Martial arts fans have been salivating over the Ip Man films ever since the first entry into the popular series first debuted in 2008. Since then, the film's star, Donnie Yen, has taken up the role of Bruce Lee's esteemed Wing Chun instructor, grandmaster Ip Man, three more times. And there are even rumors of a fifth film going into production. But are the Ip Man movies all true? They're a blend of historical fact and a lot of fiction.
Are the 'Ip Man' movies all true? They were never intended to be.
If you watch just one fight scene from the Ip Man movies, it's pretty evident that 100 percent reality isn't exactly what the filmmakers were going for. Cast members duke it out in grand choreographed fight sequences that highlight not only the dominance of Wing Chun as a martial art, but the honor, class, and restraint Ip Man is attributed to embodying in the series of movies.
Ip Man is an example of that "great Master" archetype: he's noble, full of wisdom, and oozes self-confidence that can only come from a man who understands all of his weaknesses and works on them perpetually, while extending mercy to his opponents.
While the Wing Chun grandmaster, who is famously known for being Bruce Lee's instructor, was indeed a real person who taught the man that grew up to be a mega star, many of the events that take place in the Ip Man films are fictionalized accounts.
The first film takes biographical accounts of the Grandmaster's life that took place during Foshan in the heat of the Sino-Japanese war. The film blends historical events and sentiments that China had toward Japan as a nation at the time with stylized martial arts actions to create scenarios that are historically debatable, and in some instances, are argued as never occurring in the first place.
A review of the film points to a contest between Ip Man and Japanese Army General Miura, who is a stalwart Karate practitioner — and is a perfect example of how the Ip Man films drew inspiration from the Wing Chun grandmaster's life to create compelling narratives.
There are accounts that strongly suggest Ip Man did flat-out decline to instruct Japan's occupying military police Wing Chun, so this could very well be true.
However, when Ip Man decides to fight General Miura after witnessing the brutality being carried out against his Chinese countrymen is where things start to get fictionalized. There are no historical records or accounts to suggest that a fight between Ip Man and Miura ever occurred, or that General Miura even existed. Japan's war crimes against Chinese civilians and soldiers during the time period, however, are well-documented.
Was Ip Man really Bruce Lee's instructor?
Again, this is very much true. Bruce Lee did train under Ip Man for a considerable amount of time, and according to some accounts, the future movie star was "rubbish" when he first started. Like the film implies, Bruce was also getting into a lot of street fights, and Shifu Ip Man reportedly was always urging the young pupil to practice self control when it came to martial arts, and not always go looking for a fight.
There has been a lot of controversy in recent years surrounding grandmasters in China as of late. Xu Xiaodong is a mixed martial artist who is on a "mission" to expose "fraudulent" grandmasters teaching impractical martial arts in the hopes more effective ones gain popularity in the region. He has uploaded several videos where he's fought self-aggrandizing conceptual martial art teachers and beaten them soundly.
However, Xu has expressed frustration at being censored in China and has resorted to painting his face in his contests. There are also a harrowing number of social restrictions put on his person: he currently carries a "social credit score" of D, meaning he isn't allowed to ride high speed transportation. If the score maintains, his potential future children's education can also be put at risk.