If one has not watched the Ip Man series by now, they are missing out on a hell of a lot of fun and ingenuity. Somehow, the fourth and final installment wraps up this beautifully choreographed action franchise on a stirring note.
We have come a long way since the release of the first Ip Man back in 2008. It became an instant sensation when a humble hero (played by Donnie Yen) defended his legacy and the honor of his Chinese folk by teaching them Wing-Chun kung fu to liberate them from the invading Japanese army in the midst of World War 2. The 2010 sequel continued its momentum, demonstrating a different world in Hong Kong and initiating the discussion of how hatred slapped the Chinese folk and their agendas. Ip Man 3 attracted much more attention worldwide thanks to a Mike Tyson dream showdown with Mr. Yen and a more central awareness of the franchise’s popularity. Ip Man 4: The Finale is the last time we will see Yen in a black cassock, and this feature ends in a captivating fashion.
In this film, Ip Man heads to San Francisco at the request of Bruce Lee and to look into a new school for his son. He learns of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, and that they are disgusted by Lee teaching Americans kung fu. The dealings with the organization are coupled by a young girl Yonah (Vanda Margraf) being bullied by a white cheerleader (and her prejudicial family) and a Gunnery Sergeant called Barton Geddes (Scott Adkins) finding any way to silence Chinese folk in this pretext just to exercise his racial attitude and the need to break bones.
Ip also deals with his personal troubles in the film since he lost his wife in the last chapter due to her passing from cancer. The same fate befalls onto him, as he deals with his throat cancer and the crumbling of his body. His own son fails to communicate with him properly, and it becomes a time of desperation for Ip to fight and stand above the injustice the Chinese have faced for years.
One of the most commendable things about these action films is they love to get rolling into combat without hesitation. Introduce a new character with little plot, and immediately go for a spectacular sparring scene. Choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping preserves the nerve-wracking action we have all become accustomed to ever since the first Ip Man film. After fighting Mike Tyson, Sammo Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, and Darren Shahlavi (in previous films), Ip this time embraces unique fight scenes with Adkins, Chris Collin’s Colin Frater and Wu Yue’s Wan Zong-hua. They’re priceless and usher in new waves of energy each time the camera strikes their blows.
Danny Chan’s Bruce Lee impression was also done very well, capturing the signature moves and swag of the iconic martial artist. His presence was slowly taking beats away from Yen’s performance. Speaking of Yen, he started to show signs of his age and fatigue to the point where there was a sense of hesitation that he would emerge victorious in his fight scenes. The end battle with Adkins was harsh and brutal, as Adkins demonstrated himself as an enraged tank full of fists and legwork. Every time Ip has a battle with someone in the third act, it comes to the point where he has to pull new moves out of the bag to regroup and focus on silencing his opponent.
The music and colors all add vibrance to this feature, showing an alive world with content and mature human-beings. Director Wilson Yip ensures that Yen’s character stands out in this cultural city, as he is the third party in a colossal war between white supremacy and Chinese preservation. The perspective of his character seems so wholly and aware of what times they continue to live within.
Many may argue that the film’s exposition becomes a catastrophe with respect to the incredible action sequences, but the studio understands that it is important to balance the story here and not continue to stockpile on the action. Doing so would leave a bland taste in the mouth as there would be zero incentive in not only watching these fight scenes, but understanding why they’re fighting. Discrimination, warfare and honor are values that continue to live with human beings. They sure as hell aren’t there to be scoffed at. Maybe the series goes too far in attributing to these themes, but it feels justified in the grand scheme of lives being lost and hope being destroyed for Chinese folks.
The Ip Man series triumph in expressing how poorly the Chinese have been respected for decades and Donnie Yen serves as the savior. He will be sorely missed as this is believed to be his last match. For 12 years, he carried the series with heart and commitment to protect and assist others. Now, he has ended it on an ebullient and heartfelt note. If there’s one thing we must take away from this finale, it is the theme of spreading and maintaining a legacy. Ip Man 4: The Finale is fun, eye-popping and very satisfying.