By Liam Lacey
The seedy beauty of the Hong Kong bar scene of the 1960s is the setting of Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, a movie with a familiar recipe of gangland crime plus jolting martial arts sequences.
This is the latest in a series of films inspired by the life of Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s teacher who died in 1972 - though the character barely figures in this spin-off. Instead, the protagonist is a one-time failed Ip Man challenger, the brooding Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang), who’s now trying to live a quiet life as a shopkeeper and caring parent to his adoring son, Fung (Henry Zhang).
The transformative Hong Kong fight choreographer, Woo-Ping Yuen (Kill Bill, The Matrix and Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster) directs here, though balletic action is more his forte than dialogue. The highlights include a bravura battle among the clutter of neon signs above a recreated section of Hong Kong’s famous Bar Street. Almost as good is a set-piece of a man and woman, pushing a glass full of whiskey back and forth across a table, in a kind of hand-to-hand combat for barflies.
The story is old-school melodrama, with Tin-Chi coming to the rescue of a junkie bar girl, Nana (Chrissie Chau) and falling in with her cute roommate, Linda (Yan Liu) and barkeeper brother, Fu (Nasson).
They are soon in conflict with a gamut of villains, including the regal Michelle Yeoh as a crime boss trying to go legit, her sleazy drug-dealing brother, Kit (Kevin Cheng), and a crooked Westerner steak-house owner (Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista) who has the local police in his pocket.
The studio set recreation of Hong Kong’s famous Bar Street, along with the gaudily delectable costumes throughout, give Master Z a dreamy heightened artifice. More than once, the film seems on the verge of breaking into a vintage Hollywood musical.
Master Z: Ip Man Legacy. Director: Yuen Woo-ping. Screenplay: Edmond Wong, Chan Tai-lee. Starring Max Zhang, Liu Yan, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Kevin Cheng, Naason, Chrissie Chau and Henry Zhang. Master Z: Ipman Legacy opens at the Scotiabank theatre, Cineplex Vaughan and Cineplex Markham.