Film Review: Ip Man—The Final Fight

Cut off from his home and family in China, martial-arts teacher Ip Man tries to adapt to life in Hong Kong. Intriguing if reverential account of an icon's final years.

A revered Wing Chun master gets another film treatment in Ip Man—The Final Fight. Previous Ip Man biopics (the well-received Ip Man and Ip Man Returns) featured martial-arts star Donnie Yen. This entry showcases Anthony Wong, for the past two decades one of Hong Kong's finest actors. Elegiac and at times a bit too decorous, Ip Man covers the teacher's years in Hong Kong after he fled post-World War II Mainland China.

Although he has an unassuming demeanor, Ip Man is a proud, even haughty proponent of Wing Chun, a school of fighting that is looked down on in post-war Hong Kong. An early scene in which Ip is challenged by restaurant cook Leung Seung (Timmy Hung) is a marvelous showcase of the streamlined, defense-oriented Wing Chun style. Leung will help Ip establish his first Hong Kong school on the roof of a crowded tenement.

Ip's early students make up a cross-section of Hong Kong society. Wong Tung (Marvel Chow), a jail warden, will later open a rival martial-arts school. Policeman Tang Sing (Jordan Chan) in time falls prey to a gangster's blackmail. Seamstress Lee King (Jiang Luxia) will lead a strike that divides many of Ip's pupils.

After the Communists assume control of Mainland China, Ip is permanently separated from his wife Wing Sing (Anita Yuen). The script handles his subsequent relationship with singer Jenny (Zhang Chuchu) and their drug use tactfully. In fact, it often feels as if the teacher is too far in the background of his own story.

Herman Yau, who also directed The Legend Is Born—Ip Man (2010), takes an old-fashioned approach to the material, indulging in wonderful period clothes and pop songs, and staging ensemble scenes that wouldn't feel out of place in an old Golden Harvest film. Emotions are broad and the acting broader, apart from Hong Kong vets like Wong, Chan, and comedian Eric Tsang, very effective here as first an opponent and then a friend to Ip.

Producer Checkley Sin, who also wrote the story and helped choreograph the fights, was taught by Ip's son Chun. That may account for the movie's sense of authenticity, and for its reticence about Ip's personal problems. Oddly, the movie portrays kung fu star Bruce Lee, Ip's most famous pupil and arguably the reason why the teacher has been honored with so many biopics, as a crass, publicity-hungry poseur.

Ip Man—The Final Fight doesn't break new ground, but it is an entertaining look at a way of life that now seems impossibly quaint. Anthony Wong, an actor of remarkable subtlety, brings a melancholy depth to his role. His quiet, restrained Ip is an interesting contrast to the way Tony Leung Chiu-wai portrayed Ip Man in Wong Kar Wai's current The Grandmaster.