Ip Man 4: A fun and fitting good-bye to a hero fighter

Ip Man, played by Donnie Yen, faces off against fellow kung fu master, Wan Zong Hua, played by Wu Yue. (Mandarin Motion pic)

A couple of years ago, if you asked anyone who Bruce Lee was, they’d have answered in the affirmative.

After all, the quintessential martial artist is considered to be one of the greatest of the 20th century, and his face and moves have been splashed onto t-shirts and motivational posters for decades.

But now, mention Lee and you’ll most likely get another name in response, “Ip Man”.

The story behind the teacher of Lee first came to light in 2008 with the release of Ip Man, which saw Donnie Yen playing the role of the kung fu master.

A decade later, the final instalment of the Ip Man series, Ip Man 4 has arrived and Yen takes extra care to send off his character with the respect and dignity it deserves.

For the first time in the series, Ip Man leaves his homeland to travel to San Francisco in the US, on personal business.

However, he soon finds that the honour of Chinese martial arts and culture is being threatened once more and it falls on him to defend it.

The first thing you should know about the Ip Man series is that it can have a somewhat jingoistic feel, and this has been a constant throughout the series.

This tone is prevalent in this instalment as well, and seems to be reflecting on the current tense state of affairs in Sino-American diplomatic relations.

Because of this jingoism, the film is unfortunately rather ham-fisted at times, dropping its themes onto the audience like an anvil onto one’s head.

The antagonists, who are all Americans, are comically over-the-top with their villainy and racism that it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at some scenes.

Ranging from a bratty schoolgirl who assaults a fellow Chinese cheerleader to a screaming marine sergeant who beats the life out of kung fu masters, one can wonder how silly the next villain will be.

But considering the time period the film is set in, the repulsive behaviour of the antagonists might not be too far-fetched.

While visiting the US on personal business, Ip Man is forced to defend the honour of martial arts and the Chinese culture. (Mandarin Motion pic)

After all, back then, the thought of sharing a toilet or drinking from the same water fountain with those of different skin colour was unacceptable for a frightening number of Americans.

In any case, while the antagonists come off as ridiculously unsympathetic, Ip Man is still very much the man the audience has grown to love since 2008.

Donnie Yen fits the character perfectly just as much as Robert Downey Junior does for Iron Man.

There is nothing more awe-inspiring than a talented kung fu master, who is also a soft-spoken gentleman willing to step up to defend the most deserving people.

At the same time, he is very much human and at one point in the film, he loses his temper when his estranged son invokes the memory of Ip Man’s recently departed wife. And this will not be the only time when an emotional bombshell is dropped.

Special mention should also go to Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan, who plays Bruce Lee, and is the spitting image of the man.

Despite his limited scenes, he fits into his role well enough to make you imagine that Lee is very much alive and still kicking.

But no one goes to a viewing of Ip Man to study characters. They go to watch scoundrels get trounced and be sent running home with their tails between their legs.

In addition to the thrill of watching the perpetually calm Ip Man giving the antagonists a taste of their own medicine, Ip Man 4 also shows that Bruce Lee’s fighting skills aren’t just for show.

The best fight scenes in the Ip Man series tends to be between Ip Man’s Wing Chun and those of another school of martial arts.

In Ip Man 4, the final fight sees kung fu square off against karate and it is a fight that, while not as emotionally-packed like the last fight of the first Ip Man film, is still one to leave you breathless.

There are a couple of times when you’ll be wincing in pain at the thought of how agonising some of the injuries the fighters sustain must be.

The fights are creative enough to retain your interest and well-choreographed to ensure you don’t mistake one fight for the other.

With smashed furniture and bloody noses, there is no shortage of fun material for martial arts fans to indulge in.

So, as the curtain comes down, you’ll feel a little morose that such an entertaining film series has officially ended.

But in all honesty, it is better that it ends on a high note than continue on and lose all its lustre.

So for that, Ip Man 4 is the perfect farewell to the series and to the tale of the titular character.