Review Date: 8/4/19
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Cast: Jin Zhang, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa, Chrissie Chau, Yan Liu, Xing Yu, Yuen Wah
Taking place after the events in "Ip Man 3," a disgraced Tin Chi Cheung (Jin Zhang) retires from the world of martial arts and lives a simple life as a grocer with his young son. Unfortunately, he ends up being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and makes an enemy of a local drug dealer when he rescues a couple of women who are trying to get away from him. When the bad guys burn down Cheung's home, he moves in with Julia (Yan Liu) and Nana (Chrissie Chau), and works as a waiter at a bar run by Fu (Xing Yu). The bad guys keep making a mess of things, which forces Cheung and Fu to confront gang leader Ms. Tso (Michelle Yeoh) and drug kingpin Mr. Davidson (Dave Bautista), along with the corrupt police force.
It's a disappointing and frustrating film to watch, but it's still entertaining. The cast is wonderful, and Jin Zhang's stoic and tortured persona comes across as effortlessly cool. He's also an extremely good and charismatic martial artist. Tony Jaa has a cameo as an ultra-cool hitman, and his fights with Zhang are extremely satisfying. Xing Yu's fights are also quite good, and even Yan Liu gets in some nice hits. Much to my surprise, Michelle Yeoh gets in on the action as well, and has a fantastic exchange with Zhang. I thought I'd never see her fight again, and it brought tears to my eyes. Dave Bautista's fight scenes are also quite enjoyable, as his size and strength add variety to the choreography. However, most of the fight scenes are ruined by intrusive and blatantly obvious wire stunts, and drop-frame editing disrupts the momentum and flow. It's so frustrating to see potentially great scenes destroyed like this. Are directors so wrapped up in creating over-the-top moments that they purposely choose to sabotage their projects with unrealistic stunts? One fight that takes place on top of a bunch of neon signs looks especially awful, and left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the film. I was unable to suspend disbelief for that, and it was really hard to stay engaged afterwards.
Apart from the distracting wire work, the film looks fantastic and is bursting with color and energy. The dramatic music score nicely complements the atmosphere and action, and while the story is overly predictable and cliché, it successfully hits all of the right emotional notes. Perhaps I'm just a grumpy old man and a jaded film snob, but the more I watch modern kung fu movies, the more I realize that they'll never live up to the classics. That era is long gone, and I just have to accept that and move on.