All good things must come to an end…
It is genuinely hard to end these long arcing stories like this and while Ip Man 4: The Finale takes us to some fairly familiar places it successfully ends this story on an effective yet predictable note.
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 (Donnie Yen) 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.
Not anything that would get confused with high art, Ip Man 4: The Finale jumps somewhat into the origins of the one and only Bruce Lee while he was establishing Chinese Martial Arts in America with decent results. It gets a little broad and over the top at times, but it’s also kind of refreshing to see a Chinese produced film have the white American characters be cartoonishly villainous when it comes to setting up this story.
In many ways, Ip Man 4: The Finale really does play as a love letter to the entire story. With director Wilson Yip still at the helm as he has been throughout the entire franchise we get a film that is consistent in tone and in feel as it unfurls its narrative for us. It’s not the kind of story where we’re supposed to wonder what’s going to happen at the end, rather it’s about getting closer with an iconic character that we’ve grown attached to. It all makes for a very smooth way to go out. The production design is solid and the action set pieces are quite good but this installment is actually a little lighter on action than expected and heavier on the politics of the time and the struggle that Chinese immigrants faced with racism. Sure it’s interesting an entertaining, but as an audience it’s not necessarily what we can form, even though Donnie Yen (now 56) can still move with the best of them when he’s unleashed on the screen.
Outside of Donnie Yen’s sage Master Ip, the acting here tends to be a little over the top, but that’s not a bad thing. The film paints most white people as xenophobic racists and leans into that idea pretty hard but it also provides some counter balance to the Chinese characters who are all trying to find away to thrive in this new land even while at each other’s throats trying to maintain traditions that they can’t help but feel are being stripped away from them. Yen never really gets enough credit on this side of the ocean for being a genuine movie star who can carry a picture not only with screen presence and charisma but with honest character work.
Otherwise, while fans of Hong Kong cinema may recognize a few familiar faces in the film, the other primary face in the film is Scott Adkins as the maniacal drill sergeant Barton Geddes who was instant that Karate was better than Chinese Kung Fu. He scowled and chewed the scenery at every turn to the point that it was damn near comedic…but that’s also why it kind of works. We never doubt that his bad guy is going down; we just have to enjoy the ride to ultimately watch it happen.
When it comes down to it, the thing about Ip Man 4: The Finale is this. It’s not the kind of film that’s going to convert any people into being fans of the franchise, however for those who are it’s a nice and effective way to end this overall story. Could it have been done better? Maybe, but sometimes with these beloved franchises maybe taking the safe approach that we knew was coming is ultimately the better way to go. It ain’t ‘auteur’ cinema, but it’s fun and delivers the right message in a neat and tidy package, is there much more that any of us actually want?