By: John M Jerva
REVIEW: Ip Man 4: The Finale
STARRING: Donnie Yen, Kwok-Kwan Chan, Vanness Wu, Yue Wu, Chris Collins and Scott Adkins
DIRECTED BY: Wilson Yip
Official Synopsis: 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.
THE REVIEW: Over a decade ago, martial arts superstar Donnie Yen brought the world the first installment in the now historic Ip Man franchise and while he had said that the third film was a fitting finale to the series, he has graced us with yet another beautiful and brutal last installment with Ip Man: The Finale which brings the films together and wraps it with a wonderful ribbon for the holiday season. Yen has also stated that this film would be his last hoorah for the Kung Fu genre that has made him the international star that he is today so with that in mind, this film means even more to the fans as he sends the iconic character off to the sunset in what can only be described as a beautiful and brutal tribute to the legacy VOD this historic man.
As the film opens up, Ip Man, who is still suffering the loss of his beloved wife, has been given even more devastating news in the fact that he now has terminal cancer. Ip Man is certainly more world weary this time around and now with an expiration date to his life, he wants to reconcile with his estranged son and give him a proper life in the United States. Unfortunately, his son who has just been expelled from school wants nothing to do with him or the thoughts of living overseas.
Ip Man also learns that his disciple, Bruce Lee who is now running martial arts schools in the states, wants him to come and watch him at a tournament to which Ip Man at first denies but then sees the opportunity to relocate his son and send him to a proper school.
Ip travels to the U.S. on a mission to bring his son over and meets with the esteemed Chinese Benevolent Association as he needs a letter of recommendation that will help enroll his son. Unfortunately, the CBS, which is run by Kung Fu master Won Zuang Hua (Yue Wu) and a host of Chinese grandmasters are very upset with Bruce Lee as he has broken the traditional code to never teach Kung Fu to Westerners. As Lee is a student of his, the blame falls on Ip Man as well. This immediately puts Ip Man at odds with the council as he feels Kung Fu can bridge the cultural gap between the East and the West as racial tensions are high between Americans and Chinese immigrants.
At the head of the racial tension is a bigoted Marine Gunnary Sergeant named Barton Geddes, player by action superstar Scott Adkins, and his instructor Colin Frater (Chris Collins) who are at odds with a young Marine named Hartman (Vanness Wu) who wants to incorporate traditional Chinese Kung Fu into the military self-defense program. Geddes and Frater feel that Kung Fu is an abomination and that their Karate is all that matters which sends them on a heated collision course with Ip Man as he tries to bring peace to a turbulent society that is feeding off of hate and racial unrest.
A lot has been made of this final entry in the franchise ever sense it was announced that Adkins would be joining the film and would ultimately be going toe to toe with Yen on the screen in a dream match up of action heavyweights that fans have been wanting for a long time and with this, a new Kung Fu masterpiece is born that will surely go down as the fitting end to an already classic set of films. Yes the highly anticipated throw down between these two legends is what everyone came to see but the film is so much more than that.
At the heart of the film is Yen, of course, as he plays the iconic Ip Man one last time and this go around sees Yen portraying the master as someone who has seen a life of turmoil and war and now it has finally caught up with the man as he now is feeling his age and as he faces the one foe that he will not be able to defeat. Yen is a bona fide superstar and just his presence on screen is enough to elevate the film to a higher status. Yen brings his usual phenomenal physical prowess to the role but he also brings the emotional gravitas as well as he puts a fitting exclamation point on the film series that is regarded as the premiere Kung Fu series ever. Fans will not be disappointed as Yen brings it physically and emotionally all at the same time.
This fourth film serves as a message that is even more fitting and relevant today in that we as a race must look past our one sided differences and learn to accept that we are all the same underneath. The 60’s were a volatile era but even today we face the same uphill battles with race relations and this film shows that with a little love and, of course, kick ass Kung Fu, we can bring peace to the world.
The cast along with Yen are all on their game starting with Vanness Wu who plays the role of the eager Marine Hartman looking to bring his heritage into the Marine Corpse and Yue Wu who plays the role of CBA leader Hua who at first is at odds with Yen’s Ip Man but eventually becomes an ally. International martial arts star and former real life Marine Chris Collins is another standout out as the vile Colin Frater who serves as one of the instruments of hate in the film and gets the ample opportunity to showcase his brutal and powerful martial arts skills in a great scene in the middle of the film. Collins has a great screen presence and should become one of the industry’s next true martial arts action stars. He’s the real deal and this film is a great platform for him.
Kwok-Kwon Chan AKA Danny Chan reprises his role of the legendary Bruce Lee and while his role is significantly smaller here, his portrayal of Lee is probably the most important as he is the bridge that brings Yen’s Ip Man to the states. Chan also gets to fish out some stellar MA moves in a great scene with veteran actor and martial artist Mark Strange who plays an American fighter full of hate. Chan has played Lee numerous times in this franchise as well as the series The Legend of Bruce Lee and it is fitting that he does it one more time in Yen’s final Kung Fu send off.
Now let’s talk about action superstar Scott Adkins who has had one of his best years in film with the release of Triple Threat and the wonderfully received Avengement. I have been saying that Adkins deserves to be leading big budgeted films for years now and here he gets to showcase his talents both physically and dramatically for the world once again. Like his equally bad to the bone role of Collins in Triple Threat, Adkins gets to go full on bad guy here as the villainous Barton Geddes. Although fans love him in his heroic roles and anti-heroic roles like Boyka, Adkins gets to have a great time with this character and you can tell that he relished the opportunity to play Geddes and does his job to near perfection. It also helps that Director Wilson Yip gives Adkins ample opportunity to shine as always in the film’s fight sequences and he brings his A game as always with choreography that is some of his most acrobatic and lethal. Adkins is a true action superstar and now he is demonstrating to the masses what his legions of fans have known for decades, that he is the complete package. If you want to make your action film memorable, just add Adkins.
The action while it takes a while to get going is top tier once again as famed Hong Kong fight master Yuen Wo Ping handless the fisticuffs once again. Ping is a tried and true master in creating onscreen fights and he brings a total artistry as usual to the film’s many fight sequences. Everyone gets to have their moment in the sun and Ping shows us that he has not missed a step after all these years as he serves up some of his most brutal and beautiful works of art ever captured in film. The genre is as strong as ever with Ping at the helm of the martial arts wizardry and fans will feel nostalgic for the great 80’s and 90’s when he delivered some of his best work.
Now it’s time to discuss what we all came her for and that’s the historic and climatic brawl between Yen and Adkins that brings the film all together. Action fans always have their idea of who they want to see go at it onscreen and this matchup is certainly bat the top of any self respecting action aficionado. Does it live up to all the hype? You bet your bottom dollar it does. The contrast of styles is what makes the heated exchange one that will be watched time and time again as Adkins unleashes his vast array of aerial and death defying moves while Yen plays it simple and poetic with intricate and smoothness that has to be seen to be believed. A lot of times, the hype far outweighs the finished product but here, it is the stuff of legends and these two masters of their craft have created one of the most memorable displays of raw power and beautiful finesse that will be talked about for years to come. I think I watched this scene 10 times in a row alone. It’s that great and it’s a wonderful and bone crunching love letter to the fans who have been there since day one.
There are numerous subplots that could have been left on the cutting room floor but they do serve a purpose nonetheless and while some of the characters are more forgettable, the stars more than make up for it.
All in all, Ip Man 4: The Finale is the culmination of Donnie Yen’s long and historic career and if it is indeed the last hoorah in this genre for the star that its is a poetic and fitting tribute to the films that made him who he is today. Yen will still dish out the action for years to come in more mainstream action pics but it will always be this series of films that will mark his legacy. Add the fact that it has Scott Adkins in it makes it even more of the stuff dreams are made of and fans will be treated to one of the best endings to a franchise ever. When people are talking about how Star Wars is so screwed up this weekend, they really should be talking about how this more quiet franchise has staked its claim to the film world and has served up much more than just epic fight sequences. Yen is a true master of his craft and this will be the series that he will best be known for. Like I said, it’s a beautiful and bone crunching love letter to the genre and one that should not be missed. Farewell Ip Man.
VERDICT: 5 Out of 5 Stars
Ip Man 4: The Finale opens today in China and on Christmas Day in North America from Well Go USA!