By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
The flurry of films chronicling the exploits of legendary martial-arts master Ip Man suggests that the subtitle of the newest picture is misleading. “Ip Man: The Final Fight”? Not likely, if this icon of coolness and nostalgia continues to sell tickets.
It’s been a full three weeks since the release of the previous iteration, “The Grandmaster,” so to recap for the uninitiated: Ip Man changed the world of kung fu with his Wing Chun style, living long enough to send forth an army of followers and teachers, among them Bruce Lee.
“The Final Fight” begins halfway through the story (director Herman Yau already surveyed the younger years in 2010’s “The Legend Is Born: Ip Man”), as the man (played by Anthony Wong) arrives in Hong Kong in 1949 in the wake of the Communist victory. He sets up a humble school in a rooftop studio, shrugs off rivals, and establishes a curious relationship with a loyal singer (Zhou Chuchu) whose loyalty to him seems to have sprung out of a 1950s Douglas Sirk picture. Which is not a bad thing.
The movie tosses out a series of chewy scenes in a haphazard way: Ip Man schooling his hazily sketched students, settling the occasional fight with a thug, and—in the film’s irresistible centerpiece—engaging another grandmaster (jovial Eric Tsang) in a showdown that becomes a mutual-admiration session.
The loftier aspirations of “The Grandmaster” are nowhere to be seen here, but Yau’s storytelling beats turn out to be perfectly enjoyable on their own terms—the climactic stretch of kung fu is set up with the broadly-drawn motivations you want in this kind of exercise.
In the lead role, Anthony Wong doesn’t have the fighting chops of someone like Donnie Yen, who played Ip Man in two action-oriented biopics, but that turns out to be all right; if anything, Wong’s propensity for just standing there stone-faced while fending off his opponents’ blows only adds to the mysterioso effect of Wing Chun.
And the saturnine Wong is a real actor, a veteran of the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy and Jonnie To’s glorious “Exiled.” Fast hands are important in a martial-arts picture, but so are expressive eyes, and Wong’s got them.
“Ip Man: The Final Fight” (2½ stars)
Yet another biographical treatment of Ip Man, famed kung fu master. This one has straightforward appeal, some dandy fights, and the stone-faced presence of the excellent Anthony Wong, who really anchors the movie. In Cantonese, with English subtitles.
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Grand Illusion.