Dennis To returns to the Ip Man franchise as Ip Man himself, whose time as a police captain is challenged by a vengeful mob boss while the Japanese army prepares an invasion. While he’s missing a formidable opponent in Ip Man: Kung Fu Master, which rarely hits the stunning highs of its predecessors, Aaron Yap finds the action hasn’t lost its novelty.
Getting a new Ip Man movie every festive season for the last several years has become an annual tradition I’ve been enjoying immensely. It’s been a comforting little stocking filler, regardless of quality—and you can bet that it’s varied somewhat, given how deep into the mythology we are now.
If we’re counting the original and its sequels, non-canon spinoffs, and Wong Kar-wai’s arthouse outlier The Grandmaster, the latest, Ip Man: Kung Fu Master, is the ninth entry in the long-running franchise that continues to milk the myth of Bruce Lee’s hallowed mentor for all its inspirational, heroic worth. A follow-up to 2010’s prequel The Legend is Born, this one is as aggressively uncomplicated and workmanlike a piece of “Ipsploitation” as they come.
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Playing fast and loose with historical accuracy as per convention, the film peddles in heavily recycled tropes: duty to family, police corruption, blood vengeance and Nationalist rhetoric that indiscriminately demonises the Japanese. Dennis To reprises his version of Ip Man in this police captain timeline, and while he’s still missing Donnie Yen’s electrifying star presence, his physical resemblance to Yen works to his favour. Most importantly, he’s a completely capable and skilled fighter.
Disappointingly, the film doesn’t give him a formidable opponent to lift the action up a notch; as a spinoff like Master Z: Ip Man Legacy demonstrates, casting stalwarts like Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa, and Dave Bautista can be hugely beneficial. So yes, perhaps this is just another shameless cash-in, rarely hitting the stunning highs of its predecessors. But sometimes I’m just thirsty for 83 minutes of thumping Wing Chun fistwork—watching one dude calmly taking on a horde of hatchet-wielding thugs hasn’t lost its novelty. Ip Man: Kung Fu Master ably satiates that thirst, but I’ll probably forget seeing it until next Christmas rolls around.