Donnie Yen is set to reprise his iconic role as Bruce Lee’s kung fu mentor in “Ip Man 5,” despite the apparent finality of his character’s death in “Ip Man 4: The Finale.” The “Ip Man” movie franchise has long been synonymous with Donnie Yen, with each film offering a fictionalized account of the life of Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man. While “Ip Man 4” seemed to bring closure to the series with Ip Man’s death, the unexpected announcement of “Ip Man 5” in May 2023 came as a pleasant surprise for martial arts enthusiasts.
However, the challenge facing “Ip Man 5” extends beyond resurrecting the deceased character. The real test lies in how it handles the overarching theme introduced in “Ip Man 4: The Finale.” In the fourth installment, Ip Man battles throat cancer, rendering him physically vulnerable and weakened in his fight scenes. The movie concludes with Bruce Lee attending Ip Man’s funeral, signaling a seemingly definitive end.
“Ip Man 5” could fit within the franchise’s continuity by simply setting its events before Ip Man’s passing, possibly incorporating a time jump to create some distance from his death. Nonetheless, it grapples with a philosophical challenge stemming from the profound themes explored in “Ip Man 4.”
“Ip Man 4: The Finale” paints a poignant picture of a grieving Ip Man coping with the loss of his wife and his determination to secure his son’s future by seeking education opportunities in the United States. The film’s emotional depth hinges on this portrayal of finality, with Ip Man mentoring his son in martial arts, and Bruce Lee evolving into a martial arts pioneer.
For “Ip Man 5” to continue the franchise without undermining this sense of conclusion, it should follow the tradition of emphasizing specific themes. Donnie Yen has highlighted the hidden meanings in each “Ip Man” movie, and the fifth installment already has a theme centered on mortality.
The movie can explore Ip Man’s confrontation with his impending death, making it a central element of the story. This approach could depict Ip Man as a true kung fu master, resiliently training his son in Wing Chun and living life to its fullest, even in the face of mortality. This would allow “Ip Man 5” to maintain the franchise’s tradition of heartfelt storytelling while delivering thrilling and uplifting martial arts sequences. Ip Man’s unwavering spirit could serve as an inspiration, as he battles not only external foes but also his internal limitations until his final breath, maintaining his love for life.