Ip Man: The Final Fight (Yip Man: Jung gik yat jin)
Hong Kong (2013) Dir. Herman Yau
In post war Hong Kong, Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Anthony Wong) arrives from Foshan to start a peaceful life, believing his fighting days are over. He meets a keen martial artist Leung Sheung (Timmy Hung) and begins teaching classes on a rooftop to a group of students who hold him in great reverence but their antics draw Ip Man back to fighting again.
Having told the story of the early days of the legendary Yip Man in his 2010 film The Legend Is Born, Herman Yau skips the middle part of the story – as told in Wilson Yip’s two films starring Donnie Yen along with the slightly abstract adjunct of Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster – and jumps to the final years of the grandmaster’s life.
High on drama with a liberal amount of action, veteran Anthony Wong is the latest actor to fill this demanding role, apparently accepting the gig during a drinking session which he meant as joke. Unfortunately for Wong, Herman Yau was serious instigating a prompt change in diet and training regime for our leading man.
The story sees Ip Man arriving in Hong Kong alone, his two daughters having starved to death during the war with just his wife Cheung Wing-sing (Anita Yuen) and son Ip Chun (Zhang Songwen) left. While Ip Chun attends college in Foshan Wing-sing arrives in Hong Kong to be with her husband but doesn’t take to well to the Hong Kong lifestyle, even though she receives a warm welcome from Ip Man’s students.
Wing-Sing son returns home but a change in the law prohibits her return to Hong Kong, making this the last time husband and wife see each other. Shortly after, Ip Man protects a young bar singer, Jenny (Zhou Chuchu), who takes a shine to the much older martial arts teacher although she is less well received by his students.
Included in this dedicated group of disciples is Tang Shing (Jordan Chan) a policeman who drifts away from the group when he receives a promotion and slowly becomes ensnared in the world of corruption, which leads him to work for a criminal boss named Dragon (Hung Yan-yan), who stages illicit boxing matches outside of the Hong Kong police jurisdiction known as the Walled City. Later when two students, Wong Tung (Zhou Dingyu) and Chan Sei-mui (Gillian Chung), marry they open their own Wing Chun school but business is slow and Tong secretly accepts Tang Shing’s offer to fight for Dragon.
Delineating the story of the students and their lives post training gives the Ip Man legend an added layer of drama that shows the man’s influence extends past his Wing Chun fighting skills. One student, Lee King (portrayed by female martial arts champion Jiang Luxia) is a union rep who learns patience from Ip Man whereas she would shout the odds at every transgression of their employers, a reaction which lands her in jail. But when she has to, she kicks some major butt!
Slightly more melancholic is Ip Man’s relationship with his son which is distant at best, even when he moves to Hong Kong after his mother’s death. Ip Chun may have joined his father but he finds himself in a ready made family situation with the students, all of whom stay connected to their master. At this stage Ip Chun (who has a cameo as a shop owner) isn’t interested in following in his father’s footsteps and feels left out, the lines of connection somewhat difficult to be established between the two. Jenny’s presence doesn’t help matter much either.
It wouldn’t be an Ip Man film without some fights and while Anthony Wong is no Donnie Yen, he is more than capable of holding his own on the combat front. His veteran standing and senior poise and presence gives him that gravitas the dramatic aspect of the role demands. Similarly his fighting style is more graceful and disciplined that yen’s more aggressive and flashy style. Wong gets to put his skills up against co-stars young and old, including a cameo from comedian Eric Tsang as rival school owner Ng Chung, who also surprises with his adequate fighting skills.
The rest of the cast handle themselves with little embarrassment for a group who are predominantly actors, save for the aforementioned Jiang Luxia, who is crying out for a vehicle to show off her talents, with this coming the closet, despite being underutilised here. The good news is however that her acting has improved a lot which is a bonus. And if you hadn’t guessed, Timmy Hung – who plays real life Ip Man student and Wing Chun teacher in his own right Leung Sheung – is the son of the legendary Sammo Hung, who appeared in both Ip Man 2 and The Legend is Born!
For most people Yip Man is famous for being the teacher of a certain Bruce Lee, whose presence in this film is pretty much negligible bar from a brief real life clip shown on a TV at the start of the film and a dodgy representation at the end, which feels more like a caricature than anything else – not to mention the actor looks nothing like him! Thankfully every other aspect of recreating Hong Kong from the 1940’s to the 1960’s is visually accurate.
Ip Man: The Final Fight is a satisfying enough conclusion to the legend of the revered Wing Chun master. It may play out more as a soap opera in places but Herman Yau keeps the balance between the drama and the action fairly even to keep both sides of the audience happy.