IP MAN 4 葉問4 Delivers a Punch to the Gut with a Poignant and Touching Closure to the Beloved Series
Ip Man’s life remains unchanged after his wife’s death, but he and his son are slowly drifting apart. To seek a better future for his son, Ip Man decides to travel to the U.S. only to find the stable, peaceful life abroad is only skin deep. Underneath lies a deep rooted racial discrimination that is far worse than he has expected. Ip Man re-examines his position and ponders on the reason he took up martial arts in the beginning.
Director: Wilson Yip
Cast: Donnie Yen, Scott Adkins, Danny Chan, Vanness Wu, Wu Yue, Vanda Margraf, Chris Collins, Kent Cheng
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin Chinese, English
Runtime: 105 minutes
Sitting in the cinema, a thought came to mind, “Ip Man got old.”
This is not a critique, but an admiration.
With age comes self-reflection, and that’s essentially what Ip Man 4: The Finale is about. An intimate look at Ip Man as a father and widower. And this is why I really like the Ip Man films; they’re not just action films. They are family melodramas at the core, but presented as Kung Fu films.
The first Ip Man film is about survival in a time of war, Ip Man 2 is about making a living in a different country, Ip Man 3 is about balancing family and passion, and Ip Man 4 is a father’s struggle with raising his son.
Yen brings a sense of gentleness to his portrayal of the titular character, embodying the role perfectly, and the moment we see him in the familiar attire with a quiet demeanour as in previous instalments, it is obvious why Yen was such a good choice for this role from the beginning.
Ip Man 4 follows right after the events of the previous films and keeps the emotional touch of the entire series. An important motif of the first 3 films is dinner, where the entire family would sit together to eat, which is something director Wilson Yip also does in his other films as a reflection of his views on the importance of family. Yet, we do not see this in Ip Man 4, symbolising his broken family after the death of his wife in the previous instalment. It’s a very heavy way of starting off the final film, accompanied by the fact that we don’t get to see a fight sequence with Ip Man until later in the film.
Action director Yuen Woo-ping is fantastic as usual, delivering heart-pounding and inventive fights that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Known for his innovative choreography and his ability to mix different martial arts styles in a fight sequence, the legendary choreographer treats each fight differently, and it is obvious when watching the final product. Every martial art style portrayed is treated with respect and emphasis on its distinct style, so every fight is unique in its own way.
One of the most interesting fights would definitely be between Ip Man and Tai chi master Wan Zong Hua, which goes from fighting with two hands to fighting with one hand, something none of the other Ip Man films ever did, and it is also one of the most stylish Tai Chi fights I’ve seen in recent films.
Ip Man 4 also includes an endearing homage to Bruce Lee, which sees actor Danny Chan reprising the role from Ip Man 3, but with more screen time and even a dazzling fight sequence. If you didn’t like how Bruce Lee was portrayed in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, you’ll love this version, which includes tributes to classic moments and quotes of the legend’s life and films.
Sadly, while the film delivers on the emotional moments of Ip Man’s family dynamics and the action sequences, it lacks a very fundamental aspect – well-developed antagonists. The white American characters are depicted as arrogant, hateful or dumb, sometimes all three at the same time. Even though it does reflect the racism that Asians faced in America, this extreme depiction does seem a little one-sided, and it also results in certain characters doing things that seem illogical in the context of the story.
Regardless, it certainly does make audiences more sympathetic towards the Chinese characters, so if you’re fine with a little over the top storytelling here and there, then Ip Man 4 will still be an entertaining and emotional watch.
Ultimately, the Ip Man series is the story of a man who doesn’t want to resort to violence as a solution, but ironically makes the biggest impact with his fists. Yet under all the spectacular fight sequences and the political commentary, the importance of family is still the core of the film, and director Wilson Yip does an incredible job at handling these intimate moments of the film. A line from Ip Man 3 comes to mind: “There’s nothing more important than the love of those by your side.” This message is echoed throughout the entire series, and even more so in this film.
While it will be sad for fans who wish to see more of Yen as the Wing Chun grandmaster, Ip Man 4: The Finale is a fitting and beautiful conclusion for the series.
Ip Man 4: The Finale hits the big screen on 20 December, but advance ticket sales are already available. In the meantime, check out the trailer below!