There have been more Ip Man movies than there are grains in the sand. After Donnie Yen rabbit punched the Japanese out of China in the first movie of the series, stories of Bruce Lee’s legendary trainer have been celluloid gold. As outlandish or needless as some of those films have been, they have always had top notch action choreography.
However, not so much in Ip Man: The Awakening. This entry into the unofficial canon of Ip Man tells the story of a younger, more sprightly Ip Man (Miao Xie), in his wandering youthful stage. He is like wing chun’s littlest hobo on his rumspringa, going from town to town breaking up human traffic rings and destroying corruption one, one-inch-punch at a time. And that is about as much depth as there is to it. The plot is paper thin. Rub a piece of greasy fried chicken on this bad boy and it becomes translucent. The direction and performances are so cheesy and on the nose that it almost feels like a parody. It’s also disjointed and doesn’t really make a lot of sense, considering how little there is to it.
But that is not my biggest gripe with Ip Man: The Awakening. You could tell me a boring story about paint drying, but if the paint 360 windmill kicks the wall and lands in a cool pose (before putting on its sunglasses) I will eat it up like a hungry man eats dry Jacobs crackers. Sadly any 360 windmill kicking is ruined by my personal action bugbear, the quick-cut action scene!
Kung fu movie choreography is at its best when we see the balletic movement in full. The joy is in seeing the skill and the athleticism of the performers. It’s a dance, but with kicks, punches. We are denied this pleasure of pleasures by fights plagued with quick cuts and obscured angles that result in an unreadable mess. It makes the fights seem like a bunch of unconnected punches and kicks strung together last-minute in a sweaty editing room. It’s like they were trying to save the Radioactive Man movie after Milhouse quit as Fallout Boy (ask your parents).
There are a few moments when the action has room to breathe, but these are very brief – I am talking maybe 30 seconds here and there during the bigger fights. Ip Man: The Awakening is a concerning downgrade to the series and we can only hope that it’s a blip in a franchise that has had some of the most memorable action scenes in Chinese cinematic history.
Ip Man: The Awakening available from 1st April