Following Donnie Yen’s successful portrayal of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, there have been seemingly endless imitations and additional portrayals of the martial arts master best known for teaching Bruce Lee. Many of these have been unrelated to the series starring Yen, but still attempt to capitalize on its success. Ip Man: The Awakening is a perfect example, having no connection to the previous film series and made by mainland China while the Yen films were Hong Kong productions. Although the title suggests it is a prequel of sorts and there are stylistic similarities, Ip Man: The Awakening is something of a cheap knock-off.
As the title suggests, the film follows Ip Man during an earlier time in his life than previously depicted, with Tse Miu stepping into the title role. Depicting a time when young Master Ip is visiting Hong Kong, the legendary teacher discovers a human trafficking ring run by a British gang and becomes involved. Members of the gang practice British Bartitsu, a style of fighting combining martial arts and boxing, which is depicted in several fight sequences. These sequences are the true focus of the film, which doesn’t provide much depth in terms of story.
I have no
problem with a martial arts film remaining preoccupied with the fight scenes,
and even appreciated that Ip Man: The Awakening had the brief run-time
of 80-minutes. The problem isn’t even the way the fights are choreographed, or
the skills of the performers in the roles. The real issue is the way the movie
is filmed and edited. You can tell there is some decent choreography, but
directors Li Xi Jie and Zhang Zhu Lin seem to have no faith in the performers,
cutting incessantly and with so many close-up shots that it doesn’t even matter
if the actors have skills. This is disappointing for an Ip Man film, especially
one with so little to offer in terms of plot.
In some ways I pity Ip Man: The Awakening, because it was always fighting an uphill battle being compared to the far superior Ip Man films starring Yen. At the same time, the filmmakers chose this subject to capitalize on that success, and essentially shot themselves in the foot in the process. The Blu-ray release is a good indicator of the lack of true faith in the film, with no special features or perks to speak of. This is like one of those films named curiously close to a blockbuster in order to trick unsuspecting audiences into renting it. And for those who take a chance on Ip Man: The Awakening in hopes that it will be a continuation of the previous franchise, it will be a disappointment. For those who are aware it is unconnected, there is some base entertainment to be found, however forgettable it ultimately ends up being.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10