Director: Liming Li
Cast: Zhao Wenhao, Mu Fengbin, Jonathan Kos-Read, Yuqing Shi, Li Hao Xuan
Duration: 79 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s hard to believe since Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen are iconic IP Man in 2008 we had 3 sequels, a spin-off, 2 other cinema releases with different actors, a TV series and 4 web-movies (with 3 other different actors!). That’s without mentioning a certain Wong Kar Wai. With the exception of Donnie Yen’s releases, there is no continuation between other entries, such as those of 2020 Young Ip Man: time of crisis demonstrates classically. This isn’t the first time audiences get a glimpse into Ip Man’s early life, starring Herman Yau The legend was born – Ip Man since 2010 it already covers the formative years of the wing chun master (albeit in a very fictionalized way). At the time it was Dennis To who took the lead, the only other actor besides Donnie Yen who would reprise the role, returning nearly 20 years later for the not so young Ip Man: Master of Kung Fu in 2019.
Dennis To’s 2na time to step into Ip Man’s shoes was one of the 2 films released in 2019 that marked the beginning of the era of Ip Man web movies, productions made by companies such as Youku, iQIYI and Tencent Video, and generally made with the ‘expectation that it would probably be watched on a smartphone. Understandably, such productions by nature have punchy running times (90 minutes would be considered epic, with 70-75 being average), CGI that rarely holds up on screens larger than the average smartphone, and it’s the visually appealing kung-fu and monster movies that have become the go-to genres.
Ip Man and Four Kings was the other 2019 entry (which cast Michael Tong as Ip Man), featuring Young Ip Man: time of crisis later in 2020 and as of this writing in 2021 Ip Man: The Awakening delivers the latest dose of wing chun action (throwing Xie Miao like Ip Man).
In YIP:CT (as I’ll call him from here on) it’s Zhao Wenhao who takes on the iconic role, an actor who is fast becoming a mainstay of the web movie scene with starring roles in the likes of 2021 The Magic Lotus Lantern and 2022 Messy temple. Here he is at the heart of a story that is probably best described as The breakfast circle meet Die Hard through the ANR. Wenhao’s petite high school student is dating fellow student Shao Xia, here in her film debut, who is also the boss of Ax Gangs daughter. Thankfully this has no relevance to the plot, except to serve as the setting for a prank involving a sandwich, with the real plot revolving around an English speaking competition held on the school campus. Before English can be spoken, however, the school is overrun and the students taken hostage by a gang, who demand 5 gold bars for each student’s safe return, and the police have 2 hours to deliver.
Thankfully, Wenhao avoids getting involved in the initial roundup, so he spends most of the hour roaming the aisles like some kind of Chinese schoolboy version of John McClane, only without the profanity. While the script was kind enough to give Wenhao his “yippee-ki-yay” moment (he’s not), it’s doubtful it would improve his performance much, with a rousing one-dimensional take on Ip’s character. Man, this is probably the most boring iteration of him on screen so far. The plot attempts to create some additional intrigue by having the villain of the piece be Ip Man’s former chess teacher, and one of his lackeys be a less privileged friend from the past who got involved with the wrong crowd, however in at no time does the connection seem significant.
If anything, the villain’s former occupation seems mostly to be there to dole out an endless list of chess-related metaphors. “Life is just like a game of chess” and “Today school will be our chessboard” are just 2 of the more tolerable chess comparisons we get between the two, as Wenhao adds precious minutes to running time by asking his teacher why he is become a villain. Starring other web movie mainstay Mu Fengbin (Mutant ghost warrior), which appears to channel a Full contact was Anthony Wong, his anger at the system has to do with the death of a loved one. Blame the evil police commissioner gweilo, played by Jonathan Kos-Read (Mojin: The Lost Legend), Fengbin’s master plan is funny and ridiculous.
Basically, as an act of revenge he wants to kill the son of Kos-Read, who was also present at the English competition. However, before doing so, he wants to “buy” his son’s life, which he intends to do by offering the gold for which he is holding the rest of the children hostage in Kos-Read. If he accepts, then Fengbin will consider them equal and everyone can go back to what they were doing. Cohesive storyline is clearly not high on the agenda, an element of web movies that is widely considered to be forgivable, as the expectation is that in most cases they won’t have the full attention of those who are watching them. Li Liming is one of countless directors who came out of the carpentry in the mid-to-late 2010s exclusively directing web films, with the aforementioned Ip Man: Master of Kung Fu also being a municipality of Liming, and more recently Desert monster (so yes, his entire filmography consists of kung-fu or monster movies).
Liming appears to have partnered with action choreographer Sun Fei, who has worked with him both here and since Ip Man: Master of Kung Fuas well as handle the action on Fist of Fury AND The creed of the Tangboth from 2021. When the fights come, they are of serviceable quality, even if entirely derived from choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping and Sammo Hung on the Donnie Yen IP Man franchise, never coming close to its quality. We get chain punch and classic wing chun poses and a couple of one-on-one fights, the first against Yuqing Shi (The world outside) armed with a chain dart, and the second against Li Hao Xuan (Harpoon) – they provide a welcome break from watching Wenhao navigate corridors full of hapless adversaries.
There is a distinct Jackie Chan influence in one sequence, which sees Wenhao fend off attackers by balancing on a wooden beam between the rafters, however for the most part the action reflects the low budget. I enjoyed the fight against the last lackey (which doesn’t seem to be credited anywhere), which starts with the school kids taking the classic “let’s storm our captors” approach, what seemingly every hostage situation in an action movie like this takes at some point. Amusingly, he indiscriminately smacks both boys and girls in the face with equal ferocity, whose extreme violence somehow seemed humorous rather than whatever intention he was probably after. We also have a weird closing scene that seems to suggest that Hao Xuan’s character is actually a young Cheung Tin-chi (from IP Man 3 AND Master Z: The Legacy of Ip Man), which makes as much sense as it sounds.
However none of these points should be dwelt upon. In the end YIP:CT delivers another cookie-cutter kung-fu web movie without adding anything more, or anything less, to the mix. As usual, almost every scene has a generic soundtrack playing quietly in the background, as if that were enough to maintain a sense of tension, and the 1917 setting fails to convince in almost every respect. Budget seems to range from decent (an early street scene is surprisingly populated by a lot of extras), to minimal (in one scene I could swear a cut on Ip Man’s neck was drawn in red marker), with performances which reflect a similar disparity when it comes to the level of quality. One thing for sure is that like many of the old-school Korean kung-fu films of the 70s and 80s, filming appears to have been done in winter, with several moments where the actor’s breathing is clearly visible even when I’m home. .
If you are willing to accept Wenhao’s one-note performance, position setting, and hard-hitting 75-minute runtime, then Young Ip Man: time of crisis may be worth a look. Think of it as a convenience store reduced to a clear lettuce sandwich, a IP Man be yours 5 star steakhouse. Expectations have been set.
Paul Bramhall’s assessment: 4/10