A kung fu blow to MAGA’s face
Not since Rocky Balboa has a folk hero’s wrath been so righteous. In Ip Man 4: The Finalethe latest Ip Man film starring Donnie Yen, the famed master of Bruce Lee travels west to test his own mortality against a 20th century America entangled in its post-war identity.
Although it’s a mixed film, with ridiculous dialogue and overly dramatic performances that aren’t far off from a soap opera, Yen’s impressive punches and screen presence allow to its star-making candor to come to a satisfying, sometimes thrilling conclusion. 47 years after his death, Grandmaster Ip Man can finally rest (until the next reboot).
Ip Man 4: The Finale, released on Christmas Day, is director Wilson Yip and star Donnie Yen’s latest collaboration on the 2008 series Ip Man. in San Francisco to enroll his estranged son in an American school. But upon arriving, Ip Man learns that his former student, Bruce Lee (Danny Chan) has antagonized San Francisco kung fu masters for teaching martial arts to non-Chinese. Things get worse when the masters become the target of violent racism from white Americans, including an abusive Marine, Barton Geddes (Scott Adkins).
Although Yuen Wo Ping’s signature choreography is abundant in IP Man 4, it’s the raw thrill of watching Ip Man’s folksy heroism pitted against Trump-flavored villainy that empowers the film. Chinese national identity and pride have always underlined the Ip Man series, but like the avatar of Americana by Stallone against Ivan Drago in Rocky IVthe emotional stakes are far higher for the Chinese grandmaster this time as he overcomes racial barriers against his own mortality countdown.
Unexpected from IP Man 4 is his unique and foreign take on American nationalism. Although it is a mid-century period piece produced by a Hong Kong studio with Chinese lead actors, IP Man 4 is oddly influenced by the shadow of Trump and America that revealed itself after November 2016. It is through the film’s ensemble of white antagonists that IP Man 4 becomes “Ip Man against MAGA”; the white characters spend the film formulating the plans to make America great again (via explicit lines of dialogue about deporting and banning Chinese foreigners).
And Ip Man is an unexpected but exciting figure to anchor this story. Like Rocky, Ip is a working-class pugilist with a monk’s zen. Although he is inspired by a real character, his films are like bard songs, in which elaborate stories stretch the truth, popular fiction overshadowing historical facts. The real Ip Man has never fought American soldiers on a military base, he has never faced ten black belts in karate or defeated British boxers (see the other Ip Man films for these adventures). But as a fairytale saga of Chinese pride, it’s excusable because of its sheer invigorating spirit. And, it’s just awesome to see a humble guy literally beating the odds with his fists.
This is a good thing IP Man 4 delivers what the series is best known for, as it lacks everything else. Corny performances from the rest of the cast, a clunky plot that never breathes, and clunky English dialogue (IP Man 4 is almost fully bilingual that there are both Cantonese and English subtitles at the same time) are threatening to make Ip Man 4: The Finale an entertaining distraction rather than the final chapter of a modern hero. These movies really rely on Yen as Ip Man, almost mistakenly.
For more than a decade, Yen’s prowess with Wing Chun – the kung fu discipline made famous by the real Ip Man – has been the euphoria of martial arts, a vehicle with which the public (particularly Chinese) can infuse cultural pride and pent-up rage with every clap of thunder. It’s no wonder the most successful Star Wars movie to date in China was A thug, which starred Yen as a blind Jedi fanatic. It was unfortunate that Star Wars didn’t know how to harness Yen and allow him to punch the Stormtroopers in the face.
Like the last we’ll see of this version of Ip Man, The final should feel more important than it does. He should be at Yen what Logan was for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, or Daniel Craig next year no time to die. But unlike other character-driven franchises, IP Man 4 is resistant to the challenge formula. Instead, he leans on what he knows best – Donnie Yen as Ip Man – and uses that for a final arc, where Ip Man confronts mainstream American exceptionalism…and punches it in the face. face.
Ip Man 4: The Finale theatrical releases on Christmas Day.