Back in 2015, Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip have concluded the Ip Man <葉問> trilogy with Ip Man 3 <葉問3>, a surprisingly emotionally-penetrating third and supposedly final chapter of the lucrative franchise.
Personally, I thought they did a great job with Ip Man 3 <葉問3> that any further sequel would deem more of a cash grab than a necessity. That’s what I initially had in mind when they announced yet another sequel titled Ip Man 4: The Finale <葉問4: 完結篇>.
Fortunately, Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip managed to prove me wrong, as they mostly successful in coming up what could have been an unnecessary sequel into a rousing yet heartfelt Ip Man 4: The Finale <葉問4: 完結篇>.
In this fourth and final Ip Man <葉問> sequel, the titular Wing Chun grandmaster (Donnie Yen) learns he has both head and neck cancer and the last thing he hoped for is providing his son Ip Jing (Ye He) a good education. He ends up travelling to San Francisco to get his son enrolled in an exclusive private school.
But in order to do so, he has to get a recommendation letter from the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) led by Master Wan (Wu Yue). Of course, things do not go as planned after Master Wan despised Ip Man’s student, Bruce Lee (Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan) spread his Chinese kung fu teaching to foreign students.
While Ip Man is struggling to get a recommendation letter, he faces another issue involving a racist US Marine instructor Barton Geddes (Scott Adkins) and his karate master Collin (Chris Collins), who both look down upon Chinese martial arts and Chinese peoples in general.
Like Ip Man 3 <葉問3>, this sequel works best when it relates to the subplot moments. This is particularly evident during several scenes involving Ip Man’s personal issues with his estranged son Ip Jing as well as his father figure-like bonding with Vanda Margraf’s Yonah.
The main storyline — credited to Edmond Wong, Hiroshi Fukazawa, Chan Tai-Li and Jill Leung — may have been more of the same, given the fact they incorporate all the familiar themes such as honour and nobility previously seen in all three Ip Man <葉問> movies.
But even with all the been there, done that-kind of storytelling as well as the way they address the issue of racism in 1960s America in the utmost one-note and superficial manner possible, Wilson Yip’s overall efficient direction helps to sustain a pacey rhythm without getting too heavy-handed.
Likewise, the movie is largely saved by Donnie Yen’s committed performance as the titular Wing Chun grandmaster. The supporting cast acquits themselves well enough, with Wu Yue’s perfectly dignified turn as Master Wan while relative newcomer Vanda Margraf, who plays Master Wan’s rebellious daughter proves to be a great find. Both Scott Adkins and Chris Collins may have relegated to one-dimensional racist characters. But at the very least, they manage to redeem themselves during their respective fight scenes.
Speaking of fight scenes, this is where Ip Man 4: The Finale <葉問4: 完結篇> excels the most. This shouldn’t come as a surprise anyway since the Ip Man <葉問> franchise is always known for its thrilling martial-arts choreography. The movie is again choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping, who previously did an amazing work in Ip Man 3 <葉問3>. Although there are some obvious wireworks, the overall fight scenes including Ip Man’s separate encounters against Wu Yue, Chris Collins and Scott Adkins are all impressively staged with enough vigour. The latter is particularly memorable, as Yuen Wo-Ping’s martial-arts choreography showcasing both agility and brutality between Ip Man’s Wing Chun and Scott Adkins’ karate skills against each other.
Even though Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan is largely relegated to a glorified cameo role, Wilson Yip did give him a worthy moment during a back-alley fight against Mark Strange.
Ip Man 4: The Finale <葉問4: 完結篇> ends with Kenji Kawai-scored final montage of all three movies’ memorable moments. It was no doubt both moving and a fitting end to one of Hong Kong cinema’s most iconic franchises of the modern generation. Given the fact this is Donnie Yen’s final kung fu movie following his recent announcement, he has certainly given us one of his best works to date.