I shouldn’t have enjoyed Young Ip Man, a cynically conceived product if there ever was one.
There are currently more Ip Man movies than stars in the heavens…sequels, prequels, spin-offs and quite a few that dubiously incorporate the legendary martial arts master as a brand-name. So a movie depicting his childhood days was inevitable.
But before anyone gets the idea that Young Ip Man is the martial arts equivalent of Young Mr Lincoln, it's completely fictional, with a Die Hard-in-a-school premise that has the teenage title character squaring-off against his former master, Ma Long (Mu Fengbin), who just escaped prison and is holding Ip Man’s classmates hostage. As Ip Man, Zhao Wen Hao superficially resembles a teenage Donnie Yen (whose own films in this series remain the gold standard). But really, this could be any 17-year-old kid implausibly taking-on Ma Long’s crew of thugs.
|"Talk to the hand."
There are superficial attempts to paint Ma Long as some kind of tragic figure, which is tough to swallow after he slaughters his way into the school and threatens to kill every student (even throwing one off a building). But at least he’s given more depth than Ip Man himself, who’s basically just a fighting machine (despite living by a philosophical code Ma Long taught him as a boy).
Still, I kind-of liked Young Ip Man. Sure, it’s contrived as all get out and the main character is Ip Man in name only. And yeah, the story is sometimes ridiculous. But the film is fast-paced and chock full of violent, well-choreographed fight sequences, wasting little of its scant running time on pointless peripheries. Zhao Wen Hao may not be a dynamic actor, but the kid’s got some serious fighting skills. So while it bears almost no relation to any other Ip Man movie, there’s some undemanding fun to be had for martial arts fans.