“A scholar and a warrior!”
Hey, you know what, how ’bout another movie about Ip Man? This is the fifth one I’ve seen in as many years. But this is THE FINAL FIGHT, so it’s the last one, at least until IP MAN: A NEW BEGINNING or WES CRAVEN’S NEW IP MAN.
This is from Herman Yau, the director of the least known but still good Ip Man picture, LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN, and once again with an appearance by Ip Man’s actual son Ip Chun (a consultant on all of the Ip Man movies except THE GRANDMASTER). But this time the attraction is seeing Anthony Wong (HARD BOILED, HEROIC TRIO, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, EXILED, VENGEANCE, everything else) take over the Ip Man role and play him as an old man. In THE GRANDMASTER it ends up when the good old days are over and everybody’s opening kung fu schools left and right. That’s when this is, over a period of years but focusing on the early 60s, around the time Ip Man was giving Wing Chun lessons on the roof of a building.
Ip Man is very humble and lives modestly. He’s really selective about who he’ll teach, and won’t even put up a sign on his school so that he won’t have to accept everybody. (Also, if I’ve learned anything from martial arts movies, so some asshole challenger doesn’t jump up and kick it.) He’s never jealous when his rivals, or even his own students, seem to have more success than him. His students are very loyal, though, and look after him. He mostly accepts it, but when he’s not able to pay rent he moves out rather than “bother them” for help.
The look and feel is really different from all the other Ip Man pictures. It’s the only one that doesn’t deal with the Japanese occupation, or even very much competition with other schools. The setting is different, more modern. And there’s alot of period music, which is great because it sounds like American music from the middle of the century, but it’s in Chinese.
Ip Man seems content to enjoy his old age. There are lots of scenes with people getting together for a dinner to celebrate something. There’s a pretty young lady singer (Zhou Chuchu) who keeps bringing him food, and for some reason falls in love with him. His family and students are not all happy about this.
Oh yeah, one way that it’s like all the other ones is Mrs. Ip Man (Anita Yuen) disappears. She comes with him to Hong Kong but then goes back to Foshan and the border gets sealed so they’re permanently separated. But his son (Zhang Songwen as Ip Chun), who narrates the movie, says his pops didn’t seem to care that much. This subtly indicates a cold, distant weirdo side of Ip Man that might be hard for some people close to him to deal with.
The young woman, who Ip Chun never learns the name of so he calls her “The Northern Lady,” makes an abrupt exit from the story too with the vague explanation, “Then for some reason she stopped coming.” I don’t really mind the episodic feel of these movies though, because it makes it feel more like a biography. And this one seems to have the most little details that seem to have come from reality.
The movie bullshit (which I also enjoy) starts as a subplot. One of Ip Man’s students, Brother Tung (Zhou Dingyu), gets pushed into competing in some underground fights in The Walled City. His Wing Chun proves unbeatable, which is good business for the crime lord Dragon (Hung Yan-yan), until it’s not. For the climax, Ip Man and his students come in to rescue Brother Tung after he’s been poisoned and nearly beaten to death in a fixed fight. (Note: never fall for the line “Have a soda pop for good luck.”) Next thing you know all Dragon’s men pull out hatchets and it’s an all-out kung fu rumble.
The martial arts here and in other scenes (such as a brawl during some kind of cutthroat lion-dragon-costume pole climbing competition) are not nearly as good as in other Ip Man pictures. This may be partly because Wong is not a martial artist like Donnie Yen or To Yu-Hang, and probly didn’t get to train nearly as long as Tony Leung. Also, when he faces Dragon in the rain, it can’t compare visually to THE GRANDMASTER’s fights in the rain. So that’s unfortunate.
There’s probly less fighting than in any of the other Ip Man movies. Alot of it is about things like helping people who need to write things in English, or having stomach pains and getting pissed when the Northern Lady slips him opium to ease them. I don’t mean that as a criticism, though, I think it’s interesting. He’s wise but old and vulnerable. So it’s exciting whenever some shit goes down and he slips into badass mode. He’ll walk very confidently into any situation, his students surrounding him like elite bodyguards, or even like extensions of himself. In that fight to rescue Brother Tung – the titleistical final fight? – the police have no jurisdiction to arrest any of these guys, so Ip Man tells an officer friend (Jordan Chan) to meet him just outside of the Walled City. He’ll bring them there to be arrested. And of course he does.
This is also the movie that most deals with that one aspect so many people fixate on, that Ip Man was Bruce Lee’s teacher. They skip over any of Bruce’s training and don’t say his name, but just call him “one of his pupils.” Near the beginning of the movie Ip Man hears about his pupil being on TV, at the end he gets a visit from him. What surprised me is that it’s kind of a negative portrayal of Bruce. He comes into town as this cocky rock star type dude wearing shades and riding around in a limo. He tries to bring Ip Man in the limo but he insists on walking. He tries to pay him to be filmed doing Wing Chun, but he won’t do it for money.
At the end he lets his son film him practicing on the dummy. This is his way of sharing his style with future generations, like THE GRANDMASTER’s Ip Man wanted to do. “Wing Chun is for everyone” he says. Some of the real footage plays over the credits. Here it is from Youtube:
As you can see he was dying and real skinny, but it’s cool to see his forms. I wish I could have one of those wooden dummies in my apartment. But that would be one too many mouths to feed.
If I had to rank the 5 IP MAN pictures it would be this:
But I like them all. It’s a pretty good movie. Especially recommended for Anthony Wong fans, or Wongamaniacs as they prefer to be called.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.