As of this review, actor Donnie Yen has said that he would not be doing anymore kung fu movies; and just maybe, you can feel it at the very start of this movie. Ip Man walks in, tired and unsure about this event that he has arrived at in San Francisco. It parallels what life holds for him in the scenes revealed after – he has a malignant tumor after the many years of smoking.
Setting up from the 3rd movie, Bruce Lee has gone on and have developed a name for himself and one of his American students, Billy, has visited Ip Man to give him the plane ticket and invitation to a Karate Tournament that Bruce Lee is planning to attend.
And much like the second movie, Ip Man comes across an association of Chinese Kung Fu masters that you know he will inevitably trade blows with. The leader of this Chinese Benevolent Association, the Tai Chi master Wan Zong Hua (played by the awesome Yue We), fervently rejects Bruce Lee’s progressive idea to help spread Kung Fu to the world; and in turn, refuses to help Ip Man find a school for his son in San Francisco, being that he is Bruce Lee’s master.
His biases extend to his family life, dismissing the bullying that happens to his daughter at her school but Ip Man chooses to help her. This infuriates Wan Zong Hua and this sets up Ip Man’s first fight scene and it was definitely exciting for a “shapes” lover like me. The characters personality and ideals really come forth in the style and tone of their fight. Wan Zong Hua is represented in deep-rooted tradition with his Tai Chi fighting style while Ip Man is seen more as direct, blunt, and adaptive with his Wing Chun. The imagery is also heightened when you realize that Wan Zong Hua is born in America, all the while trying to be a Chinese as possible, with his house almost looking like Ip Man’s house in the first movie; and Ip Man here is the “foreigner” of sorts by coming all the way from Hong Kong to find a place for his son in America.
Meanwhile, one of Bruce Lee’s students who happens to be in the Marines (played by Vaness Wu) gains the ire of a fellow Marine when trying to introduce Chinese Martial Arts to the Marine Corps training. This is the part that was a bit confusing to me as the racist Marine, played by the awesome Scott Adkins, is being set up as the final bad guy and hates everything not American; yet all the while praising Karate as the superior fighting style.
The character would admonish Chinese kung fu fighters as “yellow monkeys,” but calls himself a Sensei? Anyways, Scott Adkins then asks his Karate coach to go to Chinatown to pick a fight with the various Kung Fu masters of the Chinese Benevolent Association. They all lose to the Karate coach and our titular hero steps up and saves face by severely injuring him.
This leads Scott Adkin’s character to try to destroy the rest of the Chinese Kung Fu masters by beating them savagely. There is a part where he works with the INS to try to frame and deport the Chinese Benevolent Association but it never really meant anything to the rest of the film. Ultimately, Scott Adkins gets to fight both the Tai Chi master and finally, Ip Man himself.
This is pretty much the theme of the whole movie, how to properly move forward with all of our differences as people. All of this is shown through all of the main characters, Wan Zong Hua with his daughter, Ip Man and his son, Bruce Lee’s progressive ideas, and Sgt. Barton Geedes’ racism. There are points that show sometimes tradition makes us stronger, but too much reliance on the past makes us unable to progress into new territory.
Make no mistake though, while there was a lot of issues that were touched upon, this movie is rife with action and they do not disappoint. Bruce Lee, played by Danny Chan, had a lot of homages from Bruce’s movies. His performance was just right, not falling too far into the comical caricature that most Bruce Lee impersonations often do.
Next is Yue Wu and as I said earlier, this was a delightful fight. The last time I saw Yue Wu was in The Brink and he was amazing in that as well as here. Much like how Donnie talked about the different pacing and feel of a kung fu movie and its fight scenes, seeing the difference between his performance of modern styled combat in The Brink to the “shapes” style of doing Tai Chi – I can’t help but smile. His on screen presence as a master is on par with Donnie Yen and I am excited to see more of.
Chris Collins, who played as the Karate Instructor for the Marines, also had a great display of film fighting but what I found more impressive are those that he went up against. Lo Mang essentially just becomes a joke character since Ip Man 2 but there was a Mantis Fist master and a Bagua master (whose names I can’t seem to find anywhere online) and they were a treat to watch.
Finally, Scott Adkins versus Donnie Yen and on paper, it sounds like a dream match. Unfortunately, I don’t think this was the best type of fight to showcase Scott’s incredible ability. Maybe it’s the mix of choreography that limited Scott’s true athletic style, his fight scene with Donnie as the finale didn’t have a lot of the signature movements that Scott has been known for. I think it would have been delightful to see the high flying, power moves that Scott is capable of against the rooted style of Wing Chun. Still though, this final fight scene was a great send off to the Ip Man series and I hope that we’d see the combat pairing of Donnie and Scott again in the future.
Overall, I think this an enjoyable entry in the Ip Man saga. While I think some of the topics and issues that they were going for became borderline comical, it wasn’t too far looney that it took me away from enjoying the movie. They also presented a lot of history and events that might explain a few things better if the watcher knew about them; like Bruce Lee being of Eurasian descent and learned a multitude of styles that might have influenced him to have an inclusive mindset on sharing Kung Fu to the world or the deep rooted history of the railroad and Chinese Americans. Maybe the appreciation of the subjects would be higher with more knowledge but still, the movie is enjoyable in its own standards.
The one thing that I really couldn’t wrap my head around was the inclusion of Scott Adkins racism towards the Chinese Martial Arts all the while championing Karate as the superior combative art and…..more American, I think? He was specific to his other colleagues of color not to ever try to introduce, “their own culture,” to the Marines’ training but is willing to yell, “OSU!,” and call his coach, “sensei,” without any problems. This guy was portrayed as a hardcore racist towards anything not American so it felt odd that he could separate Karate from Asia in some mental gymnastics that they never really explained in the movie.
While the first film is definitely the best of the series for me in both scope and cinematography, this film definitely hits upon all of the best parts of the previous films:
Ip Man fights racist people in power who do Karate? Check.
An association of non-progressive Chinese people in power like Ip Man 2? Check.
Ip Man roll punching compassion and understanding to everyone with less moral ideas?…
They didn’t try to do anything new for the finale, but I suppose that makes sense. It was a great run seeing the modern day Wong Fei Hung in the Ip Man series and maybe it’s time for a new hero to rise up from the ranks to join them.