It had long been the wish of Sin Kwok Lam, a longtime martial arts practitioner and shrewd businessman and capitalist who is a major player in Hong Kong financial sector and has even published a controversial book on big corporations swallowing up small firms last year, to bring the account of his grandmaster Yip Man to screen, but he couldn’t find any filmmakers willing enough to take the risk as Yip Man was little known.
Once, Sin Kwok Lam was flying to Mainland with producer Raymond Wong, and he took the opportunity to propose the idea to him and even analysed the market for him, saying that there were millions of Wing Chun disciples worldwide, and as long the the majority of them supported this film, he would at very least not incur any losses. So, in a month, Wilson Yip was appointed the director and Donnie Yen was cast as the lead actor for this project, while Sin Kwok Lam was responsible for coaching Donnie Yen Wing Chun, as well as steering the direction of the martial arts sequences by giving Sammo Hung advices and Wing Chun demonstrations.
However, Wong Kar Wai, who had consultancy contract with Yip Chun was outraged over the matter, believing it was a copyrights violation. So, Wong Kar Wai’s representative met with Yip Chun and Sin Kwok Lam, and the astute and experienced businessman Sin Kwok Lam remained adamant and was quick to point out, “A person’s life is not copyrighted. Besides, if you keep dragging your heels over it, should master Yip Chun not be in the best of health, when would he ever have the chance to see Grand Master on the silver-screen?”
They eventually came to a truce and each would work individually on his own films, and promised not disparage each other. Following the success of Ip Man film, Sin Kwok Lam took the opportunity to push for the sequel and prequel to be made.
Sin Kwok Lam, who studied Wing Chun under Yip Chun for 7 years, states that the number of people learning Wing Chun has doubled since the release of Ip Man, “As a Wing Chun practitioner, I hope there would be more films on Wing Chun, so that more people would understand Wing Chun, and more people would learn Wing Chun, this would help propagate Wing Chun. While I no longer teach Wing Chun, my disciples can teach, I believe there would be even more people learning it.”
Perhaps, the biggest sensation of The Legend is Born – Ip Man is the appearance of Yip Man’s eldest son Yip Chun, as Yip Man’s 2nd mentor Leung Bik, in his one and only film. During the set visit, the production was shooting the final scene in which the geriatric Leung Bik, propped by Zhang Yong Cheng (Betty Huang Yi), observes Yip Man (To Yu Hang), who has now become a master in his own right, teaching disciples, who are at the wooden dummies. And it takes seasoned Wing Chun practitioners to be able to train comfortably with a wooden dummy, as your arms and legs would get hurt easily if you don’t have a good grasp of Wing Chun movements, much less a big group moving in unison.
Reportedly, Yip Chun would have some action scenes, and the producer Sin Kwok Lam is singing his mentor’s praises, saying how great he is. Yip Chun shakes his head, “Really tedious, very happy to have finished it. I won’t involve myself as an actor in any films anymore.”
In The Legend is Born: Ip Man, To Yu Hang, Huang Yi, Fan Siu Wong and Rose Chan share complicated relationships. Fan Siu Wong, as Yip Man’s senior Tian Ci, is in love with junior Rose Chan while she likes Yip Man, who in turn falls for Huang Yi later. Asked about how he feels about this, Yip Chun says, “I only know that my part in the film is real, for it’s the same as the version I heard when young. I’m not clear about other parts. My father didn’t tell me, neither did I ask about his relationships. How was I supposed to be asking about my parents about their romances? But my mother came from an official’s family, they were very rich, and had high social status, while my father was from a big family too, he didn’t have any title, and peoples at that time were very particular about status and there was quite a gap between their social standings. How did they get married, I have no idea. I’m curious myself how things would turn out it the movie.”
Hoping that The Legend is Born: Ip Man would become an instructional video for Wing Chun, Sin Kwok Lam hires mostly martial arts-trained actors for the film, and minimises the use of special effects. The film might not have A-list stars, but director Herman Yau is undaunted, “We may lack the celebrity factor, but we have real martial arts stars like Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao to ensure realism in the martial arts sequences. Moreover, we have master Yip Chun backing us up, so this film is still highly watchable.”
The film will not only showcase fisticuffs but also Wing Chun weapon play like 6 1/2 staff and Ba Zhan Dao. Each take would last up to 15 seconds, with at least 10 to 20 moves exchanged. The film will see Wing Chun being used to counter various martial arts like Brazilian Jujitsu, Karate, Chin Na, etc.
As a newcomer playing the title role, To Yu Hang, who has six years of training in Wing Chun, introduces himself, “I was the Wing Chun consultant for Ip Man, and played Sammo Hung’s disciple in Ip Man 2, and have a fierce fight with Huang Xiao Ming. We’ll be doing mostly long takes in this film, and we have more romantic plotline in The Legend is Born: Ip Man.
“I’m on pretty good terms with Donnie Yen and he taught me how to grasp the character. Big brother Sammo Hung is playing my master, and he has been taking care of me, he got me a movie Sugata Sanshiro, and hope that I would act without too much exaggeration. Rather, I should convey the feelings of one with passion for and persistence in wushu from the bottommost of my the heart.”
Huang Yi, who sacrifices two hours of sleep to study Wing Chun under Sin Kwok Lam and To Yu Hang, reveals that she often bullies To Yu Hang on the set. Huang Yi would try to provoke him, but he remains unaffected and courteous, “If you do not know him well, you won’t be able to tell he is a martial arts practitioner. He is introverted and taciturn, and has a mild temperament. He is really like Yip Man himself, very poised, cultured.”
Yuen Biao plays Ng Chung Sok, Yip Man’s senior who coached him Wing Chun. He says that due to the level of realism of the film, injuries are common occurrences on the set, such as the demand for each hit to be heard. Yuen Biao, who has most exchanges with Fan Siu Wong and Sammo Hung, who plays their master Money Changer Wah, hurt his rib so badly that he had to return to Hong Kong to recuperate, while both Fan Siu Wong and To Yu Hang have had their shares of bruises, especially in the arms and legs during their Wing Chun duel, as a result of the degree of contact. And earlier on, Fan Siu Wong got slashed on the head by Bernice Liu’s katana on the first day she arrived, requiring three stitches.
Yuen Biao says that To Yu Hang is more experienced in Wing Chun compared to Donnie Yen, but his acting skills still need polishing. Yuen Biao adds that the script for Seven Little Fortunes movie, that he has been working on for some time, has been completed and it should begin production in the middle of the year.
Fan Siu Wong, who spent a month shedding 8 pounds to portray a more genial image in the film, says that the production is near completion, and they have finished the final showdown, involving Fan Siu Wong, Yuen Biao, Bernice Liu, who plays a Japanese master, and later To Yu Hang, which took them 9 days to shoot. Fan Siu Wong would soon be facing Bernice Liu again when she challenges their school.
The Legend is Born: Ip Man, which traces the early parts of Yip Man’s life, dealing with his training under Chan Wah Shun, Ng Chung Sok and Leung Bik, as well as his romances and resistances against foreigners, is wrapping up at end of January for May Day release. Southern Metropolis Weekly, Guangzhou Daily, CRI, Sohu, Sina