IP MAN: KUNG FU MASTER (叶问宗师) (NETFLIX) (2019)
SYNOPSIS: IP MAN: KUNG FU MASTER harks back to Ip’s early days before the Communist Revolution in 1949. Ip, portrayed by Dennis To for the third time as the martial artist who famously tutored Bruce Lee, was then a police captain who was framed for the murder of a ruthless but honorable mobster, and targeted for vengeance by his dangerous daughter. Forced to quit the force, Ip soon also has to contend with the arrival of the Japanese army in Guangzhou.
Ip Man: Kung Fu Master is one of those small mainland titles that are relegated to streaming due to Covid-19. Honestly the best if not economic move for a title like this.
To put it bluntly, Ip Man: Kung Fu Master is yet another copycat title that ride on the immense popularity of the Ip Man franchise spearheaded by Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen. Instead of Donnie Yen, we have Dennis To as Ip Man. If you recall, To also appeared as the same character in the Herman Yau directed Ip Man: The Legend is Born.
The original franchise was a reimagined story on the life of the late Wing Chun master, Ip Man. Ip Man: Kung Fu Master fares much worse than the latter as parts of the story and setups are lifted straight out of the original Ip Man (2008), The Grandmaster and Kung Fu Hustle.
It’s the 1920s, Ip Man is a police inspector in Foshan who is investigating a case of opium smuggling. The policeman part is a true fact by the way not sure about the opium case though. Anyway he suspects the leader of the axe gang, San Ye (Michael Wong in a cameo) is behind the crime and that’s where we see Ip confronting San Ye and hundreds of his henchmen in the opening scene.
It turned out San Ye is not the culprit instead the baddies happened to be a cunning, sinister Japanese businessman and his military counterpart who are planning to invade Foshan. No guesses on how the story is going forward from this point on.
The good thing about this kung fu flick is that it’s basically packed to the brim with fight scenes. There’s no additional subplot to pad out the runtime except a clumsily introduced character which is based on Leung Bik, one of Ip Man’s masters and the birth of Ip’s elder son. The rest of it is spent on Ip Man sparring against the prior mentioned military guy and the ax gang which has somehow went over to the Japanese side. There’s also the daughter of San Ye looking to avenge his father’s death.
Because Dennis To is a trained martial artist and has been in the industry for years as an action choreographer, stuntman and actor, he is incredibly skilled and believable whenever he pulls off his punches and kicks. As the storyline is plain straightforward, it does not require To to showcase any of his dramatic acting chops except looking all too serious or staring blankly into the camera.
We do not really comprehend why Ip Man need to don a Black Mask to be a vigilante midway into the movie but yet another idea that is copied right out of Donnie Yen’s Legend of the Fist or the 90’s Jet Li flick. The story for the most part is a joke. The smell of nationalism doesn’t help either. This is a kung fu title that is purely watchable for the decent and we mean very decently choreographed action sequences.
Review by Linus Tee