Another year, another Ip Man film. In postwar Hong Kong, legendary Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man is reluctantly called into action once more, when what begin as simple challenges from rival kung fu styles soon draw him into the dark and dangerous underworld of the Triads. Now, to defend life and honor, he has no choice but to fight one last time. Is it too soon for yet another story based on the life of the legendary Wing Chun grandmaster?
Of all the films in recent years based on Wing Chun Grand Master Ip Man, this one is by far the most authentic. The reason is simple and not just because it is made with the help and full endorsement of his son. There is an even more logical reason. Grand Master Ip made his name in Hong Kong when he started teaching Wing Chun, at middle age. This the exact starting point of this film whereas the others all focus primarily, or even entirely, on the earlier Ip Man, of whom little is known. These other attempts, therefore, freely resort to melodrama for entertainment effect. “Final fight” is an authentic biopic on the second half of the Grand Master’s life. On the macro side, this is also a trip of nostalgia for people who lived in Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s.
The screenplay was penned by talented Erica Lee, who is also author, columnist, lyricist, singer, radio program host, and a mother of two lovely daughters. Wong Chau-sang’s portrayal of Grand Master Ip is brilliantly convincing. Wing Chun style is not hard to replicate on screen but difficult to master in reality. All the actors in these Ip Man films have done a decent job as far as what appears on screen is concerned, and let’s leave it at that. Mush more important is to portray the low-profile, unassuming grand master who rises to the occasion every time when needed to. He is also patience, compassionate, tolerant, while unflinchingly uncompromising when it comes to matters of fundamental principles. I cannot think of any actor who could have done this as well as Wong Chau-Sang who is a grandmaster in his own right when it comes to performing arts, be it on stage or on screen.
The support cast also well deserves recognition, and the names I mention here will be far fewer than the ones I’ve omitted. The best is Eric Tsang’s, not just a top-notch comedian but also an excellent all-round actor, who plays Ng, the grandmaster of the White Crane style, a rival as well as a mutual admirer. People familiar with Hong Kong’s TV entertainment would also enjoy his witty self-referencing to his popular TV show during a scene in which he commiserates with Ip the predicaments behind the glory of being the master of a martial art school. Jordan Chan provides good support in playing Ip’s student Tang, who started out as an entry level cop and eventually rising to a “Chinese-ethnic chief detective”. The character is modeled after a real-life individual, with the given name slightly changed. There is at least another dozen if I were to name them all. Two that I would like to mention, however, are mere cameos that have the least screen time: Liu Kai-Chi whom many consider Hong Kong’s best character actor and Law Koon-Lan who is among Hong Kong’s top stage actresses. They play a couple driven by poverty to sell one of their six children.