2013 Certificate: 15


The story of Ip Man - the real-life martial arts master who instructed Bruce Lee - is told by Chinese director Wong Kar Wai in his characteristically languid style. Tony Leung plays the charismatic chop-socky merchant in a tale that takes in the Sino-Japanese War, the exodus to Hong Kong and the married Ip Man's unrequited love for his own master's daughter. Visually ravishing, poignantly played, it's an intelligent homage to martial arts that's taken 17 years to reach the big screen.


  • Wong Kar-wai


  • Tony Leung

  • Zhang Ziyi

  • Song Hye-kyo

  • Chang Chen

  • Zhao Benshan


Wong Kar Wai's gorgeous mash-up of melancholy and martial arts centres on the life of Ip Man, the Wing Chun master who trained the legendary Bruce Lee.

But it's more than that - it's a chronicle of romantic yearning and an intriguing glimpse into a disturbing era in China's troubled past.

It's 1936 and in the Chinese city of Foshan martial arts teacher Chen Heshun (played by The Matrix fight arranger Yuen Woo-ping) is keen to hand the reins of the Chinese Martial Arts Society over to a younger man.

In a fight to settle the succession, Chen's keenest fighter is soundly beaten by Ip Man, a state of affairs bitterly resented by the loser's daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi).

Seeking redress, she stages a follow-up contest and betters Ip Man...and also finds herself falling for the charming chap even though he's happily married.

With the brutal invasion of the Japanese, the two souls drift apart only to meet briefly - after both their worlds have been shattered - 15 years later.

Wong's affection for the broad range of martial arts - from Kung fu to wing Chun - is almost tangible with Yuen's balletic fight sequences some of the finest you'll see on screen.

The film opens with a stunningly staged alley fight in teeming rain and a vicious stand-off between Gong and Ma San (Zhang Jin), Chen's duplicitous ex-protege, thrillingly explodes on a snowy station platform as an express thunders by.

Narratively, Wong darts all over the place with an extensive use of voice over and flashbacks that hinder rather than help the dramatic flow.

However, it's suffused with emotional repression and it's this deep sense of yearning and unrequited love that poignantly raises it above mere biopic.

Tim Evans