Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (叶问外传: 张天志) Movie Review

Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (叶问外传: 张天志) Movie Review | by The Epiphany Duplet

Recommended Audience: Fans of Max Zhang 张晋, Dave Bautista 戴夫·巴蒂斯塔, Michelle Yeoh 杨紫琼, Tony Jaa 托尼·贾, Shi Yanneng 釋延能, Chrissie Chau 周秀娜, Ip Man and martial arts/ action movie fans

Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (叶问外传: 张天志) Movie Synopsis

After giving up Wing Chun, Cheung Tin Chi (starring Max Zhang) ran into trouble with the local triad and had his home burnt to the ground. He took shelter on Bar Street and found solace from the neighbours. But when he discovered the triad was peddling drugs on Bar Street, Tin Chi took it upon himself to intervene. When the drug lord sought revenge and killed Tin Chi’s friends, he decided to take on the drug lord in a final showdown.

Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (叶问外传: 张天志) Viewer Rating: 3.5/5 ****

Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (叶问外传: 张天志) Movie Review:

Tiffany Yong: Master Z aka Cheung Tin Chi is a character I liked a lot in Ip Man 3, I empathised with the character and could totally relate to his resentment. So when Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy came out, I was glad that the fictional character had a little lime-light of his own. I had a long debate with Peps over the rating of the show. And I hate to admit that, he made valid points about the film. After his “well-received” bashing of Donnie Yen’s Iceman 2: The Time Traveler, I thought my dear readers would very much like to hear and read what he had to say!

Peps Goh: I was a little apprehensive going into this film, I very much want this to do well, being something of a fan of both the franchise and Max Zhang. The Ip Man movies has after all been something of an almost-perfect franchise, managing to top itself each time when whenever it seemed impossible to do so. And so it would be difficult, if not neigh impossible for this spin-off to surpass expectations. With that nagging worry in mind the movie began with my brain chanting, “Please don’t flop, please don’t flop.”
Master Z Max Zhang and sonPeps Goh: 106 minutes later. And…. I was both right and wrong in that initial worry. Let me explain. Judging plainly upon the enjoyability of Master Z, it did pretty solidly in delivering a pleasant experience. In my admittedly totally biased opinion, I would say that this is very much worth a watch. Worth a ticket price no doubt, and a great way for an action and martial art genre lover like myself to end the year (especially considering the unpalatable Iceman 2).

Okay that said, Master Z does not stand toe to toe with the main franchise in terms of writing, and also with regards to the charisma of the protagonist. The on-screen presence of Max Zhang no doubt pales in comparison to the performance that Donnie Yen put up each time as our favorite mild-mannered Wing Chun exponent. But the lack of likability of Master Z’s protagonist is only partly Max Zhang’s blame. I personally feel that there are some inherent problems in the writing of this film. (Don’t throw stones at me yet, bare with me for a moment while I try to articulate the little red flags that pop up to me throughout the span of watching this picture.)

First of all, Cheung Tin Chi is an un-inspiringly passive character. He begins the movie as a prideful man groveling in the defeat he suffered in the hand of Ip Man during the finale showdown of the third and most recent instalment. After closing his Wing Chun School in a fit of self-defeating pride, he now mans a provision store. And since the defeat, Tin Chi no longer wants anything to do with Wing Chun, he had stopped training, and stopped teaching his son Wing Chun for self-defense (Erm yeah), and now treats his wooden training dummy as a clothes hanger.


Pretty good set up so far. I like it. It’s a story about a hero now fallen. Whom has to now go through a new set of obstacles and trials to regain his self-confidence. All while struggling to make a living and be a good single father to his son. Great premise.
Master Z Kevin Zheng Max ZhangPeps Goh: The first action scene is really awesome, it had that signature adrenaline rush and elating feeling of justice served that the franchise is popular for. The Thugs in the pursuit of 2 plot devices -ahem- I mean 2 characters through the back alleys, bumping into our Master Z. Main Thug Cao Shi Jie, played by Kevin Cheng kicks away the present he bought for his son’s birthday, inciting the first edge-of-the-seat action set piece of the film.

Remember to enjoy this great piece of choreography, because from here it only goes down hill. To be fair, not the action, there are another 3 excellent set pieces to follow, but in terms of the plot and emotional immersion, this was the high point of the film for me.

Cheung Tin Chi is a morally ambiguous and motivation-ally lackluster character to me. I believe the writer meant for him to be something of an anti-hero to contrast again Ip Man’s traditionally heroic gentleman. And I guess his pride is also meant to stand as a direct contrast to Master Ip’s trademark humility. All fine and dandy, I have no problems with that.

The problems come when Tin Chi begins to be pulled by his nose along with the story, doing things and starting fights seemingly at the beck and call of the plot’s needs;
– The first fight is started because he is pissed at his kid’s b’day present being trod on. Good motivation.
– The next fight is when they set his house on fire and chases him down to kill him. Self-defense, survival and protecting his kid, okay great motivation.
– Him beating his way in and setting fire to the thugs’ opium base as an eye-for-an-eye? Revenge? Sure. Well-thought out? It certainly was not. What was he expecting the consequence to that action to be exactly? Either kill everyone in there, or don’t even start. Okay, but believability wise it’s still okay. I can buy that he is an angry and not very intelligent man, sure.
Master Z Shi Yanneng Max ZhangPeps Goh: Next his benefactor and employer that the time initiates a spar with him. He isn’t motivated to fight, and refuses to use Wing Chun. Alright sure. But the point where he intentionally disrespects his boss Brother Hu aka Zhao Jin Hu (whom might I act is by far the most charismatic performance of Shi Yan Neng 釋延能, kudos to him, he is the most outstanding character in the whole movie in my opinion), is where he begins to be something of an unlikable character for me. This is the point where I felt that they missed their opportunity to milk a moment out of. If they had only spent a little more time here to establish their blooming friendship and Cheung Tin Chi’s growing respect for him, it would have added so much more motivation for the next 2 upcoming scenes.
Master Z Michelle Yeoh Max ZhangPeps Goh: They burst into crime lord Cao Yan Jun (Michelle Yeoh)’s meeting room, interrupting an in-fighting coup. Cheung Tin Chi’s motivation for being there is to help out his boss (Shi Yan Neng) avenge the death of his fiancée. He has no direct stakes in this fight. Not really. At least the film hasn’t properly laid the groundwork to make the stakes really felt. It stakes and motives all feels really weak and on the surface. (That said, the choreography of the 2v2 here is really nicely designed and shot, shoutout to Action Choreographer and D.O.P David Fu and Seppe Van Grieken)
Master Z Max Zhang Dave BautistaPeps Goh: The finale battle between Max Zhang and Dave Bautista, while a fun watch, lacked the sense of danger and raised stakes that the final showdown should’ve been. In terms of motive, his motivation for going there to avenge his now-dead boss is so that his dead boss’ sister don’t have to. Their hinted love story was very weak and felt too deliberate. The whole set up to this finale is very deliberate. From the planting of the drugs that lead to the murder, to the discovery of the murderer via wristband was all very contrived. And his desire for justice to be served doesn’t feel very believable to his established character thus far. His actions throughout whole final act is compelled and demanded by the plot and nothing else. Also despite being thrown and handful of times and falling in hard objects in spine destroying ways, at no point of the fight did I feel that Cheung Tin Chi was in any real danger of losing/dying. There a bit of poor design, pacing issues and a huge lack of character moments in this finale. Did they shoot it but had to cut it out because Max Zhang’s acting wasn’t convincing? Or did they not shoot it at all? We may never know.

Tiffany Yong: Allow me to interrupt a little here, I was disappointed with the “involvement” of Tony Jaa or the lack of in the final fight. I was looking forward of a 2v1 with Master Z going against Dave Bautista with some help from skilled killer who had previously turned up and tried to kill him without explanation.

There was also the general problem of having too many characters in this story. 4 total main antagonists, 4 on the protagonist side, and le random Tony Jaa and Yuen Wah. Total of 10, too many damn characters. The whole 2nd act is overtly convoluted precisely because there were so many characters. 10 people in the main ensemble cast, and I haven’t even included the 2 Cops and Mr. Token-Corrupted-White-Police-Commisioner aka Brian Thomas Burrell.

Master Z Tony Jaa Max ZhangPeps Goh: I’d also have to point out the completely pointless fights between Max Zhang and Tony Jaa. I love them, but they didn’t need to be there at all. And the general writing rule of any good movie is that if there was a scene you could remove and the story would still make perfect sense, you should remove it. And while I’m here, there other pointless scene was the wire scene with the henchmen scaling scaffolding and neon signs to pursue Tin Chi.

First of all Master Z, you do Wing Chun, what are you doing parkouring all up and down them old Hongkong shophouses? Secondly, henchmen coulda just waited below for him and followed from ground level, there was nowhere he could’ve gone, there’s like have a dozen of yall, just surround the building. Thirdly, company loyalty much? Hanging off a death-drop, and you all still making it a priority to chop at Master Parkour Z over there. Lastly, too much screen time on these guys. It felt like the writers were setting up another fight with these henchmen for the finale with all the face time they had here. Distracting and a waste of screen time. 

Totally Agree! The fight felt like some mysterious sponsor trying to give their son or talents a little more screen-time in hope to pick up. But all we remembered about these characters was that they are a random bunch of ridiculously long-lived and well-skilled “extras” henchmen who just refused to die.

Peps Goh: Now for the character arc, because every hero’s journey needs the protagonist to go through some sort of character growth. Cheung Tin Chi begins the movie as an overly prideful Wing Chun master who refuses to use Wing Chun, and ends the movie as an overly prideful Wing Chun master who uses Wing Chun. Not a bad growth, but considering that it took the deaths of 2 friends to achieve it, I can’t help but feel that the pay off was a ye bit not quite satisfying enough. And with the many throwaway villains that didn’t really play any real influence over him as a character, their “fall” failed to feel important either.
Master Z Liu YanPeps Goh: It felt as if they build the plot on the tested and proven formulas of the previous Ip Man movies, but failed to understand why they worked. The cliches like the bigger and stronger foreigner fighter. The compulsory distasteful white corrupted high-ranker. The dead Chinese martial-art plot device- ahem- friend. The token Muay Thai guest appearance. They even borrowed from other recent film’s cliches and added 2 strong female martial arts exponents, 1 of which had a fight scene in the beginning and then stopped being relevant to the plot quickly after. (I loved that girl power moment, it was gorgeous, but too bad, Peps’ right, it had little meaning to the story in the end) But yay to progressive politics in films amirite.

So yeah all in all, not terrible writing, but not exactly super well-thought out either. Solid effort though. Just needs a ye bit more streamlining during the workshopping of the script. Oh well.

Do You Know?

Director Yuen Woo-ping felt that although Cheung Tin Chi was the underdog in Ip Man 3, he is a persistent martial artist who failed, and learnt from his failure through Wing Chun. Hence, the character is one that allows the actor to have room to try different things. Kevin Cheng also revealed that Director Yuen is also improvising in every scene, be it the expression, action or the dialogue.

Master Z stillZhang Jin has acrophobia (fear of heights) but he had to jump from one signboard to another in one of the fight scenes. That set took about 2 weeks of choreography and experimentation before filming started.

Master Z Kevin Zheng Chrissie ChauChrissie Chau has 1 week of filming, and she was “beaten up” for the full one week. Kevin Cheng had to slap her for real on day one, and the Director repeatedly requested him to hit her so hard that her face swelled after two times. Her ears were ringing by the third slap. On her final scene where she was forced-fed “cocaine”, Chrissie Chau nearly suffocated from the powder and blood mix because the director did to cut the scene.

Behind The Scenes and Interviews

Check out Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (叶问外传: 张天志) Facebook Page!
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (叶问外传: 张天志) is out in cinemas on 20 December 2018.

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*Disclosure: Invitation from Shaw Organisation. No monetary compensation was received for the movie review.

P.S. Noticed the different coloured text? Articles written by #TheEpiphanyDuplet will be colour-coded in future to let every reader know who say what! Hope you’ve enjoyed reading our insights!

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