Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Writer: Edmond Wong
Starring: Max Zhang, Dave Bautista, Liu Yan, Michelle Yeoh
Recently there have been a lot of movies about Ip Man, the legendary martial artist, and master of Wing Chun. 2008’s Ip Man led to a number of films either focusing on the historical figure or involving him (the best of these being 2013’s The Grandmaster starring Tony Leung). With that, Ip Man films have basically become their own sub-genre. Even though Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy is a spinoff/sequel to Ip Man 3 (and Ip Man and Ip Man 2), it’s actually in the style of the direct-to-video franchise Undisputed by making the antagonist of the previous movie the hero of the next one.
We quickly catch up with Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) over the opening credits, filling us in on what happened in Ip Man 3 and where he’s at now. Tin Chi and his son live a quiet life running a grocery store. He gets drawn into the main plot when he’s out on a delivery, and he accidentally interrupts a fight between Tso Sai Kit (Kevin Cheng), his goons, and Julie (Liu Yan). Tin Chi easily kicks their asses, and in retaliation, Kit burns down his grocery store and almost kills Tin Chi and his son. Julia and her brother Fu (Xing Yu) take them in, giving Tin Chi a job as a waiter at Fu’s bar.
Unfortunately, he has the attention of Kit and his sister Tso Ngan Kwan (Michelle Yeoh), the leader of organized crime family who is trying to go legit. As you can probably guess, things get complicated. Tin Chi has to decide whether or not to get involved helping his newfound makeshift family and reclaim the title of Wing Chun master.
It’s a solid story for a spinoff like this. It’s complicated enough to be interesting but simple enough to follow. Interestingly, Tin Chi doesn’t really have much at stake when it comes to the gangland side of the plot, other than running afoul of Kit. He’s mostly involved because it’s either the right thing to do or to protect his friends and family, which is cool. It helps to shade him in as a character and show us his growth from somebody who’s basically hiding and nursing his wounded ego.
Max Zhang is effortlessly charming and has really good chemistry with everyone. He and Julia are love interests, and they’re both gorgeous, so you buy it. His friendship with Fu doesn’t get a lot of screen time to evolve. However, the actors smooth that over by being so at ease with each other. Zhang also has an instant rapport with Kwan. The smooth-as-hell “fight” over the glass of liquor between Zhang and Yeoh is so fun. It’s practically the centerpiece of the movie’s trailer.
Dave Bautista also shows up as the main villain, Owen Davidson. He’s a restaurateur who also moonlights as a drug smuggler. It’s funny when he pops up in a couple of scenes early on. He plays a kindly, well-respected businessman who’s mostly in the background. But he’s also big, hulking Dave Bautista, so you just know he’s going to be more involved and kick some ass at some point, which he does, of course.
The fight scenes are exactly what you’d expect from a film by director and martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping. Even something as inconsequential as Tin Chi and Fu sparring on a rooftop is shot with care and looks gorgeous. There’s even a special appearance by Tony Jaa as a mysterious assassin. The amount of screentime he gets bummed me out. But his fight scene with Zhang is simple and effective, just showing off two great fighters whaling on each other. I also would have liked to see more interaction between Yeoh and Cheng. Their sibling relationship was interesting, especially where it left them by the end of the film, and I’d like to have gotten more than a glimpse of it.
All of the action is varied and well-paced. There’s never too long of a lull before another one pops off. The story is simple and effective and a worthy follow-up to the Ip Man series. I know that Ip Man 4 is coming out this year, but I hope we also get to drop in on these characters again in the future. I wouldn’t mind seeing what else was in store for Master Z.
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy is available now on digital, Blu-ray and DVD.