Another month, another Ip Man movie. Of course I’m over exaggerating but it doesn’t seem that long since the last film was released featuring the martial arts hero. This time it’s his highly fictionalized teenage years that are the focus in Young Ip Man, coming to us courtesy of Well Go USA.
Taking place in 1917, the teenage Ip Man (Zhao Wenhou) has traveled to Hong Kong to study. On the same day as an English language contest in his school, famed criminal Ma Long (Mou Fengbin) has escaped prison and taken the students of the school hostage. With the police locked out and unable to take action, it is left to Ip Man to face off against these would-be kidnappers.
As Ip Man battles his way through Ma Long’s men he begins to realize that he has more of a connection to the criminal than he realized, with him uncovering a dangerous conspiracy that involves the police and the local government.
In fact, Young Ip Man was released outside of the states a few years back as Young Ip Man: Crisis Time (2020). Because of the number of Ip Man films these days, it wasn’t until the film began that I realized I had seen it previously. Even so, I was still entertained as whilst it is no way a classic, it has enough fight action to keep martial arts fans happy in its brisk 79 minute run time.
Young Ip Man is essentially a DTV movie, being made for streaming. With that in mind it’s always best to lower expectations. This will never reach the lofty heights of the Donnie Yen series, or to a lesser extent Ip Man: Final Fight (2013) which featured a surprisingly effective Anthony Wong in the title role.
Considering it’s a low budget affair, director Li Liming manages to fit in a good deal of action, with several well choreographed fight scenes. Again, don’t expect Donnie Yen levels of quality, but the fight scenes are well thought out and showcase the martial arts skills of the performers.
Li kicks things off with an exciting and surprisingly violent prison break, which leads into a well paced car chase. The only thing letting it down is the use of some sub par CGI but this is kept to a minimum. The action during this scene is especially memorable as it focuses more on gunplay than the martial arts which feature primarily thereafter.
Once the terrorists are inside the school, the majority of the film has Ip Man taking them out either individually in one on one martial arts battles or alternatively taking on all comers at the same time. One memorable fight scene has Ip Man fighting on the roof of the school then traveling inside to balance on the beams and balconies, all the while fighting off his opponents.
Production values are decent, with sets and costumes being suitably period. The only issue is that it’s the wrong period. Young Ip Man is meant to be set in 1917, but everything looks as if it’s 20 years later. Even the way the characters act doesn’t feel suitable for the time, especially when it comes to Shi Yuqing’s character. I seriously doubt a daughter would have spoken to her father the way she does back in 1917.
I did find it strange that everyone speaks in Mandarin rather than Cantonese considering the film is set in Hong Kong. This is clearly due to the film being a Chinese production rather than a Hong Kong one. To be fair, many viewers might not even notice.
Thankfully, unlike larger productions like the recent Born to Fly, there is very little in the way of propaganda present. Sure, the only western character in the film is a complete arsehole, but I can live with this as I did get a chuckle out of the over the top antics of Jonathan Kos-Read as the Police Commissioner.
Young Ip Man marks director Li Liming’s second Ip Man movie after Ip Man: Kung Fu Master (2019). Both films are roughly of the same quality although both have their pluses and minuses. I would say Young Ip Man has the better action scenes but Kung Fu Master had a better actor in the lead role, with Dennis To taking the lead that time round.
Here it is Zhao Wenhou that stars, playing a much younger and naive take on the character. To be honest, there’s very little in his performance that feels like the Ip Man we have seen in other films other than the fact he is brave and has serious Wing Chun skills. Although I can’t say I’m an expert on Ip Man and don’t know how he acted as a teenager, I still think there’s a serious case of dramatic license here.
Wenhou could have been called any other name and it wouldn’t have changed the film at all, however this would have made selling the film all the more difficult. Even though his character is almost transferable to any other martial arts hero, Wenhou equips himself well, getting ample opportunity to show off his action skills. More amazing is that the 27 year old is able to believably portray a teenager.
Mou Fengbin chews the scenery as main villain Ma Long, willing to do whatever it takes to complete his mission. His villainy is understandable once we learn more of his back story and the fact he has a background with Ip Man only adds to the drama. My only issue with his character is that he doesn’t physically face off against Ip Man which makes the finale something of an anti-climax.
Instead Ma Long leaves the fighting to several of his henchmen, most notably Li Haoxuan’s Hu, a childhood friend of Ip Man’s. Like Ma Long, the fact he has a background with Ip Man adds some minor drama, but doesn’t get in the way of the action, with Li impressing in his handful of fight scenes.
Shi Yuqing is clearly only here to give Ip Man a love interest and someone that he needs to worry about when fighting the villains. To be honest, her character is mostly surplus to requirements, as Ip Man already has enough reasons in the school to fight back.
No doubt there will be further Ip Man films to follow. As long as they keep making money, filmmakers will keep churning them out. Young Ip Man is certainly one of the better ones, although I think it’s about time the character was put to rest. How many more fictional situations can they put this real life character in before it becomes ridiculous.
Plot: 2.5/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.1/5