For those of you who see this film as an almost vulgar cash cow of commercial filmmaking, the eastern equivalent of the Rocky franchise, you may want to know Ip Man 4 is back-to-basic filmmaking at its best. You know how the audience need to root for the protagonist? For this last instalment, you already care for him from the last three films. Yet even before the title appears, in the opening scene, the audience is told Ip Man is sick, his days are numbered. But he will need to do what he needs to do. Which is what the film is essentially about. How can you not root for him?
The film also starts with Bruce Lee, the most famous and revered name in Kung Fu, looking reverentially towards a slight figure in in the crowd. a quiet man in traditional long black Chinese robe, someone sure of himself, but composed. Could it be? Yes, it is. Ip Man is in the house. The humility that defines good martial arts is a principal virtue of the film. Along with the need for tolerance in a world where Chinese are immigrants. These values are embodied in this famed teacher of the Wing Chun fighting style. And Donnie Yen plays him with the kind of stoic charm that comes from confidence, which in turn comes from the success of this franchise.
Above all, Donnie plays Ip Man age-appropriately. There is no vanity, in lighting, camera angles or makeup. No attempts to make him look younger, better or with more youthful energy for someone his age. This approach lends dignity to the film, context to the character, and realism to the story. In this time and age, active nationalism is good for the box office, especially in China. This film plays the race card against the west, and to some extent japan, beyond decent boundaries, at some points, even into cheesy territories. However, the counterpoints are raw, real emotions. The feelings come directly, honestly, pulling no punches.
With Donnie’s Ip Man, we are reminded of the grace of a Chinese hero. Strong, principled, and vulnerable. Ultimately, this finale reunites director Wilson Yip with Yuen Woo-ping for some of the most effective fight scenes. They are straight-laced, they integrate with the emotions that flow with the narrative. All in, this film does a good job of providing closure for Yen’s beloved character. Some scenes call to mind the Shaw Brothers classic action movies. Where the story is simple, the emotions are pure, the action is good. Complete with body flips, head punches, smashed furniture, fractured limbs, all with passion and a big pugilistic heart.