15:10 - 12th March 2013, by David West

The Legend Is Born: Ip Man

Unfortunately, in yet another twist, Wing-Shing's dad is the deputy major of Foshan and he doesn't want his daughter hanging around with those rough kung fu boys. Moreover, any romance is curtailed when Ip Man goes to college in Hong Kong, whereupon he meets Leung Bik - a grizzled old man and an expert fighter in his own right. Leung Bik teaches his skills to Ip Man, but when our hero returns to Foshan, the current head of the Wing Chun school, Ng Chung So (Yuen Biao), is furious with him for learning unorthodox moves.

Director Herman's Yau's latest biopic of the master as a young man has plenty in common with Wilson Yip's original Ip Man, sharing cast members Sammo Hung and Fan Siu-Wong, but it also has a much lighter tone. Like True Legend, also out this month, The Legend is Born has some brilliant fight scenes but a script that seems cobbled together from kung fu movie clichés. Furthermore, newcomer Dennis To is occasionally a little stiff as the title character; he lacks the charisma of Jackie or Jet, while his co-star Fan Sui-Wong is overdue for a leading role of his own and is one of the best screen fighters of his generation.

The fight scenes are exceptionally good, using just a dash of wirework to add spice to some fast and furious Wing Chun displays. It is always a treat to see Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao swapping blows and the presence of the two men who made what is arguably the best Wing Chun movie of all time - Prodigal Son - confers a sense of cinematic continuity to The Legend Is Born. In a nice nod, Yuen's character in Prodigal Son was Leung Jan, referenced here as Leung Bik's father. Yau's movie is not afraid to lay claims to the authenticity of the Wing Chun on display with the casting of Ip Chun as Leung Bik. Ip Chun is Ip Man's real-life son and still runs a Wing Chun school in Hong Kong. The scene in which Leung Bik gives the young Ip Man an impromptu hands-on lesson is an early high point.

However, it is when the Japanese show up to make trouble that the script to The Legend is Born starts to unravel. Someone murders the President of the Jing Wu Association and the blame falls on Ip Man. The exposing of the killer and in turn the revelation of the killer's real identity is so preposterous that any possible credibility remaining in the story is left in tatters. The big battle between Ip Man and a squad of Japanese killers is entertaining if over-the-top, but that simply can not rescue the screenplay from the blind alley that it has so fearlessly chosen to plunge down.

Superb fight scenes but the half-baked plot blocks The Legend Is Born from joining the ranks of the all-time great kung fu movies.
SCORE: 3/5
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