It’s difficult not to get attached to a series, especially when it has aged well with its audience. For decade-spanning martial arts franchise Ip Man, its impressive fight choreography and apt cast has certainly helped to build a strong fanbase, but like every journey, an end lies in sight.
Ip Man 4: The Finale is that end for action star Donnie Yen – in more ways than one. Apart from closing the beloved franchise with a flourish, the man has also expressed his intention to move away from the kungfu scene, citing the upcoming movie as his last outing of the genre.
In the embellished, grand space that is Mandarin Orchard Singapore, the 56-year-old took to the stage to address the issue, which first became a topic of interest during his promotional efforts in Beijing earlier in the week.
“I realised after my press conference in Beijing that there may have been some confusion among the media, saying that I’m acting in my last action film. I’d like to share my thoughts on the matter: a kungfu movie is definitely an action film, but an action movie isn’t necessarily a kungfu movie,” he spoke in Mandarin during a locally-held press conference, lapsing into English for the word “confusion”, and emphasising on the genre distinction.
“Charlie Chaplin, Marvel movies are examples of action films […] but kungfu movies have to preserve the Chinese culture that comes with the traditional kungfu craft. I think the Ip Man franchise has paid good homage to the overall kungfu culture and tradition.”
Here it is, then: Ip Man 4 will be Yen’s last kungfu movie – that’s correct. It’s not his last action stint, though. In fact, this whole “for the last time” shtick does give off a sense of deja vu, echoing a similar situation with Ip Man 3 four years ago. Then, it was believed that its predecessor would bring the saga to a close, just like what the upcoming installment is set to do.
“We were really intending to end the series at Ip Man 3, it’s not that we went back on our word intentionally,” the Hong Kong martial arts superstar shared. “When we finished filming, I privately asked the director if we’d be shooting anymore after that. But a lot of fans were hoping and asking if they could get another Ip Man […] I believe Ip Man 4 will be our last film, and I think it’d be a very memorable viewing experience for fans.”
The experience for Yen himself, at least, has proved to be an enjoyable one. When asked about the ups and downs of filming, he replied with little hesitation, “Truth to be told, I’ve forgotten about all the tougher parts [of the process]. I feel that every moment is rather memorable, and while there may be times where the pressure and exhaustion kicked in, or how my body was subjected to soreness and minor injuries, it was still a pleasant experience at the end of the day.”
In a wistful tone, he added, “I feel that there aren’t a lot of unhappy memories, but the biggest challenge of it all was probably losing precious bonding time with my family.”
Having been the face of the franchise for slightly over a decade, fans are understandably affected by Yen’s decision to move away from the scene. The actor himself, however, remains cool about it, stating that he doesn’t really feel unwilling or bittersweet to let go of acting in kungfu films, “not really”. Yet, don’t mistake his nonchalance for ungratefulness – he’s well-aware that fan support has helped in bringing the saga to where it is today.
“As an actor with an artistic vision, I know that some of my films are not very good. But there are others that have been really well-received and gained a lot of support from the fans,” the actor explained. “Normally, it’s very difficult to continue filming after the second installment, because the quality starts to drop once it reaches the third, so some may find Ip Man 3 to be lacking as compared to Ip Man 1 and 2, but some really liked it.”
The greatest appeal of the Ip Man saga? Yen believes it’s the creation and development of the Ip Man character as a beloved, admirable figure over the years.
“Ip Man 4 shares a common trait with Ip Man 1, 2, and 3, in the sense that it’s not just a martial arts movie, but also the construction of a man’s personality – his beliefs, his family-oriented attitude. We all grew to love this character because of his sincerity, so when it came to Ip Man 4, the construction of his character was already completed. Add to it the many years of sentiment, and the character of Ip Man is a beloved one,” he said in a thoughtfully-crafted response.
One thing’s here to stay, though. Yen might not be starring in any more kungfu movies, but that doesn’t mean he’s looking to take things easy. After all, this is the guy who brushes off injuries as inconsequential matter, treating them as a means “to challenge [myself], and push [myself] beyond [my] limits”. In the same way, he seeks to put in his very best effort in acting out any role, pulling up the example of how even the simple act of gazing can become a challenge if one puts their best foot forward and never settle for everything easy.
The end of Ip Man’s tale, and the start of Yen’s journey – that’s the story moving forward.
Ip Man 4: The Finale will open in local cinemas on December 20, 2019, with advance ticket sales going live on December 12.
Header image courtesy of Shaw Organisation.