After four films and elven years, the Ip Man saga, at least in its current form, is coming to an end. Donnie Yen, who plays the titular grandmaster in the blockbuster franchise, announced that Ip Man 4 would be his last for the series in a pair of Instagram posts this week.
“Thank you all for many years of love and support for this incredible journey! This Dec, 20th, my fourth saga and the final!” he wrote on September 19, 2019.
“So proud to present this last and final chapter, over a decade of these four movies may very well go down in history as one of the greatest Kung Fu or perhaps even action movies of all time! See you in this Christmas!” he elaborated while sharing a second poster for the forthcoming film.
We, like many martial arts fans, are sad to see this incredible chapter in martial arts filmmaking — and in Donnie Yen’s illustrious career — come to an end. Instead of mourning, though, we’re choosing to celebrate how much this franchise has meant to martial arts fans around the world.
Here are five reasons why Ip Man mattered to martial arts.
1. Ip Man made Donnie Yen an international star.
In a recent interview with Taiwan GQ, the Kung Fu superstar revealed that, at one point in his career, he only had HKD100 (S$18) to his name. Lunches provided for cast and crew on set were his primary source of food. “Now I just look back at my past with a smile,” Yen told the magazine.
Yen was starting to build a respectable career in Hong Kong cinema in the 2000s thanks to films like Kill Zone – S.P.L. (2005) and Flash Point (2007), but it was the breakthrough success of 2008’s Ip Man that made him a global star. In addition to three Ip Man sequels (in 2010, 2015, and 2019), the film helped propel him to roles in features like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, Star Wars Rogue One, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, and the forthcoming live action Mulan.
2. Ip Man respectfully mixed entertainment with martial arts history.
The Ip Man films tell the story of the real life Ip Man (also known as Yip Man), a highly influential Wing Chun Kung Fu master whose students included Bruce Lee, in various moments throughout his life. Ip Man traced the master’s earlier years in the time of the Sino-Japanese War. Ip Man 2 followed his travels to Hong Kong to foster the growth of Wing Chun there in the 1950s. Ip Man 3 introduced his most famous pupil. And, in Ip Man 4, we will get to see Ip Man helping Bruce Lee to establish his own Wing Chun school in America.
While these films are primarily action films and do portray the real life Ip Man’s journey with a fair amount of artistic license, they also treat their inspiration with a lot of respect. The results are a collection of films that can be appreciated by people who have no prior knowledge of the grandmaster and by people well-versed in the history and legacy of his Wing Chun teachings. The movies have also introduced a whole new audience to his work.
3. The Ip Man cast has a solid martial arts pedigree.
Just like the man he’s playing, Donnie Yen has a solid background in Wing Chun. He’s also a multiple time Wushu champion, and has trained in a wide range of other martial arts, including Tai Chi, boxing, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Taekwondo, Karate, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, amateur wrestling, and Judo. And he’s not the only one with extensive martial arts knowledge and skills. Chan Kwok-Kwan, who plays Bruce Lee in Ip Man 3 and 4, trains in Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. Legendary boxer Mike Tyson also appeared in the third instalment of the series. This time around, the returning Yen and Kwok-Kwan will be joined by Scott Adkins, who has been taking martial arts since he was a child. He has experience with Judo, Taekwondo, kickboxing, Karate, Ninjutsu, Krav Maga, Wushu, Jiujitsu, Muay Thai, and Capoeira.
4. The fight scenes!
With such respect for the grandmaster and his martial art and so many talented martial artists working on the films, there was no way the action sequences were going to be anything other than top notch. Here are some highlights from Ip Man’s awe-inspiring combat scenes.
5. Ip Man’s legacy will continue.
This might be the final instalment of the original Ip Man series with Donnie Yen, but there’s still more to come from the Ip Man universe. A sequel to the 2018 spinoff, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy, is reportedly in the works.
Beyond Ip Man, Donnie Yen’s quest to bring martial arts to the screen continues, too. “I don’t really have as much motivation to conquer anything more. But when it comes to contemporary fight scenes, I feel like there’s a lot of knowledge about using martial arts and cinematic techniques in harmony that I still have left to show,” he told GQ.
His commitment to Hong Kong cinema remains strong, too. “I’ve always been a Hong Kong film-maker; I’ve never left. Hong Kong is my home; my children live there. Now that I have a little bit of influence and pull, I’d like to use that to make more films in Hong Kong.”