Ip Man: The Final Fight Explores the Limits of Kung Fu Once the Fighting is Done


“If a man can’t even make ends meet, what good is kung fu to him?” Ip Man, legendary trainer of Bruce Lee, ponders this question after a distressing reunion with some old friends in Herman Yau’s Ip Man: The Final Fight, a film that’s less a kung-fu movie and more a meditation on kung fu’s limitations. Not that there aren’t fights: There’s an impressively staged “lion dance” on a ring of wooden pilings, and the “final fight” in the lawless walled city of Kowloon sets the blood racing. Not quite a biopic, the film presents an overview of Ip’s years in Hong Kong; Anthony Wong’s dignified performance begins with the grandmaster almost fully formed. Largely episodic, the narrative discards characters and concepts (Ip’s destitute friends, a restaurant workers’ strike) with little explanation but the passage of time. The two main throughlines are likewise a mixed bag. When one of Ip’s students, a cop (Jordan Chan), becomes corrupted, the story reaches a predictable if satisfying end. Meanwhile, Ip himself feels a growing affection for a pretty local singer (Zhou Chuchu), despite his wife back home and the disapproval of his students. In the face of that, what can kung fu do?