Ip Man: Kung Fu Master review – stylish martial arts potboiler | Movies

For those not up to date with the martial arts film canon, Ip Man was a true historical figure: a master of wing chun, a type of kung fu from southern China, which until recently was best known for training the great Bruce Lee. The real Ip died just before Lee in 1972, but his colorful life has since served as the basis for a series of films that have taken more or less slack with the facts, starting with 2008’s Donnie Yen vehicle Ip Man.

In these films, Ip is more than just a historical figure: he is a legendary figure, a fighter for justice against rogue criminals and sinister foreigners, especially in the films that focus on his years as a policeman in Foshan after World War II, before the Communists came to power and Ip and his family left for Hong Kong. Conversely, in Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster, Ip serves as a vehicle for a languorous contemplation of martial arts philosophy.

Loads more followed of varying quality, and this latest features Dennis To, playing the character for the third time, in the story’s Foshan policeman scene. To be fair, To is a less engaging performer than Yen, but his moves are shrewd and director Li Liming shoots the fight scenes – which really make up the bulk of the film – with great flair. Li is very keen on crossing quiet and loud interactions during fights; in the opening battle, for example, between Ip and dozens of axe-wielding gangsters, his superior officer (Michael Wong) plays chess upstairs against an enemy with the moves in the two parallel combat forms.

There’s later drunken-style combat and inventive use of props, but the film takes itself a bit too seriously and rehashed the play of plot tropes instead of inventing its own ideas. Ultimately, it feels about as meaningful as a pop video, but if you like martial arts movies the way others like, say, dance movies, it’s fun to watch.

Kimberly B. Nguyen