Judge Michael Nazarewycz has a case of the Ips.
An extraordinary life. An epic conclusion.
Several films about Ip Man, the Wing Chun Grandmaster, have been made in the last five years. Until now, I had seen none of them. I decided to start with this because it chronicles the last years of Ip Man, and I was curious to know how Bruce Lee's master lived out his final days.
Facts of the Case
Ip Man: The Final Fight begins its tale in postwar Hong Kong where Ip Man (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Infernal Affairs) has come in search of a new place to settle his family, whom he left behind in Foshan. In an effort to generate income, Ip Man, a grandmaster of Wing Chun, opens a martial arts school that specializes in that discipline. His first class of students—consisting of a cop, a waitress, a prison guard, and others—grows together as they hone their skills and remain loyal to their master.
In the years that follow, Ip Man and his devout students bear witness to, and become part of, vast changes in Hong Kong's social landscape, including a labor movement, police corruption, and growing organized crime. Changes of a more personal nature take place as well and through it all, Ip Man remains the rock that his students lean on and gather around in good times and bad.
Director Herman Yao (Ip Man: The Legend Is Born) swings for the fences, but doesn't quite connect, although it certainly isn't for lack of trying. What Yao tries to accomplish is ambitious and sprawling—the complete integration of martial arts, social commentary, and biography, all three of which take place over decades, all within one film that is only 100 minutes long. It's too much to fully execute in such a short period of time—and these are only his waning years!
The martial arts scenes are good. Wing Chun is a very intimate style, relying on an economy of motion for maximum impact. As a result, most of the fighting, while exciting, aren't illustrated by your typical fight scenes; you won't find aerial kung fu tricks here. There is one very good large and long climactic fight between Ip Man and the local crime lord, Dragon (Xin Xin Xiong, Shaolin), but the film lacks the volume of action of most other martial arts films.
The social commentary is interesting. Watching the story of another country's workforce attempt to unionize makes a connection that we can relate to. The police corruption and growth of organized crime are other areas that bridge our culture to theirs—at least cinematically. So much of the Asian culture is foreign to us, but everyone knows what unionization is about, as does everyone recognize bribery, payoffs, and fixed fights. However, the film only scratches the surface of the struggle experienced by people impacted in these areas.
Then there is the story of Ip Man himself. This is the best part of the film, and yet it could have been so much better. We learn about Ip Man's philosophies, his teaching style, and his daily routines. At the same time, the tender moments with two important women in his life really ring true, and they are so well-acted by Chau-Sang. Still, the film left me wanting to know more about the man.
Technically speaking, the folks at Well Go USA have done it again. Like other titles in their catalogue, the anamorphic 1080p transfer of Ip Man: The Final Fight (Blu-ray) is gorgeous. An incredible amount of attention is paid to the detail of the film's sets, and the sparkling clarity of this Blu makes even the smallest details really pop. This also serves well the numerous tracking shots the director executes, and a climactic nighttime fight in the middle of a monsoon is remarkable to watch. On the audio side, the DTS-HD 5.1 (in Cantonese) is clear throughout the film, although scene-closing music volume gets too loud.
When the day comes that I re-watch this film, I will probably choose the DTS-HD 5.1 English dub. I'm usually not a fan of dubbing, but there were times the Cantonese dialogue was so rapid-fire and voluminous that I had to concentrate too much on the text and not enough on the picture.
In addition to the U.S. and international trailers for the film, there are two other bonus features on the disc. One is a 9-minute Making Of that features cast and director commentary and a lot of behind-the-scenes action. The other is a collection of Cast & Crew Interviews. There are eleven in all, which is a hearty number, and in total they run about 20 minutes. With two exceptions, the vignettes run between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, which are mostly too short to be effective.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is something to be said for these Asian period pieces set in the early-to-mid twentieth century. Despite its structural shortcomings, Ip Man: The Final Fight offers another beautiful look at a time and place well worth looking at.
There's a scene early in the film when Ip Man is introduced to a new dining style that puts all of his food on one plate instead of serving the four different "courses" in four different dishes. That's what this film is like. Instead of focusing on one course at a time, all of the courses are thrown in together. Still, it's tasty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
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