One at as time, fellahs: Dennis To faces a few adversaries in the ‘Ip Man: Kung Fu Master’.
IP MAN: KUNG FU MASTER **1/2 (84 minutes) MA
Decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies have proven beyond question that any person of sound mind is willing to put up with almost any amount of movie twaddle provided it leads to lots of top-notch martial arts action and as little acting as possible.
And thus it is with Ip Man: Kung Fu Master, a fist-filled, high-kicking frenzy of flailing limbs where the quality of the many ripper chop-socky sequences is inversely related to the calibre of the film’s acting, which is often so wooden you could build a nest of tables with it.
The basic story of Ip Man: Kung Fu Master – don’t you love these BS-free, what-you-read-is-what-you-get movie titles? – is set in pre-revolution China, circa 1949.
Our titular hero, played for the third time by Dennis To (who originated the character in 2008’s Ip Man) is suited up as the new law-loving police chief of Foshan, a province that happens to have kung fu experts and drug-running gangsters in approximately equal measure.
Ip, a principled man sworn to defend the people, has to contend with the thugs as well as a contingent of Japanese soldiers who have arrived unexpectedly and whose commanding officer just happens to love kung fu.
Enjoying the film is a matter of enduring a series of dull, mercifully brief dialogue scenes of characters blabbing on about honour, duty and dedication to get to the chopping and the kicking and the throwing of punches.
These fights are all wonderfully choreographed with surprisingly few gimmicks and plenty of those wonderful martial arts movie extras. You know the ones – they first swarm the lone hero en masse, then patiently wait their turn as the hero works through them one at a time. And when they finally do get their moment they are effortlessly disarmed before getting their jaw broken by a roundhouse kick or their skull cracked with a well-aimed hammer chop.
These orderly henchmen – should that be henchpersons? – have long been a staple of kung-fu movies, going way back to the early films of the legendary Bruce Lee (who was instructed by Dennis To). Their love of hanging in line is but one small step away from taking tickets, supermarket-deli style.
Just once wouldn’t you like to see the hero, while preoccupied with beating up one of these poor sods, suddenly get a comprehensive kick to the spine from an anonymous henchman who was fed up with waiting their turn?
It’d be a break with genre tradition, which is one thing Ip Man: Kung Fu Master refuses to do as it delivers its expected payload of punch ups and high kicks.