"Wong manages to capture the wisdom and calm authority of Ip Man, giving him a kind of fatherly air"
The story of the martial arts grandmaster Ip Man has become something of a popular topic for films in recent years, with several film biopics and a TV series being produced to tell the story of this fascinating man.
Ip Man: The Final Fight is yet another attempt to tell the story of the legendary martial arts master, but fails to cover anything that hasn’t been already told before or offer anything of substance aside from its exciting action set pieces.
Martial arts master Ip Man arrives in colonial era Hong Kong with the intention of teaching the martial art known as Wing Chun. Gaining a legion of loyal pupils, and more than a few rivals, Ip Man attempts to spread the teachings of Wing Chun, but finds himself beset with illness, and forced to use his skills to help his pupils when they find themselves involved with a notorious Hong Kong crime boss known only as The Dragon.
Anthony Wong gives an engaging performance in the title role as the legendary grandmaster Ip Man. Wong manages to capture the wisdom and calm authority of Ip Man, giving him a kind of fatherly air to him in the way that he cares for his pupils while offering sage advice on the philosophical aspects of Wing Chun. While managing to present himself as a wise master, Wong nonetheless manages to present Ip Man as a force to be reckoned with in battle, being a lightning fast and brutal master as he effortlessly defeats his foes.
Aside from Wong’s fine lead performance, the real draw of the film are the fight sequences peppered throughout. Fast, fluid, brutal and intense, the fight sequences are a masterwork of choreography and camera work, a welcome change from the quickly cut messes of fight scenes in most modern Hollywood films. I personally loved the film’s brilliant climax in which Ip Man and his pupils battle The Dragon and his henchmen in a massive brilliantly choreographed brawl, culminating in the two master battling each other in a typhoon battered alley.
I also was particularly impressed with the film’s production design, with seemingly no expense spared by the filmmakers in building a giant recreation of mid 20th-century colonial era Hong Kong. It’s a truly impressive set to behold.
However, while I appreciated Wong’s performance, the production design and the film’s numerous action sequences, I found the rest of the film to be sorely lacking. The plot for example, while aiming for a more realistic and grounded take on Ip Man, was fairly uninteresting for the most part, with it jumping around between plot points ranging from an industrial strike involving Ip Man’s pupils, or a short-lived rivalry between Ip Man and another grandmaster, to name a few plot points.
The story involving the villainous Dragon which really ought to have been the main plot is often forgotten for large portions of the runtime, really only becoming a vital issue in the film’s final act. The dull plot is not helped by the film’s slow pace, which when it isn’t focused on the Ip Man and his battles, slows to a snail's pace and renders the film rather boring in places. And the film’s way it briefly looks at the relationship between Ip Man and his most famous pupil, the legendary Bruce Lee, is handled in such a clumsy and forced fashion they needn't have bothered with it, although by this point mentioned Bruce Lee in an Ip Man film has become mandatory.
Ip Man: The Final Fight is overall a rather disappointing watch. While Wong’s performance and the film’s brilliant fight sequences offer much to enjoy, the slow pace and the dull disjointed plot cripple the film severely and leave it largely dull watch with only flashes of action saving it from being a complete waste. Give it a watch if you’re an Ip Man film completist, otherwise just stick with the Donnie Yen Ip Man trilogy which offer a much more inaccurate take on the grandmasters life, but offers more exciting watch.