Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013)
Director: Herman Yau
Writers: Erica Li and Checkley Sin
Starring: Anthony Wong, Anita Yuen, Jordan Chan, Eric Tsang, and Gillian Chung

The Plot: Ip Man: The Final Fight is yet another film detailing the long and adventurous life of Ip Man, the master Wing Chun practitioner and famed teacher of Bruce Lee. In this entry within this offshoot series directed by Herman Yau, we find Ip Man (played by Anthony Wong this time out) during the last years of his life. He has moved to Hong Kong and starts over yet again. His wife tries to make the trip with him, but discovers life in Hong Kong is too much for her. So, Ip Man is forced to make it by himself. As he goes along, he meets a new woman and begins to train a new line of students. As things tend to go, Man finds himself at odds with local schools as well as a criminal syndicate who run an underground fight club.

The Review
Are you familiar with Herman Yau? If you’ve spent any time pursuing Hong Kong/Asian cinema, you may be more familiar with him than you actually know. He is the revolutionary CAT III director who gave the world The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome. However, Yau hasn’t been defined by his CAT III exploitation shockers. As a director, he has delved into numerous genres and had multiple successes, even within arthouse communities. His biggest mainstream successes, however, have come within recent years. After the Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen Ip Man films (Ip Man and Ip Man 2) became international blockbusters, it was only a matter of time before this historical figure had his story milked until no one could stand to see him anymore. That’s where Herman Yau and his Ip Man story comes into play. The Legend is Born: Ip Man was released right on the heels of Ip Man 2 and gave audiences precisely what they wanted: more of Ip Man beating people up. The Legend is Born was not a showstopping event in the least, but at its best, it was a a fun little adventure. It differentiated from the official series by showing Ip Man during his youthful days, and it seemed that Yau wanted to continue to give the audience something a little bit different by once again going to a more obscure moment within this man’s life: his elder years. Ip Man: The Final Fight, as you might expect, showcases Ip Man as he deals with age and the culmination of his many life adventures. So, in a lineage of films that have seen multiple ups and downs, how does this edition stack up? Keep reading to find out.

I am certainly of two minds when it comes to discussing this film. My first instinct is to point out the over-the-top episodic nature of the movie. So episodic is this film, that narrative directions seem to change every ten minutes. As soon as the audience feels that they have a grasp on where the movie is heading, the filmmakers switch things up – but not in the good way. Within forty minutes, the movie goes from having a lovestory as its focus, to a subplot about opium, another subplot about Ip Man’s new wife (or girlfriend) not being accepted by his friends and family, another subplot revolving around underground fighting, another subplot focusing on a friendship built between Ip Man and Master Ngai (Eric Tsang), a VERY small bit focusing on Ip Man’s complicated relationship with Bruce Lee, and even some heightened drama based around death. Some of these plots tie together, some of them do not. However, despite all of these very negative things, there is a certain aura of fun to the movie that can’t be ignored. Like watching a child go from one toy to the next, there is certainly a lot that can be enjoyed within The Final Fight. As the story progresses, we are given ample enough reason to sit through at least one elongated fight sequence – but no is going to complain about the silly reasons that get us to this point, because the fight scenes are pretty great. There’s nothing mindblowing to find here, but Anthony Wong is surprisingly strong in the action department and the choreography certainly prove to be creative.

Although most members of the cast prove themselves capable within the movie, the real standout is of course Anthony Wong. This legend of the industry needs no introduction for the audience, and seeing him in this laid back role is pure joy. Wong keeps the role subtle and he manages to differentiate himself from all others who have played the role so far. He’s less the showman that Donnie Yen has been, and his character has none of the cockiness found in Dennis To’s portrayal from The Legend is Born. Instead, Anthony portrays the character in a way that strips him down and simplifies him. Throughout the movie, Wong rarely smiles, and plays the character as a strong and stoic man of few words. This may be the reason why the film develops so many subplots throughout. Without the movie being anchored to Ip Man, who nearly moves into a supporting role due to his stoic and quiet demeanor, the film tends to run off into tangents. Going back to Wong, he takes this now “cinematic character” and moves him to his most obvious progression: a mature and wise man. Wong himself, has mastered his craft to such a degree that he no longer has to prove anything to anyone. Conversely, for Ip Man, teaching his martial art is one of the few things in life that still ignites his passion. Everyone knows his skill, and there seems to be few things that he’s out to prove. He’s still up for a fight, but his character seems as if he would be far happier sitting at home watering his plants or teaching a peaceful Wing Chun lesson. This is Ip Man: The Retirement Years, but for some reason it almost seems more logical or realistic than the other movies that have been released. And yes, I realize how crazy that sounds while discussing a movie that features a subplot focusing on underground fighting tournaments.

At 100 minutes, there’s definitely some fat on The Final Fight that could have been trimmed. While the movie does have a decent pace, it is more to do with the never-ending series of subplots that grasp the audience’s attention. In a movie such as this one, an audience member might expect it to be filled to the brim with action, but that ultimately is not the case. While The Final Fight does pack some decent choreography, it is not an “action” movie at its heart. Instead, this is a drama with fight choreography. That alone does not make it a bad movie, but it may not be what many audience members expect.

The Conclusion
There are ups and downs within The Final Fight, as was the case with The Legend is Born. Both movies are difficult to recommend with enthusiasm, but if you know what you’re getting into, they are worth a look. As with The Legend is Born, I am giving this a three out of five.