Donnie Yen in the new biopic of Bruce Lee's mentor, Ip Man.
The late kungfu master Ip Man may not be as famous as one of his pupils, Bruce Lee, but a biopic could make him a household name 35 years after he passed away.
Ip, who died in Hong Kong, aged 79, was the first kungfu master to teach the Chinese martial art of wing chun, openly. He had several students who later became martial arts teachers in their own right, including Lee. During the Japanese occupation of China, Ip refused several invitations to train Japanese troops.
Although wing chun has 2 million disciples around the world, Ip led a low-profile existence. For a long time his life story was unknown to most Chinese people.
Hong Kong director Wilson Yip and kungfu star Donnie Yen are attempting to fill the void with a film named after the master.
Set in the chaotic 1930s and 40s, the film follows Ip's dramatic transformation from kungfu enthusiast to patriotic teacher who endeavors to save the country by teaching more people martial arts.
Yen, a martial artist himself, spent 9 months learning wing chun from Ip's disciples, including his son Ip Chun, who is now 84. Yen lost 10 kg to achieve Ip' slim features.
"We were very ambitious to present not only a martial artist," Yen says, "but also a loving husband and father, a learned teacher and a humorous man."
Established martial arts film actor, director and choreographer Hung Kam-bo, who collaborated with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan in many hit films, choreographed the action scenes.
The kungfu scenes in Ip Man, 56-year-old Hung reveals, will be down-to-earth but dazzling.
Hung fought with Bruce Lee when he was young. The two met at a film studio and had a friendly practice match. Hung lost to Lee, but they became friends and worked together on Lee's last film Game of Death.
This film, however, will focus on Ip's personal experiences, so Lee will not appear in the film.
The film will hit theaters on Dec 19.
(China Daily November 21, 2008)