Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Cast: Max Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Dave Bautista, Liu Yan, Kevin Cheng, Chrissie Chau, Naason, Patrick Tam, Adam Pak, Philip Keung
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 20 December 2018
Synopsis: After giving up Wing Chun, Cheung Tin Chi (starring Max Zhang) ran into trouble with the local triad and had his home burnt to the ground. He took shelter on Bar Street and found solace from the neighbors. But when he discovered the triad was peddling drugs on Bar Street, Tin Chi took it upon himself to intervene. When the drug lord sought revenge and killed Tin Chi's friends, he decided to take on the drug lord in a final showdown.
Before we see Master Ip Man flexing his Wing Chun moves in the highly anticipated fourth instalment next year, here’s Master Cheung Tin-chi to whet your appetite in the first spin-off aptly titled Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy.
Max Zhang (The Brink, SPL 2) reprises his role from Ip Man 3, the lone assassin for hire and expert Wing Chun practitioner who lost to Ip Man in the finale match. Instead of continuing to impart his martial-arts skills to others, Cheung chooses to give up on Wing Chun and settles on a quiet life as a small grocery store owner with his young son.
Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a story or wow factor if the entire movie solely circles around Cheung Tin-chi as an ordinary grocery store owner. Before long, Cheung gets himself into trouble with a local thug, Kit (Kevin Cheng), who has earlier harassed a cabaret singer Julia (Liu Yan) and her friend Nana (Chrissie Chau).
Unfortunately, Kit is no small-time hooligan, as he is the younger brother of Sister Kwan (Michelle Yeoh making a special guest appearance), the head of the triad gang Cheung Lok. Moreover, Kit is trying to prove his worth by dabbling in heroin trafficking with his childhood friend and gang member, Ma (a returning Patrick Tam). As Cheung struggles to fend off Kit and his henchmen and a far dangerous opponent hidden in the dark, will he embrace the true spirit of Wing Chun ever again?
Son of producer Raymond Wong, Edmond, and his collaborator Chen Tai-lee return to their screenwriting duties and there is an obvious familiarity to how things proceed. Rather than trying to delve deeper into the character of Cheung, Edmond and Chen are contend in letting the entire story be hinged onto several action sequences. Thus, while Ip Man has to deal with a foreign property developer (played by Mike Tyson), Cheung has to deal with another foreigner, Davidson, this time played by Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista as a restaurant owner who has a penchant for grilling steaks and dealing in heroin.
Before Cheung comes face-to-face Davidson in the climactic fight, there are at least three subplots stuffed in between - first, the subtle romance between Cheung and Julia together with his friendship with Julia’s brother Kam Fu (Shi Yanneng); second, Sister Kwan and her wayward brother; and lastly, the drug trafficking plot mechanism which spurred the duels between Cheung and anyone who has a part in it.
Veteran action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, who also did the stunt design for Ip Man 3, takes on directing duties for this spin-off. While Yuen might be a respected action choreographer, he seems to lack the skillset to set up a more fluid movie, so much so that some sequences seem rushed and jarring, with even the editing looking awkwardly amateur at some junction.
Since Yuen is stuck with directing duties, the action design is mostly handled by Yuen’s brother, Yuen Shun-yee, and essentially none of the fight sequences (at least five of them) are as memorable as compared to say with the ones in Once Upon A Time In China, Fist of Fury or even the last Ip Man. The much touted fight on top of Hong Kong’s vibrant billboards sees Cheung attempting some ridiculous Spider-man moves. It’s probably wire-fu at its worst as all the lightning moves and high jumps look incredibly out-of-place for a grounded martial-arts movie.
It only gets better and thrilling later on when we see Cheung sparring with Sister Kwan in a brief session which sees Michelle Yeoh returning to form after a long while. Dave Bautista on the other hand fares better than Mike Tyson, as the finale fight between Davidson and Cheung is tailored nicely to fit with Bautista’s size and fighting style. As for Tony Jaa, who is also credited as a guest appearance, plays a mysterious hitman that worked for a crime boss played by Yuen Wah. Obviously, his character is almost redundant and only serves to spar with Cheung for no reason other than to make your admission ticket worthwhile.
The good looking, TVB actor Kevin Cheng plays against type right here but still makes a convincing performance as the spoilt, woman-abusing thug. Longtime HK actress Chrissie Chau is relegated to yet another thankless role that requires her to strip to her undies and gets beaten up badly, while mainland actress Liu Yan gets the chance to showcase a few nasty moves.
Without the star power of Donnie Yen, Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy is still a serviceable martial-arts flick though hardcore action fans might be disappointed especially with the flashy, impressive moves choreographed by Sammo Hung in the first two Ip Man instalments. Likewise, the story is like a retelling of the last Ip Man, and Max Zhang’s one note portrayal of Cheung Tin-chi doesn’t help much to advance his on-screen character.
(Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy is not going to go down in cinematic history as a memorable martial-arts flick; however it has enough non-stop action to keep fans mostly happy)
Review by Linus Tee