This highly engaging biographical martial arts movie sees Anthony Wong in the role of legendary Ip Man, a master teacher of Wing Chun – a technique specialising in close-range combat.

Set in 1949, part of the story is told from the perspective of Ip Man’s son Ip Chun (Zhang Songwen) and he reveals how his father travelled from their hometown of Foshan to the big city of Hong Kong in search for a better life - despite suffering from chronic gastric pain. The story then continues with Ip Man’s arrival in the big city and his ambitions to start special Wing Chun classes for eager students – cue for a jaw-dropping demonstration during which Ip Man fights off a mock attacker while staying put on a newspaper on the floor! His first students turn out to be a motley crew from all walks of life and who don’t seem to grasp the basic principles and philosophies of kung fu – with the despairing Ip Man explaining that the true art of kung fu is not to pick a fight but to achieve self control and discipline. We witness some rather funny scenes during which the bumbling and over-eager students succeed in only making a travesty of the sacred art of self-defence. Later on, Ip Man’s wife Cheung Wing-sing (Anita Yuen) also arrives in Hong Kong to support her husband but finds life too hard and decides to return to Foshan – via narrative we learn that it was the last time that Ip Man saw his wife, for shortly afterward she succumbed to an illness. Now it is son Ip Chun (the narrator) who comes to join his father in the Walled City. At first he finds employment as an office clerk for a shipping company though he merely endures the drudgery of the job because his young wife is pregnant with their first child and money is needed badly.

Meanwhile, Ip Man gets involved with a nightclub singer called Jenny (Zhou Chuchu) whom he rescues when two loudmouth customers become abusive towards her. Jenny has a colleague who is highly addicted to opium and as a result her pusher harasses the girl for money she owes him, which Jenny pays just to get rid of the man. Over the weeks Jenny develops feelings for Ip Man and starts to bring him food, claiming she cooks the dishes herself. Clearly she looks for a relationship and explains that she is afraid of dying alone one day. Although Ip Man returns her feelings to a certain extend it is hinted that he’s not quite over the death of his beloved wife. During a New Year’s dinner with his son, his daughter-in-law and other friends of the young couple they make it clear that they disapprove of Ip Man’s involvement with Jenny but he continues seeing him even after father and son move into different lodgings and he falls ill for some time. Ip Man never reveals Jenny’s name to his son and so he refers to her as the ‘Northern Lady’. One day, Jenny’s visits suddenly stop and neither Ip Man nor Ip Chun find out why – only later does Ip Man learn that Jenny is terminally ill with lung cancer. He and Ip Chun travel to the hospice. At her deathbed, Ip Man reminds Jenny of her fear to die alone and reassures her that he will be with her for her final moments, he also confesses that he knew all along that she didn’t actually cook all those meals for him but got them from a restaurant instead.

With Jenny dead new chapters begin in the life of Ip Man, one of those chapters depict a fierce and prolonged fight with a gangster boss called Local Dragon (Hung Yan-yan) as well as an encounter with a former student of his who has since become a celebrated movie star in America: Bruce Lee! Ip Man’s son realises his dream of opening his own Wing Chun martial arts school though struggles to find enough students. In the final scene we see Ip Man practising his Wing Chun skills on a wooden dummy while his son videotapes it. Afterwards we see a clip of the original footage with the real Ip Man working the wooden dummy.

Ip Man: Final Fight is far more than just a martial arts feast… for one, it depicts the human condition and the ups and downs of Ip Man’s personal hardships and his way of dealing with them. The film is a curious concoction of humour, melodrama and of course plenty of karate kicks and Anthony Wong is superb in the title role.
On the downside, it’s a real shame that the English subtitles are so small and thus rather difficult to read, it really puts a damper on the viewing pleasure… Cine Asia, please take note!