Review by Sean Boelman
The fourth and final entry into the Donnie Yen-starring martial arts saga, Ip Man 4: The Finale concludes the story of the Kung Fu grandmaster who taught icon Bruce Lee. Although it isn't an entirely satisfying conclusion to the series, it is still another fun and stylish action flick with some great action sequences.
The film follows Ip Man as he travels to the U.S. in the hopes of finding a school for his son to attend, only to find himself in the middle of a battle between the martial arts community and the unorthodox (and controversial) teaching style of Bruce Lee. Ultimately, this entry offers much of what fans have been waiting for from the series, as it contains the strongest connection yet to the protagonist’s (arguably) more famous protégé.
However, perhaps the biggest issue with this movie is that there are way too many subplots. In addition to Ip Man’s main quest of making accommodations for his son after his passing and the prominent side quest of dealing with Bruce Lee’s impact on the martial arts community in the States, there are also subplots about a young girl being bullied and a military officer trying to prove that Kung Fu is an inferior martial art. Unfortunately, since there is so much going on, there is no way for all of them to feel fully-developed.
Additionally, the film is very heavy-handed with the way in which it addresses its themes. A majority of the runtime is spent exploring the idea of inclusion, whether the American characters’ racism towards the Chinese characters or the Chinese Benevolent Association’s unwillingness to accept outsiders. From the beginning of the movie, it is clear that the filmmakers hope to promote inclusivity in all aspects of life.
As a martial arts film, this delivers a handful of very good action sequences that are sure to be memorable. Granted, the focus isn’t as much on the action, the main purpose of the movie being to pay homage to the grandmaster by telling the events of the later part of his life. Still, the conflicts that do happen are choreographed and shot in a way that is thoroughly entertaining.
On a technical level, the film is definitely a bit messy, but the flaws in the movie help lend it a greater sense of visual energy. The kinetic cinematography is aggressive but still works quite well. The chaotic editing goes a long way in making the film feel more urgent even though the movie is rooted in its character arcs. These things help preserve the narrative momentum that is chopped up by the messy narrative.
Donnie Yen is obviously very comfortable in his role as the eponymous martial artist, and as a result, he is endlessly fun to watch. Without a doubt, Yen’s performance is the best part of the film and likely the main draw that keeps viewers coming back to the series. The rest of the cast, particularly the American actors such as Scott Adkins, are over-the-top and ineffective.
Ip Man 4: The Finale may not be the best finale that this series could have had, but it is entertaining nonetheless. It isn’t necessary to have the context of the other entries to watch this movie, but those who are uninitiated into the series probably won’t find much to love in this messy sequel.
Ip Man 4: The Finale is now playing in theaters.