Review by Sean Boelman
There have been multiple separate versions of the Ip Man story told in film in the past decade, but what makes Ip Man: Kung Fu Master so confusing is that it is unrelated to any other one, yet it isn’t the first to star Dennis To. Passably entertaining but inferior to the more mainstream movies, this almost would have been better as a generic kung fu action flick.
The film is set during Ip Man’s days as a policeman as a brutal gangster and invading Japanese forces set their eyes on him as their target. As is the case with every movie about the legendary martial artist, there’s a bad guy that needs to be taught a moral lesson, and what better way to do it than with a fight and a monologue.
Unfortunately, this movie falls victim to the xenophobia and jingoism that defines Chinese cinema more so than any other Ip Man film. Granted, American movies about military heroes are just as gung ho with their patriotism, but all of these movies have been about making the world a better place, not making China a better place.
At under ninety minutes in length, this is a lot more subdued than any of the martial arts epics that have made up previous Ip Man stories, for better or worse. There are a few major action sequences tied together by a narrative thread that is both underwritten and far too busy for its own good.
A majority of the audience will already know what makes Ip Man such an iconic figure in martial arts history, and as a result, they will identify with him as the film’s hero. However, the character development in this movie is virtually non-existent, so it is really relying on the audience’s pre-existing goodwill.
Dennis To is a strong martial artist, but one would be lying if they said he stood up against Donnie Yen, who plays the protagonist in the more popular films. Still, To obviously enjoys getting the opportunity to bring this character to life, and this passion for the role has a magnetic quality about it.
The action choreography is nowhere near as impressive as one would hope for a movie that centers around one of the most famous martial artists of all time. There are some fun moments, but for the most part, it’s largely forgettable. And in terms of the rest of the film’s execution, it mostly looks overwhelmingly cheap.
Ip Man: Kung Fu Master is worth a watch for anyone trying to watch every movie about the grandmaster, but for most casual martial arts fans, it’s probably one to skip. The more established franchises do this formula much more effectively.
Ip Man: Kung Fu Master hits theaters and VOD on December 11.