Sports movies have always focused on inspiring people to go against the grain. While not everyone is as drawn to the sport as others, the narrative weight the medium can carry transcends genre entirely. From the 70s to the early 2000s, the biggest advocate and symbol of this was Rocky Balboa. The films centered around the cinema icon and are now part of a cultural movement that states: “…But it’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you hit. you can get hit and keep going.” However, as the era of the boxer has come to a fitting conclusion, the legacy has continued for new generations through the franchise led by Donnie Yen, Ip-Man.
Ip-Man was a semi-factual account of the life of the famous Wing-Chun master before, during and after he taught his most famous student, Bruce Lee. However, the focus was on the obstacles Ip Man faced and how every aspect of his character was constantly tested. And as he continued to fight for what was right, the question was always whether or not the fight was a noble solution or a means to an end.
The first film focused heavily on the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s. At that time, Ip Man and his wife were under severe oppression, and while he was a peacemaker, he learned that fighting was the surest way to ensure the protection of his family and his people. Like the first Rockyit was about a man who stepped into a world he didn’t understand, and even though things didn’t always go as they should, he continued to fight for those who supported him.
IP Man 2As Rocky II, was also a story of growth as the titular hero wanted better for his family and tried to start his own school. It was a second chance similar to Rocky vs. Apollo Creed, and Ip Man fought back against everyone who said he and his martial arts style had no place. Whereas IP Man 3 was much smaller than previous films, instead focusing on the message of standing up to those who would put others down and not compromising on principles. As the world continued to get more complicated, Ip Man showed the world that the impact of being a good person is not something that would change with him.
IP Man 3 and 4 faces a loss similar to that Rocky movies as beloved characters were taken away. All the while, Ip Man was forced to bear the anger and stress of this on his victory. Nevertheless, he never let these negative feelings affect his character and he always fought for what was right and for the safety of his loved ones. Like Rocky, he handled the loss harder than most, but rather than despair he chose to focus on the positives.
As a franchisee, Ip-Man was the one who didn’t fire his shots when it was time for a shadow to overcome the hero. Instead, the films perfectly balanced the good times and the bad. It taught people to appreciate the shining moments because it’s hard to tell when the other boot will fall. It’s a series that values hard work and optimism and has shown that the only real loss is when someone stops fighting. And like Rocky, Ip-Man celebrated all of these ideals and messages by highlighting a culture and fighting style that hasn’t received as much attention as it deserves.