Ip Man: The Final Fight debuts today on Blu-ray and DVD from Well Go USA. (This review is based on my watching the Blu-ray version.) It's the second Ip Man film by veteran director Herman Yau. Previously he helmed The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010), which like Final Fight has a screenplay by Erica Lee. Yau's earlier effort was concerned with Ip Man's younger years. Final Fight is about the 23 year period from 1949, when Ip Man came from the north to live in Hong Kong until his death there on December 1, 1972.
|Anthony Wong as Ip Man
Here Ip Man, a grandmaster of the martial art of Wing Chun, is portrayed by another Hong Kong veteran, actor Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, who previously worked with Yau on such films as The Untold Story (1993; a.k.a. The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story) and Ebola Syndrome (1996). He brings a sense of serene dignity to sifu Ip, showing him to be a person who cares greatly about his family, his students, and the integrity of his martial art. He refuses to have a sign put up indicating that he's teaching Wing Chun, because a sign means business. As Ip says: "You can't buy kung fu like a bowl of rice."
|Eric Tsang as Ng Chung
The film also stars Eric Tsang as Ng Chung, head of the Pak Hok Kung Fu Academy. At first there is conflict between the two because of an incident involving their respective students. However, after the two masters test their skills against one another, their animosity changes to mutual respect and friendship. This is deepened when Ip comes to Ng's aid at a Lion Dance that has been rigged for Ng to loose. These are just two of several terrific action sequences in the film that were created by action choreographer Kwok Lam Sin.
The supporting cast acquits themselves quite well also. Among Ip's students, Gillian Chung plays Chan Sei Mui, a prominent member of the Restaurant Workers' Union who provides Ip with the rooftop setting where he initially teaches in Hong Kong. Jordan Chan is Tang Sang, a basically decent cop who is tempted by the corrupting influences in the city.
Zhou Chuchu, in her cinematic debut (at least according to IMDb) portrays Jenny, a lovely young singer. Ip comes to her aid when she is molested by some unruly patrons at an outdoor restaurant. She develops romantic feelings for him and takes cares of him for awhile after Ip's wife dies, much to the disapproval of some of his female students. Ip Man's son Ip Chun, who was able to immigrate to Hong Kong from Communist China in 1961, calls her "Northern Lady" in the film, though I must confess I have no idea why.
|Ip Chun, second from left, and some of his students
Xin Xin Xiong is Dragon, the legendary gang boss of The Walled City, a section of Hong Kong totally ruled by the criminal elements. The police themselves dare not go into this area. It is with Dragon, who has incredible facial scars, that Ip has the climactic "final fight" of the film, which happens to take place as Typhoon Wanda hits the city!
The one person who does not come off well in the film is Bruce Lee, who had studied with Ip Man. That connection is most certainly the main reason why there has been such cinematic interest in Ip Man recently. In The Final Fight, Bruce comes off as too materialistic, too "Hollywood" if you will, for Ip Man's taste. There also seems to be a disconnection, if not outright disapproval, because of Bruce's development of his own Jeet Kun Do. This seems to be regarded by Ip Man as a movement by Bruce that is too far afield of Wing Chun, raising the question of whether or not Bruce is still his student.
|Ip Chun as the store owner
There are two other points worth noting. First off, pay attention to the elderly owner of the store where an important telephone call to Ip Man is received. The "actor" is none other than Ip Chun, Ip Man's son. He also appeared, in a larger, more significant role in Yau's The Legend is Born: Ip Man. Also be sure to watch the credits: included with them is some actually footage of Ip Man working out with a wooden Wing Chun dummy.
The disc is packed with terrific bonus features:
- A very fine “Making of “ Featurette
- Numerous Cast & Crew Interviews
- Checkley Sin, Producer
- Marvel Chow, Wang Dong
- Liu Kai-chi, Lee Yiu-wah
- Eric Tsang, Ng Chung
- Li Chung-chi, Action Choreographer
- Xiong Xin-xin, Dragon Head
- Wong Cho-lam, Blind Chan
My only problem with the bonus features -- and it seems to apply to all Well Go USA releases -- is that they stream. After whatever feature one selects has played, the following features play without interruption. Often there's no indication that you've moved on to something else. While not a major problem, I sometimes find this disorienting, leading to a "what is it that I'm watching now?" feeling. I'd prefer the standard procedure of going back to the appropriate menu screen after the selected feature has finished.
As I've mentioned, there's been considerable cinematic interest in Ip Man in recent years. Donnie Yen portrayed Ip in Wilson Yip's Ip Man (2008). Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grand Master, also directed by Yip and starring Yen, followed in 2010, the same year as Yau's aforementioned The Legend is Born: Ip Man. Besides Ip Man: The Final Fight, 2013 also witnessed Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster.
Each of these are great films in their own way. I've seen all of them (including The Grandmaster in both it's original 130 minute version and the truncated 108 minute version dictated by Harvey "Scissorhands" Weinstein for the U.S. theatrical -- and presumably Blu-ray & DVD -- release). Each has a lot going for it.
But Ip Man: The Final Fight is my favorite. Not only are the action sequences top drawer, with Wong and Tsang in particular doing their own stunts, but the film has a compelling human narrative. As stated in one of the bonus features, Wong "was able to get inside the character of Ip Man." This gives the film real heart.
ACF rating: 4 out of 4 stars; most highly recommended.