Review: 'Ip Man 4', Donnie Yen's Grandmaster Goes Out In Style

The Ip Man franchise might be one of the best of this past decade and while it did premiere at the end of the 2000s it and the character have been with us the whole time.  It’s been almost five years since most Americans have gotten to see one frame of Donnie Yen’s version of Yip Man on film. At one point just a footnote in the history of Bruce Lee, the bright star that made Chinese martial art films a global phenomenon, he is now just as important as his iconic student and even starting a spin-off (a movie I reviewed at the beginning ofthe year). Here Donnie Yen is ending this franchise telling a finale tale of the Grandmaster. The film starts following the events of the last one, Ip (Yen) has lost his wife to cancer and is now a single parent raising their son. With their relationship strained Ip is thinking of sending his son to the United States to be educated and stay out of trouble. Serendipitously his former student Bruce Lee (Danny Chan) sends one of his students to give Ip a plane ticket and a copy of his book on martial arts. Bruce wants his master to come and see him in the 1964 martial arts tournament where he showed off Chinese kung fu to Americans. In most movies, especially ones about Bruce Lee and this tournament, it's a turning point where he ends up at odds with all of the local martial arts masters in San Francisco and they become a foe for him. But this film decides to go another way.  Since this is about Grandmaster Ip there are parts here where it starts to bookend with his plight in Ip Man 2 in regards to him changing the minds of the Grandmasters in regards to showing the non-Chinese their cultural traditions.

Here is also where the film starts to make a blatant political point. This film is about racism in America, and it’s about it in the past during the mid 20th century. It’s also very much about the current climate of tensions between the US government and the Chinese government. It’s about immigration and how much an ethnic group should shrink themselves to assimilate or stand proud and fight against oppression. There are times I was watching this film it reminded me of blaxploitation films, there were times I was shocked at their portrayals of white Americans in this movie. Now I’m not saying this because I feel it’s wrong it’s just I’m not used to seeing it, I felt it a little bit in Master Z, as well, which is a spin-off but this is like at times Public Enemy-esque. And I must stress it’s the white Americans too, and ones in a position of power in the country and not anyone else even though the only group represented in this are blacks. There is really only one Black character with lines and he’s one of Bruce’s students and he’s pretty earnest and positive but he’s also a police officer which I feel is some type of wink at Blackkklansman but a little goofier. A lot of the black folks are shown in the military and they are being yelled at by Scott Adkins’ Gunnery Sgt. Barton Geddes as all the marines train in Karate. This overwhelming military presence and how the populace treats Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans in San Francisco is there to remind you of Ip’s previous battles with the Japanese military in the first film through the use of Karate, a Japanese martial art. Now if you don’t know the history of China and Japan please go to the library and read some of their histories there is a lot there to write about in this one review. But one this is for sure this very well made and exhilarating martial arts film is making the case that the enemy of the Chinese people in the past was Japan and now in the early 21st it’s the racist, white United States power structures.

Overall, Bruce is important for changing Ip's idea of things and has a good little fight scene. You see another master that is an intellectual rival of Ip in kung fu and parenting, as well as in his practice of Tai Chi, which is made to look powerful on-screen. The story is wrapped up by setting the ground for an artifact that exists in real life and gives us a satisfying ending. I feel like this is a great way to end a franchise and it’s clear why a new Star Wars movie can't make any ground over there in China. Why go see a movie about weird interpretations of East Asian ideas and cultures with space ships and laser swords when you can just enjoy stories about real people who become new legends, creating the basis for The Force with their feats. 

4 out of 5