As mentioned in the film, Ip Man's fighting style is Wing Chun. It is said to be created by two women, Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun. According to legend, a warlord wanted to marry Yim Wing Chun, but she refused and instead challenged him to a duel. She came across Ng Mui, a Buddhist nun whom she asked for help. Together they created the art of Wing Chun, which the nun named after Yim Wing Chun. Wing Chun won the fight.
While rehearsing a fight scene, Donnie Yen was reportedly injured when an axe wielder accidentally slashed the side of his left eye. Yen also had a masseur on set as he could not raise his right shoulder due to an injury.
Ip Man's eldest son, Ip Chun, his student Leo Au-yeung, and Changquan gold medalist To Yu-hang served as technical consultants for the film, providing advice on the film's story and martial arts choreography.
Although this was the first film centering around Yip Man, the idea of doing a Yip Man biopic had been conceived for as long as thirty years. Donnie Yen was actually slated to play Yip Man in the supposed first biopic that was about to go into production in 1997. The film would have also featured Stephen Chow playing an adult Bruce Lee. However, only one day of shooting took place before the project was canceled.
Principal photography for Ip Man (2008) began in March 2008 and ended in August; filming took place in Shanghai, which was used to architecturally recreate Foshan. During filming, conflicts arose between the movie's producers and filmmaker Kar-Wai Wong over the film's working title. Wong, who had been developing his own Ip Man biopic, clashed with the producers after learning that their film would be titled "Grandmaster Ip Man," which was too similar to the title of the other film. The producers agreed to change the film title, despite Wong's film being in development hell. Kar-wai's film, titled The Grandmaster (2013), was released on January 10, 2013.
The idea of an Ip Man biopic originated in 1998 when Jeffrey Lau and Corey Yuen discussed the idea of making a film based on Bruce Lee's martial arts master. However, Paragon Films Ltd, the studio producing the proposed film, closed and the project was abandoned. Producer Raymond Bak-Ming Wong decided to develop his own Ip Man film with full consent from Ip's sons, and had filmmakers head to Foshan to research Ip's life. Ip Chun, Ip Man's eldest son, along with martial arts master Leo Au-yeung and several other Wing Chun practitioners, served as technical consultants for the film.
Filming first took place in a storeroom in the industrial district of Shanghai. Having difficulties scouting a cotton factory suitable for shooting, set designers decided to recreate one in the style of the 1930s. They spent weeks transforming an abandoned storeroom into the Zhen Hua Cotton Mill Factory, a 1930s cotton mill factory founded by Ip's friend Chow Ching-chuen (played in the film by Simon Yam) during the Sino-Japanese War. It was where Ip Man first taught Wing Chun openly to the public.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Throughout the course of the film, Ip Man is only struck twice during fights, both of them being in the final fight. He is struck two more times by Japanese soldiers at one point, but this happens when Ip Man is at gunpoint and has surrendered.