It looks like the Ip Man wave isn't quite over in Cinema yet, with Wong Kar-Wai's The Grandmasters finally making its debut earlier this year, and now Herman Yau continuing from where he left off with creating the bookends of the series, which started with The Legend is Born. If you were to put every Ip Man film together, they don't really make much sense now especially on the life and times of the Wing Chun grandmaster, with timelines very much convoluted, and events blurred with fictional elements. With no less than 4 different actors now taking on the role and exhibiting variations to Wing Chun, you've probably begun to take sides as to which interpretation you'd have a preference for.
But Herman Yau's films have got its bragging rights, having Ip Man's own son Ip Chun involved with the production, not only in making cameo appearances, but providing story input to paint a more dramatic picture of the subject. And it couldn't get more authentic than this, even with artistic license obviously taken at some points. And if you were to extrapolate them, then you'd see shades of the rest of the other films that seem to tangent off important plot points. Things such as underground fighting rings, corrupt cops, battling with other grandmasters, setting up shop, and tales of rash disciples all have its air time here as well, and this one offered a lot more than the others because it's now a snapshot of a time that the rest hasn't, and probably will not, cover. This is Ip Man in his later days when Bruce Lee was beginning to make a name for himself in the USA, and chronicles the life and times, filled with its fair share of ups, downs, moments of pride and that tragic sense of loss, that comes with ageing, with a lot more focus on his group of disciples as much as it is about Ip Man's personal life.
The surprise is of course Yau teaming up with his long time collaborator Anthony Wong, who together have made iconic Category III films in The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome. Here, they reunite to bring a kung fu master to life, and a biographical one at that, and going by the trailers, Wong is no pushover as he executes the Wing Chun moves with grace and ferocity, with little that betrays the use of a stuntperson or wires to help make his a lot more graceful. What works here in the fight department is the awesome choreography that does justice to both the martial arts and the actor, obviously having trained for it, to execute the moves with as much authenticity as possible.
Action sequences may be limited in quantity given Herman Yau's and Erica Lee's story focused on the more dramatic moments, and relationships that Ip Man has with his wife (Anita Yuen), a songstress (Zhou Chu Chu) and his many disciples, but more than made up for it in terms of quality. Cinematography in action films are key in either wanting to play the cheat sheet with quick cuts and edits, with either faraway or tight shots to hide the stuntperson, but this one is done perfectly well to show off the cast members' moves and intensity of their blows, and does its action choreography justice, which for a martial arts film, matters most. Besides some speeding up detected, it doesn't have over the top style, but kept things as simple as Wing Chun's philosophy, and that battle between Ip Man and Master Ng (Eric Tsang) remains one of the best in this movie, and dare I mention also ranks as one of the best amongst the rest of the Ip Man films put together.
If there's a downside to this, it's the issue of having too many characters jam packed into this less than two hour story. There's a whole host of disciples that Ip Man had recruited, and while screen time is dedicated to these characters, their development was fleeting at best. Headlining the disciples were the likes of Gillian Chung chalking up her resume in her recent comeback, but her role was rote at best, with her relatively less well known stars given more screen time instead. Jordan Chan is the other famous headliner for the film, starring as Ip Man's disciple and a policeman, caught up with moral issues as his profession brings about opportunities for corruption at the time, and how he struggled with this moral dilemma. But it's not much of a struggle as it turned out, although the narrative steered clear on passing any judgement or ending on the character, except to remind that he was an important source of income to keep things going. Zhou Chu Chu as the songstress provided a promise of a romance that wasn't much, but this love story has its shades in Wong Kar-Wai's epic in being a love that could have been, told in a very different fashion here.
The opening film of this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival, with that territory comes a certain guarantee that this has to live up to its honor with high production values, which was a plus point as the 50s and 60s Hong Kong got recreated both in terms of external sets and interior art direction and production to transport the audience into an era long gone. Giving it some artistic credibility is how the narrative blended with the history of Hong Kong as a background, making it as much of a historical epic of the colony at the time as it is about the story of Ip Man's advancing years in life. Still, as part of the Ip Man movie canon, The Final Fight has its moments, and even if you're jaded from too many films about the grandmaster in such a short duration of time, this movie still has what it takes to offer audiences a different aspect yet to be seen of Ip Man, with its Wing Chun moves and fights being the icing on the cake. Recommended!