3 out of 5
Directed by: Wilson Yip
Donnie Yen’s in his 50s now, so maybe he can’t take one hundreds of opponents and balance on teeter-tottering tabletops while martial arts-ing anymore.
Ip Man 4: The Finale is, by this point in the Ip franchise, just kind of a “regular” martial arts film. That doesn’t mean that star Donnie Yen and team aren’t still delivering some fantastic choreography (especially in the climactic battle with Scott Adkins’ character), or that director Wilson Yip is lacking in his focused, dramatic flair with presentation, but Ip Man 3 was intended as a conclusion – and maybe kind of jumped a guest-starring shark by including Mike Tyson – and so “Finale” doesn’t have much else to do besides follow the usual beats and find a way to fit more into the story.
Master Ip (Yen) is feeling the pangs of single fatherhood, with his son, Ip Ching (Jim Liu) doing the surly teen thing and rebelling. Also facing down the looming threat of cancer – a diagnosis he withholds from his son – Man notes former student Bruce Lee’s (Danny Chan, doing an impressive impersonation) success in the Americas, and thinks his son might be more at home there. So the US doth he go, facing not only the racism of 60s America, but also internal cultural squabbles from the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and their leader, Tai Chi master Wan Zhong-hua (Wu Yue), who takes issue with Lee’s “martial arts is for everyone” stance. While these are interestingly parallel sides of an issue, the movie hardly dives into it: it’s just a plot prop to have US Marine Barton Geddes (Adkins) berate the use of martial arts in his beloved marines (although, confusingly, he’s okay with “American” kung fu…) and stir up beef that leads to arrests amongst the Benevolent Association and multiple Grunting American vs. Tai Chi / Wing Chun / etc. masters.
Excepting one pretty electric Bruce Lee fight, most of these battles are “legitimate” in that they take place in a ring, and so are lacking in the prop / staging inclusions that highlighted previous films’ fights. They’re fun, for sure, and Yip has incorporated the bright color and lighting scheme Yuen Woo-ping employed in Master Z, so the movie has an engaging, buoyant visual sensibility throughout, but besides being tagged as an Ip Man film, there’s not much to separate it out beyond the usual martial arts fare. However, that sense of reserve does help in building up to the final brawl with Adkins, in which the choreography includes a lot of impactful throws and grapples that do feel unique amongst all the flicks’ fights.
Would I watch an Ip Man 5 if they somehow stuffed it in to the timeline? Yes, for sure. But ‘Finale’ has, I think, confirmed that we’re pretty much done with any further important story points or anything especially flashy at this point, and anything else is just the potential to watch some more well executed fights, featuring modern masters of such things.