Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way: Ip Man: Kung Fu Master does not have Donnie Yen or Tony Leung. This is not Wilson Yip or Wong Kar-Wai. This is yet another in the myriad number of adaptations and stories inspired by the life of Ip Man, the master of Wing Chun, the martial art of which Bruce Lee was one its major proponents. His life has gone beyond what happened and fully into the folk hero realms whereby if it did or didn’t happen is no longer important, nor is where is this meant to actually fit into the life story of Ip Man but as long as it feels like it could happen, does it really matter?
Ip Man: Kung Fu Master is the third film in a series starring former Olympic Wushu medallist Yu-Hang To who also previously appeared in minor roles in the first two Donnie Yen Ip Man films. This one, set in pre-Communist uprising China concerns Ip Man’s time as a policeman as well as tussles between a local gang and the Japanese interlopers. But really, I could be completely wrong about the plot. I may as well get into it now, the storytelling is somehow threadbare and near labyrinthine which would almost be impressive if it wasn’t utterly frustrating at times.
Liming Li, while perhaps not a great structural storyteller or indeed a fluid one, as evidenced by the amount of scenes that end on a fade to black, they do at least showcase a strong sense of visual understanding, offering counterpoints to some well-staged action such as an opening frenetic one-man vs a gang fight contrasted with a game of Xiangqi, a hallway fight played for some levity as Ip tries not to disturbed his mid-labour wife, a rain-soaked (and, admittedly, Grandmaster-borrowing) fight sequence in which one fight is being weighed down by a large container of water. These visual touches help add a complexity to the visuals that somewhat help paper over the cracks in storytelling.
Yu-Hang, while lacking any real star quality in his dialogue sequences does thoroughly shine in the movies well-shot action sequences. This is something of a focussed action film in that the brutal and balletic fight scenes are truly alive but as soon as the action ceases, it feels like so does the film. The supporting cast and technical elements all acquit themselves well and there are some occasionally pleasing visuals. But the whole endeavour does leave a feeling of it being more of a technical achievement than a real exercise in filmmaking.
Why bother continuing to make films about Ip Man? Some might ask this, referencing the five films that are the best known chronicles of the man and maybe they have a point. But while the film is far from fantastic, it does at least suggest enough in the premise to justify its existence. If you want some fun, well-filmed fight choreography, this is definitely worth giving a try. If you watch action films for the plot, maybe try elsewhere.
Dazzler Media presents Ip Man: Kung Fu Master on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from 19th April