Ip Man 4 : A Review by William Kwok

Since the first Ip Man movie was released in 2008, I have been a fan of the series. Over the holidays, I finally had some free time to watch movies with my family and Ip Man 4 was obviously at the top of my list. Although most of the audiences in the theater (mostly Chinese) greatly enjoyed the movie, I left the theater with some mixed feelings.

Personally I like the previous installment of the series better than this finale – from the script to action choreography. As a cinephile, I never watched the Ip Man series as documentaries. In this fictional movie, director Wilson Yip disappoints me by using the same storytelling formula one more time. There were many opportunities in the movie, such as Ip Man’s culture shock in America or Bruce Lee’s teaching experiences, that the director could have made more interesting. However, the director and the screenwriters failed to use their creativity. I merely see the themes of discrimination against white people and Chinese nationalism in Ip Man 4. In the movie, the main character keeps promoting the idea of using Chinese martial arts as a vessel to change others’ prejudice against Chinese people. What does he actually promote besides “sending the evil white guys to hospital”?

Although the backbone of the story is such a cliché, I enjoyed watching the parent-child relationships and the family issues the Kung Fu masters encounter in the movie. These sub-plots really resonate with me as an educator and a parent. Parent and child relational problems have always been the most common issues in many families. What matters the most are self-reflection and love. Children don’t come to the world with an operating manual. Like Yin and Yang, parenting is a learning experience for both parents and children. A good parent should have a big heart and an open mind like a true Kung Fu master that embraces different values and opinions.

In terms of the action scenes, I still greatly appreciate Master Yuen Woo Ping’s creative work. The fight scene between Ip Man and Tai Chi Master Wan Zong Hua is the highlight of the movie. The interactions between Wing Chun Chi Sau (sticking hand) and Tai Chi pushing hand is quite entertaining and visually appealing. I much appreciated that this scene demonstrates courtesy and integrity of both characters, which are the essence of traditional martial arts.

However, as a Wing Chun practitioner, I am tired of seeing Wing Chun being repeatedly presented as a combat sport in the spar fights of the movie. As the finale of the Ip Man series, Ip Man 4 further misleads the audience that spar fighting is the only way to appreciate martial arts. Unlike the prequels, almost all fight scenes in Ip Man 4 are one-on-one stage fights. Wing Chun is a self-defense system. It is designed to effectively protect ourselves in our everyday social settings, such as coffee shops, subway trains, elevators, and etc.

Among the five movies in the Ip Man series and including Master Z, Ip Man 4 is surely not my most favorite one. As the last martial arts movie in one’s career, Jet Li’s Fearless is a flawless exit. I think Donnie Yen deserves a better choice than this one to be his last Kung Fu epic. Despite this, I still feel that there are plenty of scenes worth watching, and would suggest Ip Man 4 for action movie lovers and Kung Fu practitioners.

William Kwok is the founder and headmaster of Gotham Martial Arts, a martial arts school that offers Practical Wing Chun and traditional Taekwon-Do in New York City. In 2018, he established Martial Arts Education Society (MAES), a non-profit organization devoted to spreading awareness of the martial arts for educating people in discipline, philosophy, history, and culture. Beside teaching martial arts, he is currently pursuing a Doctor of Education degree at Northeastern University and serving as the Co-Chair of Harvard Alumni for Education in New York City.

 

For more information on William Kwok, visit his website at GothamMA.

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