to take advantage of. Because of this Ip Man struggled for the first half of the fight that results in him getting knocked down on the floor before he gets back up and eventually defeats Geddes.
  • 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 as promised, 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 Cheung 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 Ip Man and Cheung Tin-Chi.
  • Harbinger Of Ass Kicking: When Ip rolls up his sleeves, someone is getting served.
  • Hate Sink: Each movie provides at least one character who's designed to be hated.
    • Ip Man has Colonel Sato, a cruel and sadistic soldier who shot Master Liu after he tried to take the rice bag after losing. General Miura disapproved of this action and threatened to kill him if he does it again.
    • Ip Man 2 has Twister, an Arrogant Blood Knight who shows no remorse when he murders Master Hung in what was supposed to be an exhibition match.
    • Ip Man 3 has Ma King-sang, where he brutalizes the elementary school that Frank wanted, even going as far as kidnapping children and threatening to sell them to slavery if Ip Man doesn't do what he says. Understandably enough, Frank beats down and fires him for even thinking of using children as a hostage in the first place.
    • Master Z has Tso Sai-Kit, Kwan's younger brother with an active criminal record that he does behind her back. He abuses his own teammates and Nana, who he later murders, and betrays Ma King-sang, his childhood friend, to get a spot in Owen's drug dealing offer. Kwan's way of compromising with Tin-Chi involves chopping off Sai-Kit's arm.
    • Ip Man 4 has two of them. First one is Becky Walters for being a racist bully, antagonizing Yonah for being Chinese and corners her after she called her a "paleface". And when Yonah fights back, she cries to her mother about being bullied at school. Second one is Barton Geddes, a racist military commander that the soldiers are implied to hate him just as much as the audience.
  • 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 on his part.
    • 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.
    • In Ip Man 4, Master Wan refused to back down to Geddes despite his daughter pleading him not to do so.
  • 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, crippled, or even at-least suffer any consequences, for killing Master Hung and destroying his school. At least Ip Man gave him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
    • 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.
    • In Ip Man 4 Becky, a girl who uses her boyfriend's gang to beat up Yonah and cut her hair, never suffered any consequences afterwards.
  • 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.
    • Deconstructed again with Master Wan against Geddes.
  • 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 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 and fourth, it's Ip himself who's the outsider.
  • Politically Correct History:
    • Averted when it comes to foreign behavior; the first film doesn't try to whitewash wartime Japanese behavior, 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. Cheung Tin-Chi illustrates the weaknesses of the technique when he over-commits to trying to land chain punches on Ip Man's head, punching over and over even as the latter backs away, which leaves Cheung's lower body exposed to a single one-inch punch.
    • Happens twice for the last time in the fourth film with both of them against two racist opponents, Colin and Geddes.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Played With Overall.
    • In terms of the social status of the villain, it is actually mostly Inverted. The first 3 movies, the villains generally get less and less socially imposing. Miura is a general of Imperial Japan, Twister is a star boxer, and Frank is just an American real estate developer who is connected to local gangsters and only boxes as a hobby. The 4th movie has Geddes who is a military figure, but he's not a general, instead he's a relatively low ranking Gunnery Sergeant.
    • In terms of physical advantages, it's mostly played straight for the first 3 movies. Miura seems to be in Ip Man's weight class. Twister is obviously much larger and heavier than Ip Man. Frank is even heavier and stronger than Twister, and Ip is not able to defeat him in a fight. Geddes breaks the trend. In terms of physical constitution, despite being obviously heavier than Ip Man, his body type is not as strong as Twister's.
  • 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.
    • Averted for the last time in the fourth film, where Ip Man struggled at first during his fight against Geddes.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Cheung Wing-sing is noticeably taller than her husband Ip Man, though it's never commented on in the film.
  • Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: In-Universe <Insert fighting style here> vs. Wing Chun. Let's rock! Subverted in the final fight against Tin-chi 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.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Chinese martial artist against western fighter has the former being a few weight category down but in exchange they are as trained if not more than the latter plus have access to more exhaustive technique while the western fighter are just boxers who sometime wrestle more than clinch.