After proving himself as a worthy adversary against Donnie Yen’s titular grandmaster role in 2015’s Ip Man 3 <葉問3>, Max Zhang reprised his role as Cheung Tin-Chi in Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy <葉問外傳：張天志>, marking the first-ever spinoff from the hugely successful Ip Man <葉問> franchise.
Picking up where Ip Man 3 <葉問3> left off, the disgraced Cheung Tin-Chi (Max Zhang) decided to settle down and live a simple life with his son while earning his living as a grocery store owner. However, it doesn’t take long before he crosses paths with the Cheung Lok triad members (Michelle Yeoh, Kevin Cheng) and even gets himself entangled with Owen Davidson (Dave Bautista), a shady restaurant owner who is actually a drug dealer.
Now, if you are here for the story, it’s best to keep your expectation low. Despite enlisting the same screenwriting duo (Edmond Wong and Chan Tai-Lee) who both responsible for the Ip Man <葉問> trilogy, the story is strictly by the numbers that follow the same old episodic narrative beat. Problem is, Yuen Woo-Ping’s direction isn’t as refined as Wilson Yip. He may have been a veteran director who gave us classic HK movies like Drunken Master <醉拳> (1978), Iron Monkey <少年黃飛鴻之鐵馬騮> (1993) and Wing Chun <詠春> (1994).
But let’s face it, his direction since the millennium era is disappointingly rusty (2016’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny and 2017’s The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia <奇門遁甲> are the prime examples). I’m afraid that his downward trend continues with Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy <葉問外傳：張天志>. The pace tends to be erratic and spotty in places as the movie tries to focus too many side characters other than Max Zhang’s Cheung Tin-Chi. Which is actually fine by me, if the director is good enough to juggle with multiple subplots. Too bad Yuen Woo-Ping isn’t good enough to handle such a task, which in turn, making the movie unnecessarily complicated for its own good.
Max Zhang’s otherwise charismatic lead performance as Cheung Tin-Chi is hampered by his mostly wooden acting and stilted Cantonese line delivery. Fortunately, he excels the most whenever he gets into a fight. And this is where the movie thankfully delivers, though some of them not really up to the mark. Yuen Shun-Yi’s (brother of Yuen Woo-Ping) action choreography particularly works the best during some of the thrilling one-on-one fight scenes (Max Zhang’s sword battle against Michelle Yeoh is among the highlights here). But I’m kind of surprised that some of the action sequences look either awkwardly or overly staged with all-too-obvious wireworks. This is especially evident during the would-be memorable set-piece that takes place atop the neon signs.
Technical credits are mostly a mixed bag, with Raymond Chan’s production design looks somewhat stagy while Joyce Chan’s costume design successfully evokes the look and feel of the 1960s Hong Kong’s colonial era.