The real Ip Man was born in 1893 in Foshan, China, and has became most famous in the West for his association with his student, Bruce Lee. But Ip Man was a master of Wing Chun and lived a fascinating life in his own right. While Ip Man has been depicted in a multitude of films by a wide range of actors, the series starring Donnie Yen has carved out a unique place for itself in martial arts cinema.
Its fourth and final installment, Ip Man 4: The Finale, comes to Netflix July 20th, making now the perfect time to get caught up on the first three.
The first film, Ip Man, was released in 2008 and covers Ip Man’s life during the 1930’s, while he was still in Foshan during the Sino-Japanese War. Like all the films in the series, the first installment was directed by Wilson Yip and written by Edmond Wong. Donnie Yen has said the theme of the first film was “survival.” Yen was deeply invested in the project, having been slated to play Ip Man back in 1997. The 2008 shoot was a tough one, with Yen suffering a significant shoulder injury and a cut near his eye from a poorly swung axe.
Ip Man 2 came out in 2010, and detailed Ip Man’s time in Hong Kong teaching Wing Chun. Yen has said this film is about “adaptation.” Ip Man 3 followed five years later, with Danny Chan as Bruce Lee, and Mike Tyson playing a street fighter. While Yen’s wife expressed public concern he might be injured in his fight scenes with the former heavyweight champion of the world, it was Tyson who wound up with a finger fractured by Yen. Yen has said Ip Man 3 is about life itself.
The fourth and final film, according to Yen, is about racial discrimination. The action shifts to America, where Bruce Lee is upsetting the Chinese community by popularizing martial arts with the public at large and writing an English language book on the subject. Ip Man follows Lee in the hopes of providing a better life for his son, but finds that life in San Francisco is far more complicated than he had anticipated. Scott Adkins plays Ip Man’s adversary.
Critical to the success of the series is the role of Sammo Hung as action director. Hung is a Hong Kong martial arts legend, and came on board the first movie as the fight choreographer. His role expanded in the second film to some time in front of the camera as well. Anyone who enjoys the art of fighting on film should acquaint themselves with the work of Hung if they haven’t already.
If you can’t wait until July 20th, Ip Man 4: The Finale is currently available for rental on Amazon Prime.