With the huge successes of "Ip Man" and the latest sequel, it's no surprise that the producers are cashing-in on their success, and therefore making a prequel. However, despite some solid moments, the film never really comes together, save for the action.
Now Dennis To is no Donnie Yen. He can fight, but that's about it. Yen can fight AND act with ease, while To, playing the lead instead of minor roles in the previous two, is as bland as a doorknob. One can never feel that he is in danger, or feel with his character as he delivers a boring and uninspired performance as pre-Grandmaster Ip Man. I wish I can't say the same for the other new actors, but....man, they really screwed up with the young cast. Many actors from the previous two movies return, including Sammo Hung and Louis Fan - but they both play different characters. Yuen Biao is a new addition to the franchise, but what stands out is a very nice special appearance by Ip Chun, the eldest son of the real Ip Man. Together these supporting actors make the best of what they are given.
But where they mostly fail with the actors, they make up for it in the fight sequences. The fights are fast-paced and well-choreographed, but they seem to make up the bulk of the movie; in fact this movie is basically all fight, little substance. Granted, they are well handled but basically you've seen it all before and the sequences look quite bland until the final act where it really heats up. But story wise, it's basically nothing, it serves as an excuse to see more fights and I think has practically nothing to do with the real Ip Man's history. And the music score is bland and uninspired as well - the songs on the other hand is atrociously arranged. Production design and cinematography however are great.
In short, it's an-OK time waster, it's not bad to kill an hour and a half, but it's something one wouldn't want to see again. See this as a temporary action/Wing Chin rush.
Entertainment value: 7/10