The story’s a non-starter, generic in the extreme.
And the performances flat, stiff and lock-still theatrical, when the players aren’t throwing punches left and right, up, down and sideways.
But those elements are not what we come to “Ip Man” movies for, are they?
So let’s get down to what matters in “Master Z: Ip Man Legacy,” shall we?
There’s an epic showdown above the streets of Hong Kong, martial artists going at it while leaping from marquee to neon sign along Bar Street — swapping punches from the moment they scamper up that favorite prop in Hong Kong martial arts movies, bamboo scaffolding.
When our hero, the “underground brawler” Cheung Tin Chi (Jin “Max” Cheng) meets the leader of the Triad Gang, the formidable Michelle Yeoh (“Crouching Tiger,” “Crazy Rich” you-know-what), he’s a waiter and she’s “testing” him with a beautiful, laugh-out-loud I’m-gonna-spill-this-drink-on-you/Like-Hell-you-are hands-on-glass tango.
And for the “big finish,” which doesn’t really finish the movie because it’s kind of clumsy with all the plot points and political points (the Chinese want to show how bad things were in Hong Kong under the corrupt, racist Brits), Cheung Tin Chi and Fu (Xing Yu) storm into an attempted gang coup.
A banquet hall into which 100 or more machete armed thugs turn their heads and shoulder in perfect sync, with that “whoosh” sound effect such movie moments have in martial arts movies. The fight that follows is a two-fisted stitch, but…that TURN and GLOWER.
Sure, the machetes and swords in the fights are often too-plainly fake, with the extras in that group scene plainly swinging square-tipped fakes to make the fight choreography less dangerous.
There’s wire work sending fighters up walls and over bar counter tops.
And there’s all this jerky fast-motion action in many of the brawls, especially the ones involving man mountain Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) or Yeoh, who is 20 years past “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
“Legacy” is another in the ostensibly endless sequels and spinoffs of the Donnie Yen film franchise about the Wing Chun master who taught martial arts to Bruce Lee.
These films are usually about the earlier life adventures of the master, but “Master Z” is a spin-off, built around a fighter, the aforementioned Cheung Tin Chi, who was defeated by Ip Man and went off with his little boy in search of “a simple life.”
“Master Z” is set in 1960 (judging from the cars, fashions) Hong Kong, and the dazzling neon of Bar Street is recreated on a sound stage for this tale of the man of violence who has eschewed violence forced back into violence by violent gangsters who mean to do him violence.
The tropes of such stories are all present and accounted for, the murderous tests — “Which is faster? Your fist or my gun?” (in Mandarin, with English subtitles), and the friendly “tests.” Any conversation, friendly or unfriendly (Kevin Cheung makes a good heavy), sitting casually in a bar or on a rooftop, can turn into the “Let’s see how good you really are” throw-down.
Tony Jaa of the “Ong-Bak” Thai martial arts thrillers shows up as a wild card, a man of mystery and violence who could throw in with either side in the growing “war” between our hero, the Triad and the corrupt British-led police.
Actor, fight choreographer (“Kill Bill Vol. 2,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and director (“The Iron Monkey”) Yuen Woo-Ping does a great job with the fights, pretty much any moment of violence.
The picture doesn’t have time for intimacy and romance, unless you count the white U.S. Navy sailors trying to get Hong Kong taxi dancers like Julia (Liu Yan) drunk enough to cross the line at her brother Ju’s bar.
The father-son stuff is predictably dull, save for the moments when the kid is menaced as their tiny grocery is firebombed (A fight with Molotov cocktails!).
But you know what they say about most martial arts movies, come for the fights, stay for the fights.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violent
Cast: Jin “Max” Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Liu Yan, Dave Bautista, Kevin Cheng, Tony Jaa
Credits:Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, script by Edmund Wong and Chan Tai-Lee. A Well Go Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:47