Friday, July 8, 2011

Ip Man (Wilson Yip, 2010) -- B+

Few martial arts driven films in recent memory are as thoroughly engaging and executed as Wilson Yip's Ip Man, part mythical biopic, part brash, kung-fu extravaganza. Not since Tony Jaa dismantled an army of men in The Protector has the genre been so kinetic. Moreover, Yip's sturdy hand does more than merely string together a few dazzlingly choreographed fight scenes - grounding the battles in convincingly sparse period piece dramatics, there's an impressively multi-layered balance of pathos and visual movement, due much in part to Donnie Yen's sly, understated performance as the titular grandmaster. Rather than unwisely weight down the proceedings in ultra-soapy melodrama, Yip goes light on exposition, primarily establishing scenario through title cards, brief scenes of dialogue, and minimal scenarios. By not overextending the narrative, Yip implicitly deconstructs nationalistic honor and pride through violence, perhaps brazen in his pop-art treatment of history, but no so egregious as to merely gloss through it. The final third especially ratchets up Yip's confluence of interests, enabling a climax that's acutely aware of its inherent silliness, but also deeper cultural convictions that translate well in a cinematic space.

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