The influence of martial arts master Ip Man can’t be underestimated. A practitioner of the kung fu style called Wing Chun, Ip Man, whose students included the likes of Bruce Lee, has had so many films and television productions based on his life that it’s hard to diagram an exact filmography.
“Master Z: Ip Man Legacy,” a new film about the hallowed kung fu master that is opening this week, is more of a spin-off of the 2015 “Ip Man 3” than a sequel per se. (“Ip Man 4” starring Donnie Yen opens this summer.) Director Yuen Woo-ping will be familiar to domestic audiences for his action choreography in films like “The Matrix,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Kill Bill,” but Woo-ping also has directing credits that go back decades and include vehicles for Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen among others.
“Master Z” follows Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang), defeated by Ip Man at the end of “Ip Man 3,” as he tries to abandon his mercenary lifestyle to lead a regular life running a grocery store. The past, however, can’t be forgotten, and Tin Chi soon finds himself defending victims from local gang lord Tso Sai Kit. In the opening salvo of action, Tin Chi defeats Kit’s entire gang single handedly.
An early action sequence has Tin Chi fighting off adversaries while everyone is hanging from or swinging to and fro on neon signs that line a street. Impressive stunts to be sure, but the real action hasn’t even started.
Kit’s gang burns down Tin Chi’s house, making Chi and his son homeless. The kung fu master retaliates by burning down Kit’s opium den.
As this point, a couple of new characters show up that add even more color to the proceedings. Michelle Yeoh plays Kit’s sister Kwan, who herself operates on both sides of the law. Plus, Kit hooks up with a drug-dealing restaurant owner played by Dave Bautista. Tony Jaa also turns up as an assassin in a cameo.
When Bautista wants to kill you he will cook a steak beforehand, telling one victim that the steak must sit on the plate for a certain amount of time after cooked before it is perfect for digestion.
Kwan and Tin Chi meet, perhaps not so cute, at a bar where they perform some of the slowest yet most graceful kung fu motions perhaps ever to involve a glass of whisky, which they keep batting back and forth across the table. The unlucky glass, the unwilling participant in a five-miles-an-hour car chase, hangs precariously on the edge yet never is a drop spilled. The scene is a perfect example of the eloquence and finesse that defines the Wing Chun method.
In addition to dealing out excellent actions sequences throughout, “Master Z” also has a heart best exemplified by Zhang’s performance as a man who is trying to erase his past yet is bound by duty to fight against injustice.
“Master Z: Ip Man Legacy” opens this week at a handful of AMC theaters, including the downtown Houston 8 and the Studio 30.