Ip Man: The Final Fight Review
I am sure most filmgoers’ first experience with Asian cinema was through the movies of Bruce Lee. The King of Hong Kong cinema kicked and punched his way to being a global icon but as we all know legends must come from somewhere, usually other legends. This time it is from Bruce Lee's Martial Arts Master, Ip Man. Ip Man’s life has been adapted into film before, most notably in the 2008 Ip Man and its sequels Ip Man 2 and Ip Man 3 starring Donnie Yen and Wong Kar-wai's 2013 film, The Grandmaster, with Tony Leung as Ip Man. Now Herman Yau and Anthony Wong bring their interpretation of the Wing Chun Master to homes with the Blu-ray release of Ip Man: The Final Fight.
Set in 1949, the Wing Chun Master Ip Man moves to Hong Kong to help with his chronic gastric problems. While there he begins to teach Wing Chun to students from a variety of backgrounds, a union chairman, a prison guard and a police officer. However, it is not smooth sailing as he is beset by numerous conflicts with other Masters, a local crime boss and even his own students.
As an English person, I am at a disadvantage when it comes to foreign history, especially Asian or African history, as the curriculum at most English schools is/or was quite Euro-centric. As such I do not know an awful lot about Chinese history and historical figures. I can name you Confucius, Chairman Mao, some film stars and Ip Man. I bring this up to clarify my position; I do not know whether the events are factual, I assume that they have been dramatised to fit into a filmic three-act structure, but I do not know to what extent the facts are true and to what extent they are not. Regardless of the verisimilitude of the film, the plot of it is a little bloated. There is worker unrest, corruption in the Hong Kong police force, a mob boss and Ip Man's life itself. Each section feels underdeveloped and could have made a single film. Instead, each section of the story rattles past so fast that we only get obvious and surface level development of characters other than Ip Man.
Amita Yeun as Cheung Wing-sing (Ip Man's wife), Timmy Hung as Leung Sheung (Ip Man's first student) and Jordan Chan as Tang Shing (another student of Ip Man's who is also a corrupt police officer) feel relegated to the side-lines, watching while Anthony Wong's Ip Man does his thing. And boy does Anthony Wong do his thing. In comparison to Donnie Yen and Tony Leung, I would say that Wong is, by far, the most relatable and down to earth Ip Man, able to present subtle emotions by doing very little at all. Donnie Yen's Ip Man has the better fights, and The Grandmaster is more artistic, however, there is something more realistic about Final Fight and that is down to Anthony Wong's masterful performance.
Something must be said for the absolutely superb production design. Director Herman Yau and his team have painstakingly recreated 1950s Hong Kong, right down to the tiniest most intricate detail and it is a true joy to watch the characters interact with such vibrant and sumptuous settings. The fight scenes are wonderfully shot and choreographed, for example; the fight between two martial arts Masters, Ip Man and Ng Chung (Eric Tsang as the master of White Crane Style), is something to behold. During a Dragon-Lion competition the filmmakers use the poles that the Dragon-Lions perch on to great effect.
However, despite the fantastic performance, great action and absolutely gorgeous sets, Ip Man: The Final Fight feels lacking. I don't feel like I got to know Ip Man particularly, I got to see him react to situations and go up against mob bosses and kick their asses in balletic fashion, but I never understood him as a person. I think that is a feeling that can spread to the plot and other characters as well, I liked it and them, but I never really felt connected. This film has two main focusses, Ip Man and the fights. When it comes to these things the film does incredibly well; Anthony Wong is spectacular as Ip Man and the martial arts are masterfully done. However, when it comes to anything else it feels like a second thought and when half of the film is dedicated to these other things, whether that be plot or character, and they are not really thought out it distracts from what makes Ip Man: The Final Fight good and weakens the film entirely.
Distributed by Cine Asia, the Blu-ray release is a standard piece of construction. The film is presented in full 1080p anamorphic widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ration with a 5.1 and Stereo audio tracks. There are no visual and sound errors that detract from the movie or the extras. The sound quality is a little crackly on some cast interviews, but it is within bearable parameters. The subtitles are clear and easy to read, sometimes there is a little glitch here and there but it doesn't affect the legibility. Finally, the menus are also user-friendly, and it is easy to change the audio and subtitle settings while watching the movie.
So, when a film is entertaining but sort of average, a disc must really sell itself on its extras, and it pains me to say that there isn't much on Cine Asia's release of Ip Man: The Final Fight that inspires much confidence. The disc comes packaged with a trailer, which is something I always find weird, almost like you are preaching to the converted, as presumably you already own the disc.
The other extras on the Blu-ray are a collection of promotional behind-the-scenes clips that are edited together to give a great 10 minute "Making of" featurette, without removing the end cards in between. The film also contains cast and crew interviews that have a similarly promotional bent. There are some interesting insights into the movie and how it was made, the majority is content that you would find in the "making-of" clips. While these interviews have been extended, they say a similar amount about the film, which is not much.
Ip Man: The Final Fight is a solid martial arts film with some top-notch production design and a commendable central performance. It is not perfect, however, with a plot too overstuffed and characters that you can't really connect to. The extras are more promotional material rather than informative, but will more than satisfy somebody who already has an interest in Martial Arts films.