On October 8, a press conference marking the launch of Ip Man official site, now carrying Ip Man trailer, was held. Following that, Wilson Yip, Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung proceeded to a chat organised by Sina, hosted by Zhao Ning. They were joined in by film critic Wei Jun Zi.
Donnie Yen: While doing An Empress and the Warriors, director Wilson Yip told me that they were going to shoot Ip Man. I wondered about the rights since wasn’t some other company doing it too? He told me that the Yip Chun, the whole Yip family were giving their full support officially, and they’re going to do the biopic officially.
Since then, I had been constantly gathering information on Yip Man, and I also had to start Wing Chun training, since I wasn’t very familiar with it. I spent great length of time learning about Yip Man, his background, his life, and spent some time in Foshan to gain some living experience, in order to bring the grandmaster to back to life on the screen. It requires many aspects, inner qualities to portray him well.
It’s the most difficult movie I have ever done, not anyone has the capacity to act as a great master, firstly the person must possess the necessary ability in martial arts, and moreover, he was Bruce Lee’s mentor. When shooting Painted Skin, I practiced Wing Chun everyday in my room. I told myself everyday to get into his psyche, that I was Yip Man.
Zhao Ning: Director Wilson Yip, your surname is Yip, are you related to Yip Man family, that’s why you were able to get the filming rights?
Wilson Yip: I do not know if we could have been related in any way ancestrally, but perhaps because we have to the same surname, Yip Chun and I felt great together, there was some kind of closeness when talking to each other. He’s already over 80.
Wei Jun Zi: Brother Donnie, how’s your understanding of Yip Man initially?
Donnie Yen: Back then, I only knew him as a great master, as Bruce Lee’s mentor, and not much else. It was only when we’re in pre-production of Ip Man that I spent time on researching.
As a wushu lover, I have invariably come into contact with various forms of martial arts, but it’s only when doing this film that I’ve truly familiarised myself with Wing Chun.
Wei Jun Zi: Prior to Yip Man’s times, Wing Chun wasn’t very widespread. It required one to one coaching, and the fees were also very high. Only the rich trained in it.
Donnie Yen: Frankly speaking, only the rich. Even Yip Man’s disciples were either doctors or lawyers, all wealthy people.
Zhao Ning: How would Wing Chun, with its tighter and less glamorous movements, be demonstrated on the screen, and compared to your previous works featuring MMA? What makes Wing Chun stand out?
Donnie Yen: Wing Chun was derived from the woman Yim Wing Chun. Legend has it that a Shaolin nun taught Yim Wing Chun a set of moves specially designed for women. It was not until Yip Man’s times that Wing Chun became glorified.
As everyone is aware, for every kungfu-themed film, I’d specially do researches, out of love for wushu. For instance, in my previous works with Wilson Yip, like SPL and Flash Point, we showed the most popular Mixed Martial Arts, I had also spent one, two years on researches. Wing Chun is no exception. I spent quite some time to let go of other martial arts, and training exclusively on Wing Chun.
Wilson Yip: There are many actual historical events in the movie. And we worked on it a bit, it’s just a process, on how Yip Man trained in Wing Chun; Following Japanese invasion of China in 1937, how he pulled through, and finally, his migration to Hong Kong
Wei Jun Zi: What prompted you to make a film on legendary kungfu hero when hardly any such films were made in the past decade.
Wilson Yip: I have been collaborating with Donnie Yen on martial arts films, and both boss Raymond Wong and I were thinking, it was through films that many got to know Wong Fei Hung, I thought there should be a film about Ip Man, and his son also wished there’d be a movie in remembrance of his father, showing how Wing Chun developed.
Moreover, I think we need a new folk hero, rather than Wong Fei Hung or Huo Yuan Jia, especially when everyone is doing films and even TV series about them. So that the audience would know of Ip Man through this film.
Donnie Yen: How different is Yip Man from Wong Fei Hung or Huo Yuan Jia?
Wilson Yip: Very different, for he keeps a very low profile, he wouldn’t come out even after having done many things.
Donnie Yen: Let me add, for example, setting up a martial arts school in Hong Kong. He was reluctant to take in disciples, unlike other masters, who would promote their own schools. Yip Man’s school doesn’t even have a name, his son told me, his father said it’d be best if no one knew him, he’s a very unassuming, ordinary citizen.
Zhao Ning: Would there be Bruce Lee? Would there be a part in the film on how Yip Man accepted Bruce Lee as his disciple?
Wilson Yip: Just like Red Cliff, you’d have to wait until the second part before you could see flames engulfing chained battleships. It wasn’t until Ip Man went to Hong Kong that he met Bruce Lee. In this film, we only arrived at the part on how he left for Hong Kong. If we were to shoot just one or two scenes on this, it’s like deceiving the audience. Why don’t you find out who Ip Man is for now, and, if there’s a chance to shoot a sequel, we’d have lots of scenes on Bruce Lee.
Wei Jun Zi: I thought that be it Huo Yuan Jia, Wong Fei Hung, at first, only the minority knew them, limited largely to wushu world. But after films about them were made, many people became aware of them, now there are TV series on Huo Yuan Jia, Chen Zhen, Bruce Lee; ten, twenty years ago, there were already many versions. I find it stale. The audience may not know much about Ip Man right now, when this film is released, suppose the audience loves it, I would like to know if you’d make sequels, like Wong Fei Hung, spanning many sequels?
Donnie Yen: Actually, he has made very great contributions to Wing Chun, done some deeds, he passed Wing Chun to his students, among them Bruce Lee, which was a very great boost to it, I believed Wing Chun is one of the biggest sects worldwide today.
Wei Jun Zi: Does his Jeet Kune Do contain some Wing Chun techniques?
Donnie Yen: As everyone can see, very obviously, his moves came from Wing Chun handwork.
Wei Jun Zi: Wing Chun is a close-quarter combat, how do you show it on the screen? I feel that this is a big test on the director and actor.
Wilson Yip: Wing Chun is a more practical form of martial arts, and Donnie Yen leans towards practical combat; and Sammo Hung too, and how is Wing Chun in this film, compared to his previous works, the previous ones were too flowery, the current one is more contemporary.
Donnie Yen: Sammo Hung is always hoping to surpass his classic Prodigal Son, for the audience’s appreciation of martial arts is different nowadays. The speed is very different. In the past, we can count the rhythm, 1, 2, 3, 4, but now, the faster, the better, and realism too. The standard is much higher.
For this film, Sammo Hung had done a lot of preparation, finding out about the development of Wing Chun today.
Moreover, I’ve spent much time on Wing Chun, on how to best portray Wing Chun, to leave behind my MMA shadows, and start anew on a very traditional martial arts style. I’ve spent a very long time on it, the challenge is very big too.
Zhao Ning: Was it due to Sammo Hung having done two very successful Wing Chun films that he’s hired for this film Ip Man?
Donnie Yen: I believe that Wilson Yip also hopes that the three of us would work together again. We never have had such a chance since SPL.
Wei Jun Zi: There’s another issue, Yip Man in real life is rather skinny and not especially tall. And in this film, would he be flexing his muscle or something?
Donnie Yen: Absolutely not. I’ve made a lot sacrifices, slimming down. I really do not have too much fats, and Yip Man was slimmer, when he was older, he was gaunt, I went on a diet, lost about 10kg. On the set, they would ask if I had any strength left, having to act and fight. I didn’t care so much, to best portray him, I ate very little, subduing my hunger with my will. My arms were broader, so I wore clothes to cover them, then ate nothing, even my face became leaner, becoming more like Yip Man.