The Ip Man film franchise is a film series that knows exactly what it is, what audiences want to see, and how to deliver it — and Ip Man 4: The Finale is just that. It's been announced as the final film in the series (even the title states as much), as Donnie Yen, who plays the eponymous Wing Chun master, has said that this will be his last kung fu film (but not his last action film!). Ip Man 4 manages to inject something new into the franchise, by boldly taking Ip Man to a place he has never been to before.
The movie follows the journey of martial arts master Ip Man as he goes to America in search of a school for his son. However, he discovers that cultural tensions are worse in a foreign country. When the pride of the Chinese is threatened, Ip Man must rise to the occasion and uphold justice with his Wing Chun skills.
The fights are furious, ferocious, and brutal, which is exactly what we watch Ip Man movies for. Of course, Wing Chun prevails over virtually every other fighting style, but that is the whole point of the film. While we do know who will eventually emerge victorious, the movie makes an effort to pit the fighters against each other in a "knockout system" sequence with an East vs West theme.
But while the fights are magnificent and breathtaking in their own right, getting from combat to combat is absolutely hilarious. Although we're willing to be a little bit more forgiving of how the plot stretches and flexes to ensure each fight happens on schedule, the contrivances of the story are (unintentionally) hilarious. Characters zip through restricted areas and pop up from place to place at the speed of plot, and how the martial artists rationalise their motivation for fighting can be somewhat forced.
However, when the plot isn't trying to make sure the next battle is on track, it can be genuinely touching. The depiction of parent-child relationships is one that particularly tugs on the heartstrings, especially when it focuses on Ip Man's character and relationships. It's a blunt instrument, but one that works, because you can't help feeling sorry for Ip Man and the impending threat he faces, adding more weight to the stakes he fights for.
That being said, to elevate Ip Man's status as unparalleled master of martial arts, it means that the other Chinese exponents have to be played down to the point of ludicrousness. They seem underpowered, and even ineffective at times — which is strange given that they are the masters of their respective fighting styles. There is a narrative purpose for why they are portrayed this way, but it can feel a little mechanical to see them get taken down so easily at times.
For Chinese viewers, there's no denying how stirring the film can be. The sense of pride in Chinese culture, the awe you feel when you see what can be accomplished, and the inspiration to appreciate one's Chinese roots rings true throughout the film. Ip Man is, of course, the perfect paragon of Chinese virtues and values, and the only flaw he has is his penchant for nicotine.
Ip Man 4: The Finale lives up to its title as a finale, as it sends off its hero with a fierce conflict between East and West, justice and oppression, and good and evil. While the plot can be a little hackneyed, it does its job well in facilitating the fights. If this truly is the last Ip Man film, then it's a good note to end on.
Running time: 105 minutes
The film is directed by Wilson Yip Wai Shun and written by Hiroshi Fukazawa and Edmond Wong. It stars Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Danny Chan (Bruce Lee), Vanness Wu (Hartman Wu), Wu Yue (Wan Zong Hua), Scott Adkins (Barton Geddes), and Chris Collins (Colin Frater).
Ip Man 4: The Finale opens in cinemas:
- 20 December, 2019 (Singapore)
- 20 December, 2019 (Malaysia)
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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