Donnie Yen Is Done With Ip Man But Is Ready To Take the Next Step In His Journey
It’s always tearful to have to say goodbye to a well-loved character after ten long years. But Donnie Yen was all smiles during his promotional stop for Ip Man 4: The Finale 葉問4：完结篇 in Singapore. Greeting his enthusiastic fans and the media alike, Yen was completely at ease, generously thanking the fans who have stayed with him and beckoning the start of his new journey.
Speaking about joining Disney in Mulan and in Star Wars (“Both the Princess family and the Empire family!”), Yen is undeniably excited for what is to come for him. However, the Ip Man series remains dear to him as a testament of his ability to keep pushing his own limits. Yen hopes for Ip Man 4 to be the finishing touch—the cherry on top—of the entire series, a final gift for the fans who have continually supported the franchise.
Sinema.SG attended a press event for Ip Man 4, organised by Shaw Organisation, and got to hear about Yen’s thoughts on the final installment and the whole Ip Man series. Read on to find out – don’t worry, no spoilers!
Filming Ip Man, Ip Man 2, Ip Man 3, and now Ip Man 4 has taken almost ten years. In Chinese cinema, this is probably the only series of its kind. How do you feel about that?
Very honoured. Because for an actor, for an artiste to find their own position is not something everyone can have the opportunity to do. Some actors are still trying to find their own positioning and their own representative works.
A lot of classics, generally after reaching its third movie, do not tend to be as good. I do not know why too. But we are very comforted by the fact that we have received the support and love from everyone even after Ip Man 3. After Ip Man 3, we really had decided not to shoot any more. I even asked the director Wilson Yip in private if we could really stop shooting. But then, there were still many fans who asked us to keep going.
I told the director Wilson Yip that if he could think of an angle and a story to go on, we should shoot it. After a while, he came to me and said, I finally found something I wanted to say, and that was that. But this one should be the last one, because I think if it’s a classic that you want to pass down, you must find a place to stop. I believe Ip Man 4 is a good place to end. I also believe it will leave the audience with beautiful memories.
Could you tell us more about your position as a producer in Ip Man 4?
Over the years I’ve realised that for a movie to be successful, it not only depends on how well you act, but there must be strict supervision on every aspect of the movie to ensure its overall quality. So I began to want to take on the producer role in every movie I participate in, to make sure that every department will be developed to their best potential. So in recent years, the films I participated in, I also produce. But for Ip Man 4, it’s not too stressful, because all of them (including director Wilson Yap) are very experienced filmmakers. A movie needs every detail to be in place before it can be considered a piece of work.
We all know that Ip Man is the best of the best (in the kungfu realm). But my question is, for you, which is the most heartwarming part of Ip Man?
So Ip Man, you imagine that onscreen he looks invincible, but he also has his moments of weakness. When dealing with problems, like everyone else, he has emotions and troubles. But Ip Man will choose to take approaches that are very virtuous and forgiving to handle these problems. Ultimately, it’s a martial arts film that will have martial arts for everyone to watch. But is whole life he is very forgiving, which is why everyone likes him.
Does it get harder to film the fight scenes over the years?
Yes and no. Yes as far as, obviously, you’re not going to be the same. You don’t have the kind of endurance as when you’re a teenager or a young man. On the other hand, you will have so much experience and knowledge of cinema, on how to communicate with the audience.
At the end of the day, I’m not an athlete. I’m not a competitive athlete where the goal is to show the peak of an athlete, like a basketball player or a runner and see how fast you can run in a short period of time to determine whether you’re at your peak or not. As an actor, it’s an overall package. You’re acting. On how do you interpret that movement, it takes a lot of knowledge, and that knowledge comes from years of acting.
What are some of the bitter and sweet parts of kungfu for you?
I’ve already forgotten all about the bitter parts! I feel like what is bitter is sweet. During the process, there will be times when you feel a lot of pressure and your body is aching and tired. But in the end, I think it’s a happy thing. I think in the acting industry, if I didn’t like this or thought it’s worth enjoying, I would have left the industry early on. So I don’t think there’s much to feel bitter over.
My biggest…let’s not say bitterness, let’s say loss, would be the time spent with my family. Because that cannot be avoided. When filming a good movie, there needs to be a lot of your life spent on it. After spending that time, having to fly around, you will lose a lot of time together with your family.
So Ip Man 4 takes place in the United States and you yourself grew up in the United States. Is this film reflective of the childhood you had in the States and if you ever had to protect the dignity of the Chinese Americans there?
I do have a lot of personal experiences as a teenager growing up in America. But I think in general, my whole perspective to playing this role in this story is in seeing how (Ip Man) communicates with his son in the movie, the encounters and racial discrimination, and the difficulties of surviving as a minority. Actually, this movie is too short of a film to fully reflect the history of Chinese immigrants or minority immigrants in America. And I believe it still exists even today.
But then again, you look at these conflicts between people, that’s from the history of mankind. That’s not just from racial discrimination, but discrimination itself happens around us on a daily basis. Not just in cultural and racial discrimination, but also maybe in gender. These problems still exist today and haven’t changed. I think this movie is about that.
I don’t think we should look too deeply into the political side of this because this movie is not a political one, nor is it a documentary or a statement. It just happens to describe (some of the things) that happened during that period of time, of a Chinese man travelling to America. It focuses on father and son, the journey of Ip Man.
You’ve always talked about trying to show a side of Ip Man that is beyond being just a martial arts figure or hero, that he is also a family man with personal problems. Is there another side of him that you want people to take away from in Ip Man 4?
I think when you look at the whole series, even with this being the last movie, I would encourage the audience to look at him as the fourth part of the whole series. Because his character would not change. And that is the reason why people love him. If he changed his character, why would you want to see the fourth one?
He sustained his personality so I think people want to know what happened to this person in his story, in the last movie, since the first or second movie. But as far as his characteristics, he’s not gonna change. He got older of course. But we have grown to have more feelings and connections with this person. Or you love him even more because you kind of grew up with him since twelve years ago.
With this being the finale, did you cry during the last day of filming?
No, not at all! It gave me a piece of satisfaction, actually, rather than some sort of down feeling. As an actor, to me, it is a fulfilment to be able to say goodbye to a creation. No matter that creation took twelve years, or no matter that creation is successful or not. Ip Man has thankfully been rather successful. As an artiste, you must have tremendous amount of aspirations and motivations to create other things. For me, it’s a start. I will continue my journey as an artiste.
Ip Man 4: The Finale will be in theatres from 20 December onwards. Meanwhile, you can visit the IP MAN PAVILION at Our Tampines Hub, which displays iconic movie sets from the previous three films – such as Ip Man’s living room equipped with the wooden dummy and furniture, pictures of Ip Man and his family on the walls and the classic sparring scene on the big round table. The IP MAN PAVILION will be open till 6 January next year.
Here’s the trailer:
Photo Credit: Shaw Organisation