Every one knows who Bruce Lee is but what of the legend that trained him? Ip Man was a revolutionary martial arts master who popularised the traditional Chinese fighting style Wing Chun. Donnie Yen portrayed the grandmaster in the Ip Man film series, introducing him to a wider audience. Naturally, other productions would look to cash in on the success, Ip Man: The Final Fight being an example.
Released in 2013, Ip Man: The Final Fight is separate from the series made famous by Yen and concentrates on the later years of Ip’s life (played here by Anthony Wong). Although it looks to offer a more realistic account of the martial artist’s story, it carries with it a log of baggage that weighs down the film’s pace and structure.
The script, by Erica Li, follows a fairly standard plot that sees Ip in confrontation with a mobster known as Local Dragon (Hung Yan-yan). What drags the film down is the subplots that include a convoluted love story that has no positive impact on the film and the backstories of secondary characters that go nowhere. Too much screen time is spent exploring dramatic events when the audience is willing the pace to speed up and get to the fight scenes.
Unfortunately the action sequences flatter to deceive and although director Herman Yau frames some inventive and exciting snippets, they’re often lost in pedestrian choreography that looks dated. The film does kick it up a gear in the third act and the titular final fight proves enjoyable, even if some of the visual gags look out of place.
The script itself is witty as Li looks to inject humour into Ip’s life. The last scene is a poignant shot of frailty that humanises the legend, amplified by cutting in real life footage of Ip demonstrating his art. It’s a powerful moment to bow out, but the film doesn’t successfully build up to this climax.
Ip Man: The Final Fight is a jarring tale that tries to be too many things at once and lacks focus. It fails to be as entertaining as other films on Ip’s life but it should be commended for at least trying something different.