Legendary Wing Chun practitioner Ip Man (Anthony Wong) arrives in Hong Kong and prepares for the eventual arrival of his family. Following the course of Ip’s life in Hong Kong, he is witness to social upheaval, the rise of Kowloon crime syndicates, and the development and rise of Wing Chun. As Ip enters the twilight of his life, he must step up and fight one last time, using his formidable fighting skills to the test.
Director Herman Yau returns to the subject of Ip Man after his solid Ip Man: The Legend is Born. Moving the calendar to the other end of the spectrum, Yau brings us a look at the master in his waning years and emphasizes the role of teacher he has played throughout his stay in Hong Kong. Offering a much more realistic take, at least for the majority of the film, here Ip is portrayed very much as a real person as opposed to the lionization of Wilson Yip’s and Donnie Yen’s own series of films and Wong Kar Wai’s own meditative and philosophical take also released earlier this year.
Wong’s Ip Man is soft-spoken but clearly wise and curious at the same time. A very good teacher, his philosophy of character development to go along with physical mastery is on display and he acts as a guide for more than a few of his students. He also handles his fight sequences very well and though he is not the martial artist that Donnie Yen is, it is clear that he put in the work and must have trained immensely in order to be convincing in the role. In truth, his fighting skill in this film is probably better than any other of his films, despite being the age of 52.
The extended cast is pretty expansive; longtime HK cinema fans will appreciate the likes of Xin Xin Xiong, Anita Yuen, Ken Lo, Jordan Chan, and Eric Tsang turning in an impressive physical performance as Ng Chung and showing some surprising skill in a solid but over too soon fight with Wong. Some fresher faces populate the screen as well with the likes of Gillian Chung, Timmy Hung, Zhang Songwen, and Jiang Luxia rounding out a younger generation of characters. Overall they are okay but the larger number of them makes the focus of the film shift more than necessary. Jiang Luxia is somewhat underused and though she does get more than a few exchanges, her ability as a screen fighter is not as evident in this film. Ip Chun himself appears in a small cameo but those familiar with Wing Chun will have no difficulty spotting him when he appears.
Production is good with a very large set convincingly standing in for mid-century Hong Kong. The background is populated and feels alive, it feels truly like a step into the past. Music is about average and while nothing jumps out at you cinematically, it gets the job done and is never inappropriate.
The Final Fight is much more meaty and intimate look at the figure of Ip Man. Clearly learning quite a bit from his last picture, Yau directs a more fully developed film and offers some solid fights. While destined to be compared to the immensely popular Donnie Yen series of films, Ip Man the Final Fight is an exciting and compelling action drama anchored by a terrific and nuanced performance by the great Anthony Wong. The film does turn more than a little ‘popcorn’ towards the end but it nonetheless is worth more than look.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: The Legend is Born, Hero Youngster, and/or Ip Man 2
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!