Ah-pek Ip Man is serious fun

Ip Man: The final fight (PG)

Opening: Today

Running time: 101 min

Rating: 3.5/5

It's hip to be Ip.

Donnie Yen took on the character in his two Ip Man films in 2008 and 2010. Tony Leung was super-glum as the master in Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster earlier this year.

And in 2010, Dennis To - in The Legend Is Born - was an eager young-pup version of the man who trained Bruce Lee.

Now, Anthony Wong, no spring chicken at age 51, is playing Ip Man, as an ah pek in Ip Man: The Final Fight, the latest biopic on Ip Man.

While the cheem (Hokkien for deep) ruminating study of Ip in The Grandmaster was an arthouse epic, Final Fight is much less pretentious, and is a throwback to good ol' Hong Kong cinema.

Which means you're watching chop-socky instead of shop-talky.

With its old-school charm, predictable yarn-spinning, and familiar faces - Wong, Eric Tsang, Anita Yuen, Gillian Chung and Jordan Chan - this is an easygoing crowd pleaser.

Now, Wong has been in so many Hong Kong thrillers (The Mission, Infernal Affairs) that one associates him with his mobster characters. So, you have to get beyond the sudden, jokey discovery that inside this long-time character actor is a pensioner waiting to break out as an action star.

Here's the deal.

Where Ip Man has looked tough in past films, Wong as Ip Man is a happy near-pensioner in the early 1950s, newly arrived in Hong Kong with a small group of loyal students learning his brand of gongfu on a humble rooftop above the bustling streets.

"Gongfu is not about picking fights," he reminds his class, in gentle, paternal tones.

Of course, nobody truly listens to the old guy and his group of headstrong disciples ends up fighting with the police (it's set in the time of Hong Kong's labour-union strikes), a rival gang led by roly-poly, giggle-inducing gongfu sifu Eric Tsang, and a bunch of vicious thugs holed up in Hong Kong's infamous, crime-infested Walled City.

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