Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

MASTER Z: THE IP MAN LEGACY is the new film directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, a spinoff of IP MAN 3, which he was the choreographer for. It will make sense even if you haven’t seen that or the rest of the IP MAN series, though you should see them anyway, because they’re great. Donnie Yen is a producer of this one, but doesn’t appear other than in brief black and white flashes to establish the backstory.

In the tradition of UNDISPUTED II and III, MASTER Z takes the antagonist from the previous film and makes him the hero. Max Zhang (the main henchman from KILL ZONE 2) returns as Cheung Tin Chi, which I guess must sometimes be translated as Zheung, otherwise I have no idea why this is called MASTER Z. He was a younger teacher who defeated the great Wing Chun Grandmaster Ip Man in a public challenge, became legendary himself, but got too big for his britches and was ultimately defeated in a private challenge. Now he’s left martial arts – including turning down what could be well paying gigs as an enforcer – and runs a small grocery store.

No problem. Wasn’t he a rickshaw driver before he opened his school? And that can’t be that long ago because the son he raises by himself is still very young. He didn’t have long enough to get addicted to the celebrity lifestyle. (This presumably takes place in the early ’60s, which mostly just means the clothes are pretty cool.)

He’s trying to just live a quiet life, but you know how these things go. He’s making a delivery on his bicycle and some gangsters bump him. They’re in the middle of a fight with rich lady Julia (Liu Yan, THE THOUSAND FACES OF DUNJIA) over an opium debt incurred by her sister Nana (Chrissie Chau, who was on an Ip Man tv series) and they make a mistake of knocking over a birthday present Tin Chi bought for his kid. So he beats the shit out of all of them, even their scary pony-tailed boss Kit (Kevin Cheng, also in the Ip Man tv series). So the next thing you know Tin Chi is in a one man battle with gangsters willing to stand around laughing while tossing molotov cocktails into his place at night.

Having lost his home and place of business, Julia invites Tin Chi to live and work at Gold Bar, a fancy establishment owned by her brother Fu (Yu Xing, who played a different character in the first IP MAN). I like the relationship between Tin Chi and Fu, which starts out adversarial, includes a casual rooftop fight challenge, and turns into drinking buddies and co-vigilantes.

The story centers around Bar Street, which looks kinda like the set of GRAFFITI BRIDGE. I thought it was a cool soundstage creation, but since Woo-Ping mentioned worries about a typhoon in Fred Topel’s interview I’m not sure. At any rate, it’s a street between a bunch of clubs, lit by huge Vegas-like neon signs. An early but great fight scene has Tin Chi climbing up bamboo structures and fighting guys while nimbly standing on or jumping from the tops of the signs.

Somehow I forgot Tony Jaa was gonna have a “special appearance,” so I was thrilled to see him standing by to kick ass in an early scene. His character is the Boba Fett of this shit, a mysterious fedora-wearing enforcer apparently called “Sadi the Warrior.” He only shows up occasionally, but does have a fight with Tin Chi that pits our hero’s sleek sharpness against Jaa’s beefy bluntness, huge-looking fists hammering flesh and smashing through windows. If there’s gonna be more Ip Man Cinematic Universe I’ll be looking for Sadi.

Michelle Yeoh is also credited as a special appearance, but she has a much more central role as Mrs. Kwan, the sister and superior of Kit. She’s an unpredictable character who does scary mob boss shit but displays signs of honor and pisses off her brother by trying to transition their family syndicate into a legal (and therefore less profitable) business.

I feel like a dummy for this, but when Dave Bautista’s character Owen Davidson was introduced as a nice guy I took it at face value and thought he would be a cool, friendly ally to Tin Chi. I didn’t even catch on when we saw he was wearing a friendship bracelet from a child and he said that he volunteers at an orphanage. Obviously that’s laying it on too thick, but I thought they were just playing into how lovable Bautista is.

Of course he’s the bad guy, the gweilo who represents the colonizers, talks shit about the Chinese and pays off the cops so he can run drugs out of his fancy restaurant. And I guess even more of course he’s the giant guy who Tin Chi has to fight at the climax. It is spectacular to see Bautista get the Woo-Ping treatment, moving in ways we’ve never seen him move before, but emphasizing his size and power, lifting people off the ground, punches like battering rams that send bodies flying and crunching into walls. He gets a few moves that seem pro wrestling inspired, though he never goes through with the piledriver I kept thinking was coming. The fights also benefit from his development as an actor – he’s getting personality across in his expressions without the WWE style exaggeration.

His character is a giant-sized proper gentleman, his huge shoulders covered with expensive-looking tailored suits and vests. Always polite, runs a charity auction, keeps the peace during controversy, all from his fancy steak house that Tin Chi has to save up to go to on special occasions. So I love that the climactic duel is Tin Chi vs. Mr. Davidson alone in the restaurant and they’re smashing through tables, running over booths, breaking the furniture and glass dividers. By the end of it the whole place has been trashed and Davidson is running out onto the street stripped down, sweaty and disheveled. His whole surface has been dismantled. And none of the other less than ten people in the theater seemed to agree, but I thought the sight of Bautista fleeing like a coward was hilarious.

The fight also has the one moment where you really benefit from having seen the IP MAN movies. Like Ip Man, Tin Chi announces his name and his fighting style of Wing Chun. That’s something I always think is cool, but in this context it’s also moving because he’s getting over his bitterness from the events of the other movie and returning to the style he claimed he didn’t need. It also makes alot of sense when fighting Bautista, because Wing Chun is said to have been created by a woman as a way to fight opponents bigger and stronger than you. Also in this scene the IP MAN theme starts to play, and I don’t know if that means it’s actually the Wing Chun theme, or that Tin Chi is using what he learned from (losing to) Ip Man to defeat Mr. Davidson – the titular Ip Man legacy! – but it sure got me pumped.

As great as all that is, I actually think the highlight is an earlier fight where Yeoh’s character gets involved – and uses a sword! It’s such a thrill to see her leaping onto furniture and fighting like that again, especially in the business clothes and heels that represent her current status. And there’s some classic Woo-Ping shit with the sword slicing through furniture, clothes and curtains.

This isn’t as serious or classy as the first IP MAN, and there are certainly some clunky parts, like a few awkwardly abrupt transitions, and some questionable rocking out on the score during fight scenes. Tin Chi’s father-son melodrama (coming home too late on the kid’s birthday is an actual plot element) is repetitive of IP MAN 3 without adding anything original to it. And it’s fair to say that Tin Chi, while a good character played by an exciting new martial arts star, is not as compelling as Ip Man and his uniquely humble manner of navigating badass kung fu shit. I’m sure some people will feel that parts of this are more like MASTER ZZZZZzzzzz.

But man, I love this shit. These flawed people, once incredible warriors, now seeking peace and refuge selling groceries or serving drinks, finding themselves drawn through their circumstances, their codes and their talents into martial arts challenges, gang wars, and opportunities to help people, in blatant disregard of both the laws of the government and of physics. It’s a profundly corrupt world that can be fixed, but it will involve making alliances, climbing bamboo scaffolding, kicking furniture across rooms, beating up crooked cops and doing flying kicks through windows. Heaven.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 15th, 2019 at 11:52 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy”

  1. This sounds awesome, and I really look forward to checking it out. The Ip Man movies have been great.

    But color me disappointed- I was REALLY hoping this was my favorite No Limit Solider re-emerging with a new attitude as Master Z. It made me wanna say UHHH really bad.

  2. Spot on Vern, as always. Saw this last night, and had a fantastic time.

  3. Looks like I’ll have to wait for video since none of the theaters around me are playing it. Usually, if it’s not playing opening weekend, we don’t get it. Our theaters are very odd with which Chinese blockbusters they play and which they do not

  4. Hey, Free Dummy

    April 15th, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    I don’t know if I’m disappointed or weirdly pleased that after reading that review the first post on here was the same Master P joke I was gonna make.

  5. I enjoyed this as well. I’ll take it over Ip Man 3.

  6. I’m in the same boat. Not playing in my state.

  7. THanks for the shoutout, Vern

  8. Fred- That was a good scoop about him almost doing choreography for AQUAMAN! Add that to the list with Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN.

  9. I enjoyed this one. It’s very comic book-esque, which you get in the fights, the good over the top acting, and how there’s a weird look (and blue screen look at times) for a bunch of the scenes. I assume whoever owns the IP rights to Batman the animated series, ok’d “Black Bat” because that shit was totally bootleg. They also tacked on that scene with the kid and the repaired music box w/ Black Bat just in case the superhero stuff was too subtle. But they managed that sometimes tough tonal balance between a martial arts movie being broad, cartoonish, but also having some realism and stakes to the story.

    I will say, not that the 80s action classics I love are any better, but I’m picking up some strong nationalism/xenophobia component to a lot of these Chinese action movies (another one that comes to mind is WOLF WARRIOR 2), and this one was strong in that area too, as Bautista and the scenery chewing Brit “policeman” are the ultimate villains, and practically every single white foreigner is either corrupt or lecherous–usually while putting on a mug that makes the expressions that crooked, bad cop in IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK seem like Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s curious that they seemed to partially redeem (or make you consider pitying) Kit, who seemed as villainous and unlikeable as the other two.

    I’m guessing they made the powerbomb Davidson’s killer move because Bautista did a powerbomb variation as his finishing move in the WWE–I liked how they also went pro wreslting by having Zheung counter it with the hurricanrana.

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  11. I almost slept on this one because, frankly, I didn’t remember who Master Z was and I figured an IP MAN movie with no Ip Man was not really a great use of my time. But the supporting cast got me to take a look, and I’m glad I did because I think I liked it better than the IP MAN sequels (which I liked at the time but kind of went in one ear and out the other). The plot, like the other IP MANs, is episodic and highly unlikely, but I kind of dig how the action gradually builds from a rude random encounter to a gang war to some kind of mini-revolution against colonial oppression. The production design is great, to the point where I started feeling bad that they were smashing all those retro neon signs in that awesome fight scene. And I know I have gone on record as saying that costumes usually don’t bring too much added value to a movie for me, but I’ll make an exception for something that I always enjoy: kung fu in suits. You show me somebody doing high kicks in a nice three-piece with the jacket off and the sleeves rolled up like your bachelor uncle at a wedding and I’ll show you a good time at the movies.

  12. Especially in this one where Bautista is piece-by-piece stripped of his fancy clothes as he goes from a bigshot bully to a coward running away.

  13. That scene is how you can tell Bautista is a real actor. He knows that the foreign devil in an Asian action movie has to be arrogant in victory and craven in defeat, and he doesn’t let his ego get in the way of doing what the part requires. I can’t imagine many other name-brand tough guys (particularly another former WWE superstar) who’d allow themselves to look that pathetic onscreen.

  14. I enjoyed ESCAPE PLAN: THE EXTRACTORS, but he comes across cooler by being the asshole in this very good movie than the hero in that okay one.

    It’s crazy that there are already two movies with Bautista and Max Zhang. They should do a buddy movie now.

  15. Man, costumes are such an important part for me in movies…not that you always notice them, but they add a lot for me when well done.

    Bautista IS a great actor. I remember seeing pictures of him for Guardians, the big shirtless muscle dude and I figured “there’s the boring lame one.” Then color me shocked, he was easily the best character, and his line readings are really great…kind of off kilter and he delivers them in an interesting way. Plus unlike The Rock or whatever action star dudes, he seems pretty into picking interesting projects and/or characters. Not that they’re always winners, but you can see him trying to deliver quality shit. I was impressed with how old and broken down he played in Blade Runner, he was excellent in that part.

  16. Muh: My thing about costumes is that yes, of course they’re important, but in a subliminal way. I generally only notice them if they’re bad, meaning they don’t work for the characters and thus distract from the story. If they’re good, meaning they’re right for the characters, I take them for granted. I might think a particular jacket or something is cool but I’m never like “You know what made that movie great? The clothes people were wearing.”

  17. Helluva idea Vern. A Bautista and Max Zhang buddy movie.

  18. Finally caught up to this on one the net flicks, as an escape from the dystopian “reality” that seems to ramp up to new levels of lameness with every passing day. Anyway, thank goodness for the positive review from Vern that put this on my radar. Great performances, great costumes (as eloquently analyzed by others already), great side character/antagonist – turned – hero dynamics, just a very satisfying movie all round. I loved Michelle Yeoh and it was amazing to watch her spring into action with that sword. It tickled me that the camera would catch glimpses of the bar owner fighting her bodyguard in the background, or vice versa if we were watching that fight. (I wasn’t 100% clear why her bodyguard went after our 2 heroes at that point, since they were clearly there to trash the gang that was threatening Yeoh… but whatever.)

    I saw the 3rd Ip Man on a plane and I remember liking it, but not much specific other than the fight with Mike Tyson. Dave Bautista was wonderful in this one as the next logical step in the “giant westerner who will fight our hero in the last act” series. Hopefully they will continue with this in the next Master Z movie and he’ll go up against The Rock. DO IT.

  19. The Rock won’t play bad guys. Not his cuddly Disney image.

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