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Donnie Yen is best Ip Man, say ST readers

Four actors may have played the gongfu master but Donnie Yen is the best of them all, say fans
The Straits Times - April 9, 2013
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Donnie Yen is best Ip Man, say ST readers

Forget acting chops. When it comes to the role of real-life gongfu master Ip Man in a movie, fans want real chops, socks and kicks to be delivered by the actor.

Over the past five years, as many movies have been made about the life and skills of wing chun grandmaster Ip Man, who taught Bruce Lee.

Four actors have taken on the role, among them Tony Leung Chiu Wai, 50, a former Best Actor award-winner at the Cannes Film Festival known for his soulful gaze, and Donnie Yen, an actual gongfu- trained actor who, it is said, often struggles to emote on screen.

Veteran Anthony Wong, 51, and newcomer Dennis To, 32, are the other two Ip Man actors.

The majority of moviegoers, it seems, prefer the 49-year-old Yen.

SundayLife! posted the query "Who is the best Ip Man of them all?" on The Straits Times Facebook page recently and the results were clearly in favour of Yen.

Sixty readers out of the more than 70 who posted comments on the page picked Yen. Some respondents argued that it is simply because he is the first one to play the part.

One moviegoer, who goes by the name of Terence Chiew, wrote: "It's always the first actor who will be remembered... just like Master Wong Fei Hung."

To this day, many moviegoers still remember the late actor Kwan Tak Hing, who was the first to play the famed martial artist in the movie The Story Of Wong Fei Hung: Part 1 (1949), as the quintessential Wong Fei Hung.

For younger moviegoers, it would be Jet Li in the Once Upon A Time In China series which began in 1991, reviving the Wong Fei Hung story after a few decades.

Yen first played Ip Man in the hugely popular action flick Ip Man (2008), which grossed more than US$21 million worldwide. It showcased some thrilling fight scenes and made the actor a bigger star than he had ever been before. In 2010, he filmed the sequel Ip Man 2.

In both films, the seasoned martial arts star of such cult wuxia movies as Iron Monkey (1993) and Hero (2002) did his own fight scenes.

Also in 2010, To took on the role in a prequel, Ip Man: The Legend Is Born (2010). Not only did he resemble Yen, he also had gongfu skills to boot.

This year saw two more Ip Man movies - The Grandmaster, Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai's arthouse take on the subject starring Leung, and Ip Man - The Final Fight, with Anthony Wong playing the master in his twilight years. The latter is still showing in cinemas.

Film-industry insiders also picked Yen as the best Ip Man, not just because he was the first but also because he would probably beat all the others in a real fight.

Mr Lim Teck, 38, managing director of film distributor and producer Clover Films, says: "Donnie Yen is definitely the best. He is stylish and totally convincing as the wing chun master."

Film-maker Kelvin Tong, 39, shares the same opinion: "Yen's reticence, combined with his dazzling gongfu skills, really nailed the role."

It is a role, both of them say, where there is little point talking a good talk if an actor cannot walk the walk - or punch the punch, in this case.

Mr Lim says: "Tony Leung is almost immortal as an actor but the role of Ip Man was a little bit of a stretch for him, I felt, mainly due to his lack of real gongfu skills. The same for Anthony Wong, who didn't come across at all as a gongfu master."

Tong adds: "Leung was effectively a Wong Kar Wai prop in a moody arthouse gongfu flick. He was part of the atmosphere, a living embodiment of wing chun rather than a blood-and-guts martial-arts pugilist. That's what Wong Kar Wai's film intended but I just found it all too ponderous.

"Anthony Wong brought gravitas and unexpected maturity to an older Ip Man but I think as a whole, Final Fight is slightly over-ambitious. Besides, while the Ip Man story from an older man's perspective is interesting, what really grabs audiences by their collars is a film celebrating the gongfu icon in his youth and prime."


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