Thursday, December 26, 2019

Ip Man 4

Big crowd for this one - enough for me to be in the front section and have people directly to all four cardinal directions. It wasn't all Chinese and Chinese-American people, either, and I wonder to what extent these movies are broadly popular among action movie fans and to what extent Donnie Yen once having been a resident of nearby Chinatown brought out the neighbors. They were into it, though, whooping and applauding more than I can remember at any recent movie, right up there with Endgame. An excited audience is a ton of fun.

It's still kind of weird to get to the end and realize that you've seen a movie that is basically saying Chinese people should not come to America to make their fortune, but stay and help China... with a bunch of people who came to America to make their fortune. I suppose you can overdo it with parsing Yen's recent films for propagandist messages, but that message is kind of the most interesting thing about the movie. It also plays into how this series becoming propaganda is fundamentally kind of strange - Yip Man was an officer in the Nationalist Army during the Chinese Civil War and fled to Hong Kong afterward, so it's kind of strange to see him used to prop up the country he left, to the point where folks in Hong Kong are protesting the movie and its stars, though apparently mostly via posting spoilers online.

Yip Man 4 (Ip Man 4: The Finale)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 December 2019 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

Say what you will about the politics of this film series and its stars, but it is immensely satisfying to watch Donnie Yen punch a racist in the face fifty times in a row in the space of something like twenty seconds. Ip Man 4 also had the best use of Bruce Lee as a character this year, even if it's clearly not the best movie to use him as a character. As for the rest of it, well, enjoy the parts with racists getting punched in the face.

This one posits Ip Man (Yen) making a trip to San Francisco in 1964, the ticket paid for by former student Bruce Lee (Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan), who would like to have his teacher watch him compete in a local karate tournament, although he does not actually resolve to go until son Jin (Ye He) is expelled from school for fighting, with the headmaster recommending Man follow the example of many Hong Kongers who have sent their children to study abroad to not just learn academic and language skills, but self-reliance. He goes to look at schools, but will need a letter of recommendation from Wan Zhong Hua (Wu Yue), chairman of the Chinese Benevolent Association, who in exchange would like Man to convince his former student to stop teaching Chinese martial arts to non-Chinese, something he is not inclined to do. Meanwhile, one of Lee's students, Hartman Wu (Vanness Wu Chien-Hao), a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marines, would like to introduce Chinese martial arts, but faces resistance from superior officer Barton Geddes (Scott Adkins) - who is both racist and a partisan of karate, taught by Colin Frater (Chris Collins), while Wan's daughter Yonah (Vanda Margraf), a student at the school Man is checking out, has earned the ire of a classmate for making the cheer squad, and Becky's father Andrew (Andrew Lane) has a position at the Immigration and Naturalization Service that can make things very difficult for the people in Chinatown.

Fans of today's not-exactly-blockbuster tier of action movies will notice a lot of impressive names in the cast, and with action director Yuen Wo-Ping returning to handle the fight scenes, that half of the movie can be taken as handled. It's the pieces connecting the fights that have often been what separate the best entries this series (and the numerous other films about this grandmaster that have come out in the past decade or so) from the rest, in no small part because Yen's respectful portrayal can make Master Ip something of a sphinx rather than a man with a distinctive personality. This time out, it plays less as reserve and more as using him as a blank slate on which to project certain virtues. He's got a nice moment or two as he wrestles with a cancer diagnosis or with how his strict parenting runs counter to the instincts he feels when watching the Wans argue, but the film is not particularly built to make that the central story, and as such both Yen the actor and Ip the character seem to be hanging back, reacting in a somewhat detached way.

Full review at EFilmCritic

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