I think, though I cannot swear, that I’ve seen one of the previous Ip Man movies, perhaps Ip Man 3 or Ip Man 2. I know that we saw The Grandmaster which is also a movie about Ip Man made concurrent with some of the other Ip Mans. This isn’t even the first Ip Man 4, though it looks like the 2013 Ip Man: The Final Fight is only the second in its series and the attempt to brand it #4 may be a little trick to sell tickets. There was even an Ip Man TV series in 2013!
Man, there’s a lotta Ips.
But this is the last one, until they decide to tell the story again, and it’s a lot of fun: The aged, widowed Ip Man, who fights with his troubled son to keep the lad in school when all the boy wants is to learn martial arts, travels to America to see if that wouldn’t be better. He knows he has terminal cancer and wants to make sure his son is set in life.
Once he gets into the America of 1964, it turns out to be just like that song: That’s right, everyone wants to hold his hand. No, wait, everybody is kung fu fighting. Actually, the Americans are karate fighting and the noble Chinese are trying to get them to learn the proper art of kung fu. Our lead American Chinese is a young army man whose wildly racist drill sergeant is determined that karate is the only Asian martial art he’s going to have in This Man’s Army. (I swear they call the guy “gunny” but I also thought that was a marine title. Oh, well, there may be certain inaccuracies in this film.)
What Ip Man learns is that he can’t get his boy into a good private school (where he’ll be tormented by some racist white kids) without a letter of recommendation from the Chinese Business Association, and the CBA won’t give him a recommendation as long as his renegade student, Bruce Lee, continues to teach whitey (and darky, I guess) kung fu. Ip Man’s not really opposed to non-Chinese learning kung fu and has no control over Lee anyway, so things go poorly.
They go even worse when he defends the daughter of the head of the CBA from a racist assault, as an evil white girl gets her friends to attack the daughter over the head cheerleader role.
And then there’re those times when, just sitting in a diner, a bunch of dudes come in and challenge Bruce Lee (this is pre-1966 “Green Hornet” fame) to a fight. “It happens all the time,” he says.
I mean, literally everyone is fighting using the martial art of their preference. The good guys are using kung fu, tho’.
I’ll confess that I loved this movie. Every hokey minute of it. It’s basically a straight-up ’70s era Shaw Brothers film, down to the look of the sets and colors used in that time, though using some modern technology to improve the production values. Even the racism, which is perhaps slightly skewed toward modern politics, comes more or less from the themes found in those self-same ’70s films: Racism is bad, no matter who does it. And good people are good people, regardless of the color of their skin, even if the Chinese are juuuust a bit better.
Also, while Kung Fu is the best, a beastly American karate master (Chris Collins, a real life Wing Chun Kung Fu master) can pretty much kick everyone’s ass except Bruce Lee and Ip Man. This was a common theme in those old chop-sockey movies. You can’t really have a “best style” and also have any kind of narrative, so the putative “lesser” martial art has to be menacing. It is a little weird to Collins beat up, essentially, a bunch of old people (the masters of the other schools of kung fu), but martial arts may not, in fact, be a substitute for raw force.
It’s a lot of fun, basically. Even when—or maybe especially when—a San Franciscan suddenly starts talking with a British accent or Scott Adkins (Zero Dark Thirty, The Expendables 2) uses a slightly off word like “undisputable” in the middle of a racist rant. I do often wonder why foreign languagers don’t ask, and native speakers don’t provide, idiomatic language corrections (see Tel Aviv on Fire for a funny take on this) but perhaps the theory is that no one watching the film will notice. (We recently saw Ma Dong-seok in a movie where he, once again, pretends to be American. And while his English is quite good, it’s also heavily accented.)
But whatever. You’re there for the fights, which a good and dramatic, and a touching story of parents at odds with their children. And if that’s why you’re there, you’re not going to be disappointed.