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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ip Man is a 2008 biopic in which a quiet and unassuming master martial artist fights back against Japanese fascists in 1930s China. Unsurprisingly, there's frequent martial arts violence. There's fighting with punches and kicks, swords, axes, and sticks, with some blood and broken bones. A character is shot in the head and killed. There's some gun violence as well. Ip Man smokes cigarettes when not fighting against the bad guys. Ip Man is shown to be a humble and dedicated martial arts practitioner, and the fact that he was later Bruce Lee's instructor should inspire discussion among families about Ip Man's lasting influence.
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What's the story?
In the Fo Shan province of 1930s China, IP MAN (Donnie Yen) is a Wing Chung master and the most skilled of all the martial artists in the area. But when the Japanese Army takes over Fo Shan, the population is decimated, and Ip Man loses his mansion and struggles to provide for his family by working at a coal mine. The Japanese General Miura, a karate master, establishes a martial arts arena and offers Chinese martial artists a bag of rice if they volunteer to fight Chinese martial artists and win. Ip Man is initially reluctant to fight, but when a friend who volunteered is murdered after fighting, he accepts the challenge. After Ip Man wins in the arena, he turns down more offers to fight, but Miura, with the help of his sadistic underling Sato, pursue him and his family. When Ip Man is planning to escape to Hong Kong, Miura demands that he teach the Japanese Wing Chung, but Ip Man refuses, and challenges Miura to a public fight in the town square. During this fight, Ip Man must win in order to protect his family, and must also inspire what remains of his townspeople to rise up against the Japanese Army.
Is it any good?
This film deserves a place among the very best of not only contemporary martial arts movies, but martial arts movies of all time. The story, action, characters, time, and setting all work together to create an unforgettable epic. While the styles and conventions of martial arts movies are on full display, what emerges is an absolutely riveting story, and not just because of the action. Furthermore, there's something full circle about the reveal that Ip Man was Bruce Lee's instructor. Not only did Ip Man fight fascists, he was also seminal in the development of the icon who made martial arts movies such an international phenomenon.
As the film's title character, Donnie Yen deftly balances the intense and expected martial arts sequences with the humility and modesty that also seemed to define the man. There's a subtlety and nuance in what he's doing as an actor that's easily overlooked amid all the kicking, punching, and fighting with swords, axes, and sticks. It's a movie that seems to reward repeated viewings, and it's little wonder how Ip Man launched a franchise of sequels. Exciting and engaging from beginning to end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about martial arts movies. How does Ip Man compare to other movies in the genre?
How does the movie's epilogue place Ip Man's life squarely in the history and tradition of martial arts movies?
How does Ip Man view fighting and violence? How is this in contrast to other action movie heroes who seem to view violence as the first, if not only, solution?
- In theaters: December 12, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: July 27, 2010
- Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan
- Director: Wilson Yip
- Studio: Beijing New Picture Film Co.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: Violence.
- Last updated: December 9, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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