Wing Chun (1994)

Action-packed comic tale of Yim Wing Chun who lent her name to the famous kung fu style. Starring Michelle Yeoh as the title character, co-starring Donnie Yen and directed by Yuen Woo Ping.

Trailer

Cast

Star of such classics as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“, “Yes Madam/Police Assassins“, “Tai Chi Master“, “Police Story 3: Supercop“, “Reign of Assassins” and many more, Michelle Yeoh is the titular “Yim Wing-chun”.

Hong Kong superstar Donnie Yen co-stars as “Leung Pok-to”. Yen has  worked with director Yuen Woo Ping on several projects, including the “Tiger Cage” films, “Drunken Tai Chi“, “Once Upon a Time in China II“, “In the Line of Duty 4“, “Mismatched Couples” and “Iron Monkey“. They most recently collaborated on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny” and “Ip Man 3“.

Hong Kong actress Kingdom Yuen plays “Abacus Fong”. Kingdom has appeared in the Stephen Chow comedy films “Forbidden City Cop”, “God of Cookery” and “Hail the Judge”. Primarily a television actress, Catherine Hung Yan plays “Yim Neung/ Charmy”.

Following his breakthrough role in John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow”, Waise Lee appears as “Scholar Wong”. Mostly playing villains, he has appeared in movies such as “A Chinese Ghost Story II & III”, “To Be Number One”, “Swordsman II”, “The Four” trilogy, “7 Assassins” and “League of Gods”.

Charismatic old school action star Norman Tsui Siu-Keung stars as “Flying Chimpanzee”. In a career starting at Shaw Brothers in the 1970’s, he has appeared in movies such as “Shaolin Mantis”, “Duel to the Death” and “Tiger on the Beat“. Still active in the industry, he recently appeared in the 3D blockbuster “Sword Master“.

Wuxia movie pioneer, Cheng Pei-pei plays Yim Wing Chun’s martial arts master, “Mistress Wu Mei”. Pei-pei found stardom in the classic “Come Drink With Me” and its follow up “The Golden Swallow”. She went on to star to great acclaim in martial arts movies such as “Flirting Scholar”, “Flying Dagger”, “Brothers Five” and the Oscar-winning international box office hit, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”.

Plot

Yim Wing Chun is a talented martial artist who lives in a mountain village. Out of all the villagers, she is the only person who will stand up to the local bandits, led by two nefarious brothers. One day, a young and beautiful widow Charmy, catches the attention of the bandit chief, Flying Monkey. Wing Chun rescues the hapless widow and gives her a job in her family’s tofu shop, earning the enmity of the bandits.

Wing Chun’s childhood friend Leung Pok To returns to the village to claim her hand in marriage, having also become a skilled martial artist himself. When Flying Monkey kidnaps Charmy, he uses her as bait, luring Wing Chun to a battle in the bandit’s mountain fortress.

With the help of Pok To, Wing Chun must use all the skills taught to her by the Buddhist nun, Mistress Wu Mei, if she is to save Charmy and finally defeat the bandit gang.

Action

As the opening credits play over some acrobatic festivities, we get quickly into the action as the bandit thugs make a nuisance of themselves in the village. Comedy is incorporated from the off as Wing Chun whips Scholar Wong with a cane, using the flailing reaction of his body to beat off a gang of attacking thugs.

When bandits attack the riverside village festival, Michelle Yeoh really gets to come into her own. Using a Chinese broadsword she fights with great precision and speed. The film is slightly sped-up and edited at an equally rapid pace. It also looks like a double is used for some of the more gymnastic moves. Even so, there is no denying Michelle’s impressive fighting skills.

Although the movie is called “Wing Chun” there is only a little authentic wing chun actually used in the fight scenes. In a fight with a thug over and around a table of tofu, Michelle employs some hand blocks and strikes similar to actual wing chun techniques, in conjunction with the high kicking wire work that was popular in Hong Kong martial arts films during the 1990’s.

Donnie Yen gets a wire-powered introduction to the action as he fights off a salacious bra thief! The choreography and night-time cinematography is much like his similar fight in the classic “Iron Monkey”, but sped up even more than that film was.

Donnie Yen acted as a fight director on this film and choreographed a dazzling fight on horseback lit all around by fire. Wing Chun wields a pole against Flying Monkey’s medieval-looking axes. In a “Gymkata” inspired piece of choreography, a gymnast stunt double performs a pommel horse routine on the back of a fake horse, using their swinging legs to keep Wing Chun at bay!

When Michelle Yeoh fights Norman Tsui Siu-Keung in a backyard, some real wing chun is combined again with the wire fu. A wooden dummy is cleverly incorporated into their duel as they exchange punches and kicks around it. Donnie Yen has his own set piece with a nice fight in the village market against two spear twirling bandits and a swordsman. He fires off plenty of his familiar high kicks that his fans will enjoy seeing.

The action becomes increasingly gravity-defying when Michelle and Donnie attack the bandits’ fort. They take on dozens of opponents who are armed with spears and swords. There is lots of flying through the air, spinning around and impossible-looking balances. Although much of the fighting is wire-assisted, there are some impressive kicking combinations, especially from Michelle Yeoh, demonstrating the power, accuracy and flexibility of the performers.

For the finalé Yim Wing Chun chooses the butterfly knives to face off against Flying Chimpanzee and his heavy spear. The pair’s movement and timing is astonishingly quick, even if the footage has been sped up. The choreography opts for a flashy style over practical application, something that carries over when the duel evolves into a hand-to-hand engagement.

Summary

Michelle Yeoh is absolutely charming as Yim Wing Chun. Her high-kicking skills in this movie are up there with the classic superkickers of the 1970s, and her fight with the Butterfly Swords is sublime. Donnie Yen is adequate in a very light-comic role, but it’s not really his strength. He still gets to shine in the action scenes, but the ridiculous under-cranking of the camera often reduces the fighting to a cartoon.

Directed by Yuen Woo-ping, this film must feature some of his fastest paced fights. This rapidity also infects the choppy editing. There is a lot of handheld camerawork and Dutch angles. Occasionally it looks quite cool, but often it is just too blatantly sped up. “Wing Chun” is not a history lesson in the art, and features very little of the famous style itself. The slapstick comedy is pretty broad, and any attempts at being romantic fail to convince. If you want to see a more authentic representation of the art of wing chun kung fu, films such as “Warriors Two“, “The Prodigal Son” and the “Ip Man” films will serve you better.

However, if you enjoy the hyperreal wire fu of movies like Swordsman II or Tai Chi Master, this is a fun film packed with some fast-paced examples, choreographed and performed by some of the best in the business.

Trivia

  • Michelle Yeoh wasn’t present for the fire scene! Donnie Yen directed the action and Yuen Woo-ping filmed Michelle at a later date and edited her into the sequence.
  • Norman Tsui Siu-Keung used to be an accountant before turning to acting.
  • Cheng Pei Pei reunited with Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Michelle Yeoh reunited with Donnie Yen in the sequel Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny.
  • There is no historical evidence that Yim Wing Chun was a real person. The earliest recorded documentary references were in popular stories from the 1920’s and 1930’s of a Bean Curd/Tofu seller being taught to defend herself by a Shaolin nun called Ng Mui. The story was perpetuated by the famous wing chun master Ip Man and as a result, became the most accepted version of the origin of the art, even though it has no basis in historical fact or folklore.

Favourite Quotes

  • “My Cotton Belly normally breaks a bone or two, but you’re still standing.” – Flying Chimpanzee
  • “Kung Fu is not a verbal sport. Come on!” – Yim Wing Chun
  • “A tree is a thousand-feet tall. Fallen leaves return to the roots.” – Mistress Wu Mei
  • “The shorter the sharper!” – Yim Wing Chun

Film Rating: 7/10

Which wing chun movie, training scene or fight has inspired you the most, maybe even got you started in the art? Let us know in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  (For more chain-punch reactions and chi sau sparring than you’d know what to do with, get your sticky hands on into our movie reviews!)

Influenced by the movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Glen began training in martial arts and gymnastics in 1995. He made his first of many visits to Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 to learn Chin Woo kung fu under the supervision of Master Teng Wie Yoo. Glen is the author of "The Art of Coaching" and "Fearless The Story of Chin Woo Kung Fu", and runs a kung fu & kickboxing school in Hertfordshire, England.

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    Daxtreme April 17, 2018 at 6:29 am

    I was a little bit harsh at first when I saw Wing Chun. C’mon, Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen together in the same movie? By Yuen Woo-Ping? Count me in! The fights aren’t as great as I thought they would be, and I didn’t really like it. I re-visited it however, now knowing what to expect, and I enjoyed it a lot more! It’s really fun, and Donnie Yen being in love with Michelle Yeoh is something I didn’t expect I wanted, in fact! They’re so cute. This movie could have been more as a martial arts movie, but it was a decent enough fun wuxia movie that didn’t take itself too seriously. Watch it as such!

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