From 1978’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow to 1994’s Wing Chun, Yuen Woo-Ping has proven himself that he could handle both as an action choreographer and a director. While he remains one of the best Hong Kong action choreographer working today, his subsequent filmography as a director during the millennium era was a different story altogether. This includes his last three directorial efforts in True Legend (2010), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016) and The Thousand Faces of Dunjia (2017).
His downfall as a director continues with Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy, a spinoff from 2015’s Wilson Yip-directed Ip Man 3 where Donnie Yen’s titular grandmaster role successfully defeated his Wing Chun opponent Cheung Tin-Chi (Max Zhang) towards the end of the movie. Following his embarrassing defeat, Cheung Tin-Chi has stopped practising Wing Chun and decided to make an earnest living as a grocery store owner with the help of his son. Things, of course, eventually doesn’t go well as planned when Cheung Tin-Chi crosses paths with a local gangster Kit (Kevin Cheng) before getting himself in deeper trouble with Kit’s elder sister Kwan (Michelle Yeoh) and scheming restauranteur Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista).
Edmond Wong and Chan Tai-Lee are again in charge of the screenplay, where they previously wrote all three Ip Man movies. They retain more or less the same formula with recurring themes of honour, injustice, corruption and even family values. It’s just too bad that the execution is disappointingly patchy due to Yuen Woo-Ping’s sloppy direction. The movie is also suffered from an uneven pace that tends to stall the story’s momentum since it tries so hard to divert with one subplot after another. If only Yuen Woo-Ping chose to streamline the storyline and concentrates more on Cheung Tin-Chi’s journey instead while amping up the action sequences, the result might turn out more positive than expected.
Speaking of action, this is where at least Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy doesn’t disappoint. Well, mostly anyway. The fight scenes, particularly the one-on-one battles against Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa and Dave Bautista on three separate occasions, are both thrilling and entertaining enough. But there are other times the action feels awkwardly staged with glaringly over-the-top wireworks. It even looks fake and unnatural, particularly during the supposedly memorable set-piece involving an extended fight atop the neon signs.
Max Zhang once again proves to be an engaging presence whenever he’s involved in a fight scene. But his acting tends to be wooden most of the time, which is kind of surprising since he made quite a lasting impression in his supporting role in Ip Man 3. The rest of the actors’ performances are mostly a mixed result, with Tony Jaa is sadly neglected in a wordless cameo who merely shows up for a fight while Michelle Yeoh brings a satisfying amount of gravitas to her otherwise small performance as Kwan.
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy may have been a missed opportunity that fails to reach to its fullest potential, but Max Zhang’s impressive martial arts prowess and Yuen Shun-Yi-choreographed action sequences made this movie adequate enough as an entertaining diversion while most of us await Donnie Yen to make his return in Ip Man 4.