Fantasia 2019: Master Z: Ip Man Legacy
Spin-off movies are a tricky bit, whether you are following a fan favorite character or just hoping to continue on in that world in a new way, with an established franchise comes established expectations. In the case of Master Z: Ip Man Legacy they ask the audience to leave behind the title character, who has been played masterfully by Donnie Yen through three movies, and follow the disgraced former Master Cheung, played by Jin Zhang, after his defeat to Master Ip. The absence of Yen is huge, however the film brings in a roster of huge martial arts and action talent to quickly set us at ease and let us know the franchise is still in good hands.
Straying away from the path of Master Yip (Donnie Yen) to follow the disgraced Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang) as he retreats into a simple life of a grocery man, avoiding martial arts all together, we find a man and his family down on their luck as they choose a peaceful life over a life of violence, a life that would more than provide for them. Cheung has vowed to leave it all behind him until his path crosses with a down on her luck opium addict and he's once again thrown back into fighting. Only this time it's not for his own glory, but for the glory of his people and the people of Hong Kong.
Following the traditions of the franchise, Master Z once again makes the true villain of the movie the “foreign devils” rather than their rival masters or even rival gangs. Just under its surface is a story of a city being devastated by British rule as they allow and encourage drugs, gambling, and other illegal activities that bleed into the city. Sure, the movie isn’t stopping much to dig too deeply into these things but they are there. The most hard-hitting of these moments being an overdose death that I found truly upsetting in the days of the modern opioid crisis. It would be a fair criticism to say it feels like it's from a different movie, but it’s effective nonetheless.
For the fans that are here simply for the Wing Chun fighting style, and I'm sure there are plenty, the film is filled with creative, gorgeous, and outright fun action set pieces. With guest appearances from legends Michelle Yeoh and Tony Jaa, and a wonderful villain turn from Dave Bautista, we get to see Zhang face off in some incredible fights that director Woo-Ping Yuen (Drunken Master) brings a masterful eye to. Yuen, who has been around the genre as a performer and filmmaker since the ‘70s, brings a slightly different visual flare to the series that aims a little more for style than realism.
Since the film is not following the biography of Master Ip in any way, they are able to dive deeper into the barrel of tricks and do some things this franchise has avoided up until this movie. Yeoh and Zhang's introduction turns into an unusual display of their skills as martial artists by way of an offering of a glass of whiskey, but standing out the most is bar street, the entertainment district of Hong Kong which is now illuminated by dozens of neon signs. When our protagonist comes up against a group of thugs in the heart of bar street they take to the skies by climbing up the signs and engaging in one of the most visually stunning fights I've seen all year.
Dropping the seriousness and leaning more into the fun lands easier when you know that a true fourth movie is coming with Yen back at the helm, but even so Jin Zhang proves that he is more than capable of headlining his own action films. Having Yeoh, Jaa, and Bautista there along the way definitely helps but it is Zhang who is fighting the crowds of people and carrying the weight of this movie and I found he did a damn fine job of it. He successfully takes the franchise from Yen and makes the character his own while endlessly honoring Master Ip.
This is perfectly stated in the film when Cheung proclaims “I don’t want to be a hero, I want to win”. His use of Wing Chun is just, as with Ip Man, but his methods and reasoning are his own. Doing just enough to be something different while still existing in this world Master Z: Ip Man Legacy is a worthy addition to the series as well as one of the most entertaining action flicks of the year. I’d be happy to see Jin Zhang get to reprise his role in future films, I hope this isn’t the last we see of Master Cheung.