Ip Man: The Final Fight

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ip Man: The Final Fight
"There is no room here for melodrama, but emotional punches hit home as surely as the physical ones."

For the final part of the multi-film biography of legendary martial arts master Ip Man, Herman Yau returns to the helm, this time with his frequent collaborator Anthony Chau-Sang Wong in the lead. This is a martial arts film with a difference and many would say that it's closer to the spirit of Wing-chun than most. As its lead character is older, the focus is more on his philosophy than his fighting, though key scenes in which he shows what he's still capable of make a big impression and the fight choreography by Chung Chi Li and Kwok Lam Sin is superb.

Bruce Lee is no longer a significant presence in Ip Man's life, having moved to Hollywood, and the master is determined not to cash in on the fame his superstar might bring him. The film is narrated by Songwen Zhang as the master's son, Ip Chun, and the presence of the real Ip Chun in the production team lends this real authenticity. The story follows Ip Man's move to Hong Kong and establishment of a training centre there (not as a business, of course), his relationships with wife Cheung Wing-Sing (Anita Yuen) and a nightclub singer (Zhou Chuchu) and the experiences of his students. It's set against the background of a volatile period in which striking workers are frequently in conflict with the police, part of the city is entirely out of bounds to law enforcement and delays in pay mean families are struggling to feed their children.

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Erica Lee's screenplay takes a few liberties with the established facts in order to draw together these disparate threads into a cohesive whole. There are too many characters and she struggles to find room to develop them all properly, but there are interesting threads around Ip Man's encounters with a rival trainer and the pressures faced by a police officer among his students, who is hated by the people he tries to serve and offered bribes by the Triads. Martial artists have particular value to the latter, who make good money from staging no-holds-barred fights, and it is this that leads the master to his final confrontation. The 'fight' of the title, however, alludes to something larger. This is the story of an honourable man endeavouring to ensure the survival of his civilised values in a rapidly changing world.

Does this mean there's a shortage of actual fights? There are fewer than in many genre films, but the set pieces here will more than satisfy. A lion dance contest atop wooden poles literally descends into a bloody brawl. Rival schools battle one another in the street, with Yau's camera taking us straight into the heart of the action. In the final showdown, there's an acute awareness that film delivers some of the same thrills as underground fights, and that it too has its dangers.

With a political edge that recalls some of the work of Ip Man's most famous pupil, the film is nevertheless at its strongest as a character study, Wong's understated performance dominating the film whilst embodying the Wing-chun mantra one who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable. He is at his best opposite Yuen, giving us a glimpse of the love and humour that provide the master's foundations. There is no room here for melodrama, but emotional punches hit home as surely as the physical ones. This is a finely crafted film which takes care to situate action in context, showing us a man acutely aware of how small decisions can ripple through the world. It has a restraint about it which might not connect well with modern audiences but does honour to its subject.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2017
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The final part of the story of legendary martial arts master Ip Man.

Director: Herman Yau

Writer: Erica Lee

Starring: Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Gillian Chung, Jordan Chan, Chuchu Zhou, Eric Tsang, Anita Yuen, Xin Xin Xiong

Year: 2013

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong

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