There were so many diverging plots in Ip Man 3, one would be forgiven for forgetting the place Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) has in the series, despite his being given the first spin-off film in the franchise. With that being said, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy lives up to its name, and earns the honor of carrying ‘Ip Man’ in the title, despite his complete absence in physical presence from the film. For those eager for the upcoming Ip Man 4, Master Z is a welcome deviation in the meantime.
Many (if not most) martial arts films carry similar themes and narratives as the Ip Man franchise, but it goes beyond that to a certain level of style, choreography, and natural ability that has made these films so popular with audiences and critics alike. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel with a good martial arts film, and it is this simple precision which makes Master Z another enjoyable addition to the franchise and genre alike. Add to that a level of production value and dream cast that could only be possible for a film with a guaranteed audience, the main desirable asset of sequels, remakes, and apparently even spin-off films. Taking a cue from the last Ip Man film, Master Z has a diverse and international cast of characters, including more than a few martial arts legends.
The story itself follows Cheung after his defeat at the hands of Ip Man in a private competition. Resigned to a life without martial arts, Cheung moves with his son to
Hong Kong, abandoning his school and teaching
to be a shopkeeper. When he has an encounter with a group of drug-dealing
gangsters leads to his shop being burned down and his son injured, Cheung
realizes that he will have to use his skills to protect those innocent around
him, and to take down those who are injuring them with violence, corruption and
There are a lot of characters in Master Z, and it isn’t always clear which side they are on for the first half of the movie. On the other hand, when you have talent like this, it almost doesn’t matter if they are playing a good guy or a bad guy, because either way we will get to see them fight. Most notable among these is the legendary Michelle Yeoh as a local gangster trying to go legit, with no help from her drug-dealing brother, and
Jaa as a mysterious figure listed as Sadi the Warior in the credits, though
American audiences are most likely to appreciate the inclusion of
wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista. The Marvel-actor inclusion seems to mirror
Mike Tyson’s inclusion in the last Ip Man
film, and points to a continued attempt to bridge the cultural gap with these
martial arts movies. Thailand
Along with precise casting, the choice of director also goes a long way in bridging that gap, as Yuen Wo Ping is also known to American audiences as the man who choreographed the action in The Matrix (as well as Kill Bill). As fantastic as casting and production values are and have always been for the Ip Man films, they are first-and-foremost martial arts movies. This means nothing is more important than the fight choreography (with the possible exception of an actor who is able to achieve it), and few still working in the genre do it as well as Yuen.
The Blu-ray release for Master Z comes with a DVD copy of the film, though the special features on the disc itself include only a handful of extremely brief promotional featurettes. There are five in total (‘Director and Casts,’ ‘Battle of Strength,’ ‘The Cheung Lok’s Fight,’ Signboard Street Fight,’ and ‘Hitman Confrontation’), though only one is over two minutes long (at 3:03). Most are simply named after key fight sequences, and just highlight the elements with a glimpse of behind-the-scenes footage, though none are long enough (or in-depth enough) to be satisfactory.
Entertainment Value: 9/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 3/10