By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Playing in select theatres across North America
Distributed by WELL GO USA
Twelve years is not much of a wait to see Ip Man: The Finale. Thankfully, it’s shorter than following the saga of the Skywalkers in Star Wars, but that’s besides the point! Donnie Yen plays the seminal master of a style of Kung Fu known as Wing Chun. Unnecessarily aggression (charging at your foes) is not part of the way. Those who practice any style of martial arts knows it’s more about defence than outright aggression.
Ip Man is introspective. An Asian chivalric code exists. While we don’t know all the rules, those who are indoctrinated knows them and respects it—even when Ip Man has to fight with one hand. The battles he faces are often not by his choice. It’s to defend honour. Challenges are normal between schools to see who is the ultimate fighter, and usually it does not mean ending an opponent’s life.
Just when the plot seemingly looked like it may see Ip Man go up against Bruce Lee (Danny Chan Kwok-kwan), a greater threat looms in the horizon. Sadly, the subplot concerning his troubled, lazy son doesn’t get explored. He’s in 60s San Francisco to find a school who will accept the boy. Ip Ching and Chung (the latter suspiciously missing) lost their mother. She died in between films and just how they’re dealing is rough when baba (father) is not reaching out to them. When the last film was four years ago, trying to remember all the details was difficult.
From out of the frying pan in one situation, Ip Man arrived in San Francisco to find a deeper fire: to witness discrimination and hate nearly everywhere he goes. Vanda Margraf is an actress of mixed descent who no doubt make waves in the future. She makes her debut as Yonah, a young Chinese girl bullied by a rival. Becky (played by a relative newcomer Grace Englert) uses the race hate card to get her way and wants all foreigners to go away. This subplot is not huge, but paves the way to introducing her Marine father, Walters (Nico Amedeo) who has to decide on what’s right. It’s difficult when redneck Barton Geddes, a Gunnery Sergeant (played to great unlikable effect by Scott Adkins) has a beef with anyone of non-white descent.
This movie makes Karate out as a show of strength. The producers make Kung Fu in all its forms to seem flawed, which it’s not. Kung Fu Panda does a better job at realizing the inner spirit which flows with a particular style. Ip Man gets challenged and through grace and humility, he can still win.
This film also looks at the legacy Ip Man leaves behind. I’m sure much of his biography has been heavily fictionalized for dramatic effect, though I do want to know what was real or not. Where his second son, Chun, went is a mystery.
As for wanting to see Bruce in action, this film finally delivers the fan service I’ve been waiting for since his introduction in the second film. Chan is terrific at emoting this legend’s signature fighting style.
From Ip Man’s humble days in the first film as a headmaster of a kwoon in Foshan, China to this one, I think the middle films are better. The final film is much like Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker. It’s satisfying to see how some story threads come together, but begs the question of how will the next generation continue? Thankfully, there are no plans to see a continuation with the Ip’s kids in whatever they choose for themselves as a life in Hong Kong.
After seeing the theatrical presentation, I’m hopeful distributor Well GO USA will offer all four films in a box set. Although this company rarely includes a lot of bonus material in their home video releases, I feel this legacy deserves additional material to study. In the meantime, purchasing IP Man: Portrait of a Kung Fu Master on Amazon is a must. It goes into different exposition the films did not explore. It may well shed light on more of the person than the mixed martial arts spectacle which defines Ip Man: The Finale.
3½ Stars out of 5