It begins as the story of Ip Man (Tony Leung), the legendary teacher of Bruce Lee and a master of the Wing Chun school of kungfu. It becomes the portrait of a bygone era and a lost world. Ip Man was born in Foshan, in the south of China, to a wealthy family. His wife Zhang Yongcheng (Song Hye Kyo) is the descendant of Manchu nobility. Pursuing a single-minded passion for Wing Chun, Ip Man is often seen at the Gold Pavilion, an elegant brothel that serves as a meeting place for Foshan’s kungfu masters and whose women possess a few martial arts secrets of their own. In 1936, China is experiencing political turbulence and the threat of division. The Japanese have invaded the northeastern provinces collectively known as Manchuria. Grandmaster Gong Baosen (Wang Qingxiang), whose home is in Japanese-occupied Manchura, and who is the leader of the martial arts world of Northern China, arrives in Foshan. He had been to Foshan previously to initiate exchanges between the martial artists of the North and those of the South but this time he has come at the invitation of the Southern masters to hold a ceremony at the Gold Pavilion to celebrate his impending retirement. An integral part of the ceremony involves a challenge and display of martial arts skills with a younger man. During a similar ceremony held at home in the Northeast, Gong’s disciple and successor Ma San (Zhang Jin), a Xingyi master, performed this role. Master Gong’s daughter Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), who is the sole inheritor of her father’s lethal Bagua-style ’64 Hands’ technique, also arrives in Foshan to witness her father step down. It is here where she encounters Ip Man. Who is qualified to take up the Old Master’s challenge? Challenge leads to challenge, and masters contest masters. Meanwhile, the ongoing Japanese occupation of the Northeast sets the stage for a betrayal that will shake Master Gong’s world. It will also cause Gong Er to make a decision that will change the course of her life.