REVIEW: ‘Ip Man: Kung Fu Master’ Offers More of the Same

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Ip Man: King Fu Master

Ip Man has been the subject of many martial arts films and television series since 2008. While Ip Man had been shown in stories about Bruce Lee, his iconic student, he wasn’t the focus. Since then there have been many Ip Man films and off-shoots that have given martial arts fans an annual excitement. The latest film based on Lee’s teacher is Ip Man: King Fu Master, directed by Liming Li, and written by Li and Shi Qingshui. Additionally, this film marks Dennis To‘s return to the role of Ip Man.

In this Ip Man story, Ip Man: Kung Fu Master focuses on Ip’s early days before the Communist Revolution in 1949. Ip, at this point in time, was a police captain who was framed for the murder of a ruthless but honorable mobster which led him to be targeted for vengeance by his dangerous daughter, Qingchuan (Yuan Li Ruoxin), who finds herself as the new leader of the Axes. Forced to quit the force, the story soon shifts from Ip versus the Axes and into Ip, his teacher, and the Chinese people of his town against the Japanese Army in Guangzhou.

While I’ve grown fond of Donnie Yen’s iteration of Ip Man, To hits the ground running when his Ip immediately engaging in a one versus many fight sequence at the very beginning of the film. starting in the courtyard of a building and working his way up, To is able to showcase his physicality as he takes on members of the Axes. That said, it’s hard to be in a role that audiences have seen before, To’s strong resemblance to Yen will help those familiar Yen’s films come into Ip Man: Kung Fu Master. Additionally, by allowing To to open the film with a fight, it immediately pulls marital arts fans into the film and helps breakdown any preconceived notions coming into it.

In fact, when To is involved, the fight sequences are great to watch, especially when facing multiple opponents. However, the action sequences aren’t perfect and that is due in large to the fact that not a single one of Ip’s opponents seems to match his skill and strength one on one and the movie’s final fight is anti-climactic because of this. Additionally, one of my favorite elements of martial arts films is their speed. By allowing action sequences to progress quickly, you can see the skill of the fighters involved.

But despite elevating Qingchuan, the leader of the Axes and the daughter seeking revenge, to a villainous status at least for the beginning of the film, her fights with Ip are lackluster. while I’m sure that Yuan Li Ruoxin could be a capable fighter when she is the focus of a fight, the movements are slowed and the bodies more noticeably don’t make contact. This is extremely noticeable when she fights Ip while he is also fighting men. While it could be her use of axes, whenever she is fighting, it’s clear everything is at a slower pace. As she transitions out of her small antagonistic role and into a Ip’s comrade she loses her edge and seemingly her place in the story.

The larger element of the film was is the importance of resisting the imperialist Japanese Army and uniting the town and those who are impoverished and terrorized to find their power. In this way, the payoff of Ip Man: Kung Fu Master succeeds. That said, I’ve seen this ending before, and in truth Jet Li’s Fearless did it better. But while this story point seems somehow detached from the opening of the film, the most frustrating element is the ill-fitting costumes worn by the extras in the cast.

All that being said, there is enough in Ip Man: Kung Fu Master to enjoy if you’re a fan of martial arts films. It utilizes its sets well, allowing full movement through them and Qingchuan aesthetic is intimidating and well-crafted. Additionally, there are truly excellent moments sprinkled throughout the film, and To is able to bring a stoic charisma to his portrayal of Ip that works. While this more of the same both for Ip Man and martial arts films, it’s a film that you can watch with a bowl of popcorn on a Friday night and have fun with.

Ip Man: Kung Fu Master is available in theaters and on-demand December 11, 2020.


Ip Man: Kung Fu Master
  • 5/10
    Rating - 5/10
5/10

TL;DR

All that being said, there is enough in Ip Man: Kung Fu Master to enjoy if you’re a fan of martial arts films. It utilizes its sets well, allowing full movement through them and Qingchuan aesthetic is intimidating and well-crafted. Additionally, there are truly excellent moments sprinkled throughout the film, and To is able to bring a stoic charisma to his portrayal of Ip that works. While this more of the same both for Ip Man and martial arts films, it’s a film that you can watch with a bowl of popcorn on a Friday night and have fun with.