Max Zhang with the audience at a screening of
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy that included Yours Truly :)
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2018)
- Yuen Wo Ping (aka Yuen Woo Ping), director
- Starring: Max Zhang, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Liu Yan, Xing Yu, Kevin Cheng, Tony Jaa, Chrissie Chau
Back in 1994, Yuen Woo Ping (now more usually credited as Yuen Wo Ping) directed and action directed a charming martial arts movie about the woman that the distinctive Chinese martial art known as wing chun was named after. Twenty-four years on, the helmer of Wing Chun has helmed another martial arts movie: this one revolving around one of the chief antagonists of 2015's Ip Man 3, a popular film series about the real life wing chun master whose disciples included a certain Bruce Lee.
In Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy, Max Zhang reprises his role as Cheung Tin Chi, the ambitious as well as talented fighter who challenged Ip Man to a duel in Ip Man 3. In the wake of his having been bested by Master Ip, Tin Chi decides to abandon the world of martial arts and become a humble grocery store owner and loving father to his young son. But as pretty much anyone who's seen a kung fu movie will know, it's well nigh impossible for a martial arts master -- especially a righteous one -- to lead a quiet and violence-free life, however much he wishes to do so.
As the fates would have it, Tin Chi crosses paths one day with two women -- drug addict Nana (Chrissie Chau) and her best friend, Julia (Liu Yan) -- desperately seeking to escape from a bunch of thugs headed by opium den owner Kit (Kevin Cheng). His immediate 'reward' for rescuing the damsels in distress is to become homeless and jobless after his grocery store cum home were set on fire by Kit's heroin dealer buddy Ma Jing Sheng (Patrick Tam Yiu Man, who also had appeared in Ip Man 3).
Showing that there is some good in the world, Julia decides to repay her debt to Tin Chi by taking him and his son into the home she shares with Nana, asking her bar owner brother Fu (Xing Yu) -- a guy with a tough exterior but also a heart of gold -- to give Tin Chi a job and also declaring that the quintet were now a family. But while some happiness does come their way in the wake of this alliance, so does trouble and also tragedy; and this particularly after Tin Chi and Fu attract the attention of more heavyweight and formidable figures like the Kwan (Michelle Yeoh), the Triad leader elder sister of Kit and Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista), an American restaurant owner who can come across like an affable teddy bear but is far more like a mean and greedy grizzly in nature.
What with Master Z's director and top-billed actor having their strengths in the action department, it should come as no surprise that this movie's fight scenes are its best scenes. In particular, I was wowed by the physical artistry on show in the duels between Max Zhang and Michelle Yeoh (who, incidentally, was the star of 1994's Wing Chun) -- including the one involving a liquor-filled glass -- most of all and also enjoyed seeing Cheung Tin Chi realizing how wing chun is ideal against a physically bigger and stronger opponent.
Provided with a far bigger budget than 1994's Wing Chun, this offering co-produced by Donnie Yen (who was the 1994 film's lead actor as well as Ip Man 1, 2 and 3) and Raymond Wong Pak Ming still appears less polished than I would have liked though. In particular, the make up on some of the actors was noticeably rough, and the script has too many evil foreigners in it for my liking.
Given the circumstances, I thought that Dave Bautista was able to acquit himself well in the movie. However, I felt that Tony Jaa was ill-served both by having a smaller part in the proceedings than should have been the case and the wirework used in his main fight sequence being too obvious (and, given, his athletic prowess, unnecessary?). All in all, it says quite a bit when non-action actors and actresses like Liu Yan, Xing Yu, Chrissie Chau and Philip Keung (the last playing a cop whose efforts to uphold the law are often frustrated by his corrupt superior) were able to have their characters make a stronger impression in Master Z than the Thai action star's.
I have to be honest: Michelle Yeoh is someone else I would have loved to see more of than I did in Master Z. Still, I think that the film managed to showcase both her dramatic and action abilities. Ultimately though, there's little question that this movie is Max Zhang's show; and I am watching with interest to see if it succeeds in making him the major star that the earlier likes of Vincent Zhao (aka Chiu Man Cheuk) and Yu Rongguang tried but never got to be.
My rating for the film: 7.5