Most, if not all martial arts fans are no doubt familiar with Ip Man. Based off of a real master, the film series (which began life in 2008 starring Donnie Yen), scored two sequels; and now, a spinoff: Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy.
Cleverly, the proof is in the pudding (or the title, in this case). Donnie Yen isn’t actually in Master Z, as Max Zhang (who came up as a stunt actor) literally carries on Ip Man’s “legacy” after his defeat at Ip Man’s hands in the third film. Think of it as the “Hobbs and Shaw” of Ip Man films. Now you’re ready!
Zhang’s role of Cheung Tin Chi was a perfect match for a follow-up. Shamed by his loss he leaves his life as a fighter, opting to become a mild-mannered grocery store owner. That doesn’t last long as he’s embroiled in a conflict involving two women and an opium den owner that sparks by random chance. As someone who adores the “stranger who can’t let injustices lie” trope, I was sucked in pretty quickly (which is especially easy when we get three fight scenes in 10 minutes).
There’s a gentleness to Zhang that helps make him work so well as a hero. He isn’t showy, nor is he overly stoic. That everyman quality helps elevate the character of Cheung Tin Chi, who just wants to give his son a knockoff Batman toy and live a quiet life. Despite some missteps with the narrative or venturing into all too familiar territory, it does feel grounded in a way (and has something to say in the end) that will help convince non-fans to give it a shot.
For the martial arts crowd, there’s a lot of variety in Master Z beyond mere spectacle. Although the film mostly maintains a dramatic tone, we do get some comedy in the form of Jackie Chan-esque pursuits and prop combat (on top of a really stylish drinking glass battle). There are cuts, but we get a mostly clear take on the action from director Yuen Woo-ping. Zhang is clearly up to the task, and when you have Tony Jaa operating as a cameo and the legendary Michelle Yeoh fully available, you know the rest of the cast is too. I didn’t think I was ready for more of the Ip Man cinematic universe, but Max Zhang and Yuen Woo-ping managed to convince me otherwise.