Wait, didn’t “Ip Man: The Finale” come out just last year?
Ip Man, that martial artist who never fails, the movie hero with more farewell tours than Cher, is back for “Ip Man : Kung Fu Master,” a solid set of martial arts brawls in a plot stitched together with soggy Ramen noodles.
Whatever resemblance these films have to the real life of “The man who taught Bruce Lee” is somewhat incidental, if not downright accidental. But the real Ip Man (Yip Man, “Man” being his name) was a policeman in Foshan in the 1930s. And that’s the jumping off point for this Dennis To “Fists of Fury.”
The most famous alumnus of the Wing Chun school of kungfu is a captain in the years between the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937.
Foshan (just north of Hong Kong) is a city all but run by the Axe Gang and its charismatic, briarwood-pipe smoking leader, San Ye (Michael Wong). Our captain takes his force’s “Protect the people, vanquish crime” motto seriously. There’s nothing for it but for him to march into the courtyard of the multi-story house where San Ye plays Xiangqi with one of his subordinates, and beat the hell out of the hatchet-and-axe-wielding “Axe Gang” minions who don’t want their boss arrested.
Axe murderers vanquished, San Ye comes along quietly. He is described as “honorable,” a “patriot.” He’s just killed somebody who is collaborating with the Japanese, smuggling opium to the masses.
Which is why San Ye dies in custody. The chuckleheaded chief, under the thumb of the Japanese — who haven’t yet invaded — fingers Ip Man for the murder.
Nothing for it but to grab the family, lay low with this mysterious “uncle” and master of Wing Chun (Dongfeng Yue) they just met, conjure up a “black knight” mask and fight the real enemy — the Japanese.
I’ve dropped in on an Ip Man or two over the years of this franchise, which started in 2008. There’s a lot of Chinese jingoism in this incarnation.
“If all Chinese were like you, we’d only be trampled by others,” Ip Man hisses (in Mandarin with English subtitles). “We Chinese would rather die than surrender!”
The Japanese make cartoonish villains, the sorts who show up in bad movies and want to stage a “martial arts…exchange.”
Because “They are not equal to our karate!”
To owes his career to the fact that he looked like martial arts star Donnie Yen, the original “Ip Man.” The replacement Ip is more competent than charismatic.
Like everybody else who works the martial arts movie trade, co-writer/director Li Liming builds his film around set-pieces — axe murderer mayhem, a mid-childbirth (for Ip Man’s wife) throwdown, a “rescue” of Fan Ye’s feisty, kungfu-fighting daughter (Wanliruo Xi) and a Sino-Japanese bout in the ring.
The script’s a mess, the fights solid (a little wirework, not much) and the costumes — black minion-wear, Japanese black leather overcoats (Nazi iconography) — first rate.
Only one moments stands out, though, a little over-the-top Japanese cruelty, deserved, all historical things considered. That involves “executing” a dead man by firing squad, shooting the ropes that hold up his coffin so that it’ll crush a child plucked off the street for this demonstration.
That Sino-Japanese hatred just doesn’t let up. Sadly, the movie’s one long let-down.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, bloodshed
Cast: Dennis To, Michael Wong, Wanliruo Xi, Dongfeng Yue
Credits: Directed by Li Liming, script by Shi Chingshui and Li Liming. A Magnet release.
Running time: 1:24