With “Ip Man — The Final Fight,” the lucrative Chinese franchise about the grandmaster of Wing Chun reaches a plateau. Competently executed by Hong Kong helmer Herman Yau, with the title role magnetically played by Anthony Wong, the film delivers a detailed account of the hero’s middle-to-later years that is never boring. What the pic lacks in stylistic sparks compared with other renditions by Wong Kar Wai and Wilson Yip, it makes up for in sinewy action and traditional values. The film should have a decent run in Asian markets, and attract offshore genre completists who embraced the franchise, mostly on home formats.
“The Final Fight” follows Yau’s “The Legend is Born — Ip Man” (2010), which depicted the legendary character’s youth. Both are produced by Checkley Sin, an investor and Wing Chun consultant on the earlier “Ip Man” (2008) and “Ip Man 2” (2010) helmed by Yip.
The story — credited to Sin, a pupil of Ip’s son Chun — is diligent in representing the protag’s life with authenticity and respect, but pacing suffers. There’s only so much to draw from one man’s life, and this installment’s focus on Ip’s middle age and his role as a teacher yields an inherently less active story. Qualities like humility and restraint are readily appreciated by Asian auds, but genre fans in the West may be underwhelmed by the fewer scenes of stirring conflict.
The film follows Ip’s life from age 56 to his death at 79. In 1949, following the Communists’ victory in China. Ip leaves his family in his hometown of Foshan, Guangdong Province, and arrives in Hong Kong. Calling on a friend, he is challenged to a duel by cocky cook Leung Seung (Timmy Hung, son of action star Sammo Hung). In a sequence that skillfully highlights the pliant style of Wing Chun, Ip defeats Leung without moving from where he stands.
Leung subsequently uses his professional connections to help Ip form a makeshift school on a rooftop, which attracts a motley crew of pupils: policeman Tang Sing (Jordan Chan), jail warden Wong Tung (Marvel Chow, Sin’s disciple and the film’s Wing Chun consultant), dim-sum vendor Sei-mui (Gillian Chung), Lee King (Jiang Luxia) and tram-driver Ng Chan (Donny Ng).
As in “The Legend in Born,” Yau delights in period nostalgia, recreating the messy but bustling street life of ’50s and ’60s Hong Kong with colorful studio sets, but also depicting an environment of labor unrest, government corruption and colonial oppression. In this sense, the theme is as much about the difficulty of making an honest living as it is the challenges of preserving the core values of Wing Chun. A brief encounter between Ip and a pupil who’s become an “international star” (who looks suspiciously like Bruce Lee) reinforces Ip’s anti-elitist attitude toward disseminating his art.
Although the proportion of action to drama is less than that in “The Legend is Born,” this sequel still boasts four vigorous setpieces, shot with minimum stylistic distraction by Joe Chan, and edited briskly by Azrael Chung. A duel between Ip and Ng Chun (comedian-producer Eric Tsang), master of the White Crane school, displays a precision and fierceness unexpected of elder-statesmen Wong and the pint-sized Tsang. Their sportsmanlike rapport contrasts with a later battle against an unscrupulous underground boxer (Ken Low), which combines visual exuberance with undertones of malice.
Wong convincingly draws on his lifelong training in Monkey Fist boxing style to strike the pose of grandmaster, Ip’s outsider status underscored by a thick Foshan accent. Wong’s dramatic range shines in a cordial, slow-brewing romance with a Shanghainese songstress (Zhang Chuchu), the unmistakable sexual chemistry in contrast with a brief, almost platonic interlude with his wife Wing Sing (Anita Yuen).
Unfortunately, most other thesps are let down by Erica Lee’s workmanlike screenplay, which tries to pack in too many characters and incidents, none of which develop into anything of substance. Chow’s martial arts acumen can’t help his hopelessly wooden acting, while Jordan Chan’s evocative perf gives his undercooked cop role an intriguing ambiguity.
Tech credits are generally pro, but lack distinction, with crowd fights staged as unfocused melees. Brother Hung’s clamorous score distracts from the visual spectacle of the action and drowns out quieter dramatic moments.
Ip Man – the Final Fight
Yip Mun – Chung Gik Yat Jin
Reviewed at Hong Kong Film Festival (Opener), March 17, 2013. Running time: 100 MIN.
An Emperor Motion Pictures (Hong Kong), release of a National Arts Films Prod., Emperor Film Prod. Co., Dadi Century Co. presentation of a National Arts Films production. (International sales: Emperor Motion Pictures, Hong Kong.) Produced by Checkley Sin, Albert Lee. Executive producers, Checkley Sin, Albert Yeung. Co-producers, Cherry Law, Catherine Hun.
Directed by Herman Yau. Screenplay, Erica Lee, based on a story by Checkley Sin. Camera (color, widescreen), Joe Chan; editor, Azrael Chung; music, Brother Hung; production designer, Raymond Chan; costume designer, Thomas Chong; sound (Dolby Digital), Ken Wong; supervising sound editor, Wong Chun-hoi; re-recording mixer, Ken Wong; visual effects, Herb Garden; action choreographers, Li Chung-chi, Checkley Sin; martial arts consultants, Marvel Chow, Leo Au Yeung, Luk Chung-mow, Joe Luk, Yiu Kin-kong; assistant director, Ko Tsz-pun; second unit director, Ngai Man-yin.
With Anthony Wong, Zhou Chuchu, Anita Yuen, Eric Tsang, Timmy Hung, Jordan Chan, Gillian Chung, Marvel Chow, Jiang Luxia, Donny Ng, Xiong Xinxin, Ken Low, Wong Cho-lam, Liu Kai-chi, Law Koon-lan, Ip Chun. (Foshan dialect, Cantonese dialogue)