Little more than a reverential series of paper-thin anecdotes, Ip Man: The Final Fight covers the later years of the titular “Grandmaster,” whose perfection of the Wing Chun style of kung fu eventually reached the international masses courtesy of his most famous pupil, Bruce Lee. Unlike Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster, which strove for both emotional and combative grandeur, or Wilson Yip’s two action-oriented efforts, Herman Yau’s Ip film is a hagiography of the thinnest sort, focusing on the legendary martial artist (Anthony Wong) as he moves to Hong Kong in 1949 and—because his modesty prevents him from opening an actual school—begins teaching a ragtag assortment of students on a building’s rooftop.
Those pupils all have various mini-dramas that Yau dramatizes without any concern for depth, as their uniformly sketchy dilemmas are designed only to reaffirm Ip Man’s great wisdom and ass-kicking ability. As embodied by Wong, Ip is a man of such judicious restraint and sage knowledge that he comes across as nothing short of a saint, and The Final Fight furthers that characterization by giving him only fortune-cookie-style maxims to spout to his adoring disciples. Amid copious groan-worthy proverbs (“The gun you use is foreign, but your fists are your own”), Ip supports other Wing Chun practitioners, spars with a good-natured rival master, and comes to the aid of devotees who seem to be in constant trouble from which they can’t extricate themselves without their mentor’s help.
Ip thus turns out to be not just an erudite guru but also a father figure for his followers, not to mention for his own son, whose hindsight narration drenches the proceedings in dewy-eyed, one-note nostalgia. Ip’s marriage, subsequent relationship with a singer, and eventual work with Lee are so thoroughly skimmed over that for most of its runtime, The Final Fight plays out like a collection of greatest-hits vignettes barely connected to one another. Just as cursory as its portraiture are its kung fu battles, which are staged with bland competence yet prove devoid of novelty or excitement, in large part because there’s never anything at stake. That’s also true of the climax, in which Ip finally faces off against local crime boss Dragon (Xin Xin Xiong) in a showdown that’s utterly perfunctory. From fawning beginning to maudlin close, it’s a monotonous, wannabe-mythmaking biopic for Ip completists only.