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Ip Man is the first film in the Ip Man film series. It premiered in Beijing on 10 December 2008, and was released theatrically in Hong Kong on 19 December 2008, receiving widespread acclaim from critics and audiences. Before the film's release, Raymond Wong announced that there would be a sequel; a second installment titled Ip Man 2, was released in April 2010, a third installment titled Ip Man 3 was released in 2015, and Ip Man 4: The Finale was released in 2019. Ip Man grossed more than US$22 million worldwide, despite not being released in North America and most of Europe. Following its success, the film was nominated for 12 Hong Kong Film Awards, winning awards for Best Film and Best Action Choreography.
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Principal photography for Ip Man began in March 2008, and was completed by the end of August. A majority of the film focuses on events surrounding Ip Man that took place in Foshan in the 1930s and 1940s during the Sino-Japanese War. Since the buildings in modern-day Foshan are architecturally different from the ones of the film's period, the filmmakers decided to shoot the film in Shanghai.
Production designer Kenneth Mak included Western elements in his design, since Foshan, in earlier years, was a unique place where Chinese and Western cultures converged. Pillars were made to resemble English lampposts, and Western lighting, chairs, and tableware were also used. To convey the culture and feel of the time, the buildings were made to look obsolete and worn out. Apart from historical references, Mak also created a glass house which was used in a scene in the film.
Japanese actor Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, who holds a black belt in Judo, found it "difficult" working under Hung's command. In one scene, he suffered a mild concussion after receiving four consecutive blows from celebrated fight co-ordinator Edward 'Sweco' Chan. Hung later praised Yen and Ikeuchi's performances in the film, even though Ikeuchi was not trained in Chinese martial arts and was not given a lot of complex moves.
Prior to its theatrical release in China, Ip Man held a test screening in Beijing on 4 December 2008. The film was highly praised, based on survey sheets returned by the audience. Donnie Yen's portrayal of Ip Man was repeatedly hailed as the year's best performance. High praise was also given to the film's co-stars, Fan Siu-wong, Lam Ka-tung, and Lynn Hung. Ip Man also received positive reactions from film critics. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir deemed Ip Man a "well-paced and satisfying piece of Chinese-nationalist pulp," referring to the film's heavy anti-Japanese sentiment.
Derek Elley of Variety Magazine wrote in his review, "Yen, who's taking on real star charisma in middle age, is aces as Ip, with a simple dignity that exactly mirrors the movie's own and a gracefulness in combat that's very different from his trademark whiplash style." Malaysian film critic Lim Chang Moh of The Malay Mail awarded the film three stars out of four, writing that the film was "nicely balanced with great martial arts action and an engaging narrative." Lim later placed the film at number six in his list of "Top Ten Movies of 2008." Jen Ogilvie of Fortean Times wrote, "what carries Ip Man is its dramatic charge: it is the story's entanglement in the real horrors of Japanese occupation that pulls the viewer in and builds tension into the fight scenes."
The film was never meant to be a true biographical film to Ip Man's life, but to broadly touch on the elements from his life. Most of the central turns of the plot are there only for the purpose of making a movie more exciting, including the scenes depicting duels between Ip Man and the Japanese, including Consul General Miura Yoshiaki (三浦義秋), as well as Ip Man encountering hardship during the Second Sino-Japanese War.