For the third time, martial artist Dennis To portrays legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man in director Liming Li’s Ip Man: Kung Fu Master. Li also handles scripting duties for the film, which focuses on Ip’s early days before the Communist Revolution. At the time, Ip was then a police captain in Foshan. After arresting Third Father (Michael Wong), a ruthless but honorable mobster, the suspect dies under mysterious circumstances while in police custody.
Ip then finds himself targeted for vengeance by Qing Chuan (Wanliruo Xin), Third Father’s dangerous daughter. Forced to quit the force, Ip becomes a vigilante known as the Black Knight, unleashing his justice brand. Meanwhile, Sasaki, the town’s chamber of commerce, has a personal vendetta against Ip Man. Ip must also contend with the Japanese army’s arrival in Guangdong province, led by the diabolical Tokugawa. The army is looking to set up a martial arts tournament.
Known among martial artist purists, a sensei Ip Man’s most famous student was Bruce Lee. While there were numerous media portrayals of the historical figure on film before, it was not until Donnie Yen portrayed him in 2008 that mainstream audiences took notice. I had not seen any of Dennis To’s previous incarnations, so I was interested in seeing his approach to the role.
Ip Man: Kung Fu Master is the second directorial effort in Liming Li filmography. Due to the popularity of the Donnie Yen-based Ip Man films and to avoid comparison, Li keeps his film short at 83 minutes. I must advise that the script avoids any actual character development unless you consider the moments we focus on Ip’s newborn son and wife. Personally, this is fine as the only thing I wanted to see was Ip Man displaying his martial skills.
Yes, there is a story here that could write itself. Heck, I would love to see Justin Lin or John Woo take on IP Man’s cop years’ biographical tale as he takes down corruption. However, the Ip Man movie franchises have never been actual biographical films about his life. Instead, they broadly touch on the elements from his life and highlight the action in which audiences of the West will find more investment. Which on that front the film delivers.
I prefer Donnie Yen’s take on the character. However, Dennis To does a decent job in the role, so I may seek out the earlier films where he played the character. Ironically, To does favor a young Donnie Yen. So maybe if Yen does a biopic one day, he will cast Dennis To. I was also fond of Wanliruo Xin as Qing Chuan. The actress displays fierce moxie and exceptional martial arts skills.
Honestly, I enjoyed Dennis To and Wanliruo Xin so much that I would not mind seeing them go mainstream at some point. I would love to see them in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dennis To as Sword Master and Wanliruo in the role of Aero would be great exposure to mainstream audiences.
Never overstaying its welcome and providing the goods for martial arts film fans, Ip Man: Kung Fu Master mindless ass-kicking fun.
Final Grade: C+
Ip Man: Kung Fu Master is available to stream now