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Interviews with the cast and crew of ‘Ip Man 4: The Finale’

by Ben Read

Hollywood is a place seemingly dominated by wild special effects, green-screen worlds, and CGI spectacle. The landscape is becoming increasingly narrow and monopolised in the new era of media entertainment. Donnie Yen’s ‘Ip Man’ franchise is a fantastic example of culturally diverse, unique, martial arts cinema that can successfully break the mold in a crowded market. The Hong Kong series began in 2008, and despite its relatively low budget, has gone on to make over $200 million across the globe. The series’ popularity and overall interest has increased with each consecutive instalment and expanded it’s worldwide appeal to new heights. This of course, is in no small part due to its fantastic leading man. Yen has found huge success in western cinema in recent years, with supporting roles in ‘Rogue One’, XXX and the upcoming Mulan. The martial arts legend is even rumoured for a role in Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi.

‘Ip Man 4: The Finale’ brings the franchise to a close after 11 years with a fantastic conclusion, that has already grossed over 3 times its production budget. The film also stars our own resident martial arts legend, Scott Adkins, as the villainous Barton Geddes. Adkins is no stranger to big budget action flicks, with a resume boasting roles alongside Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, and Hugh Jackman. THN was fortunate enough to be able to speak with Adkins, as well as Mark Strange, Jackson Pat and Guy Allon. Check it out below:

THN: The last time we spoke ‘Avengement’ had just been released. The response to the film has since been overwhelmingly positive. How do you feel about this great reaction from critics and audiences alike? 

Adkins: I feel good about it because it’s been embraced all over the world. I mean, maybe less so in some of the countries where English isn’t their first language because it’s a very wordy film. It’s all about cockney geezas! But, it’s also nice that it’s been embraced in the UK because I’m from the UK. 

THN: ‘IP MAN 4’ performed incredibly at the box office, and even triumphed over ‘Star Wars’ in China. 

Adkins: I know, it’s amazing. I’m really happy that it’s making good money for everyone involved. That’s the main thing at the end of the day with this business. I was always a big fan of Donnie Yen and he was kind of the last guy on my bucket list to work with. But, I was a fan of the franchise anyway so even if I wasn’t in it I’d be excited to watch the film. To have a major role in it is absolutely brilliant. Who doesn’t want to be in a Kung Fu film? They don’t make as many as they used to, and I get to be the main bad guy. It’s brilliant. 

THN: Do you enjoy playing villainous characters more than heroic ones? 

Adkins: I do enjoy it. But, to be honest I’ve probably played good guys more throughout my career. In the bigger movies I’m normally a villain though. Although being a bad guy is fun. Especially when I get some good dialogue to spit out. The legend of Hercules wasn’t a very well received movie, but I really enjoyed playing that character. I feel like I knew what the movie was and had a lot of fun with it! [laughs] 

Even when I play good guys though, I like there to be an element of bad to him. I prefer to watch characters like Wolverine or Dirty Harry, as opposed to the squeaky clean roles. 

THN: Going back to the beginning of your career, you played a role in Jackie Chan’s ‘The Medallion’. Working with such a legendary and iconic star at such an early age must have been exhilarating. 

Adkins: It was actually the second film I did with Jackie. I had the end fight with him, but unfortunately they cut some of it out and shred it down so its blink and miss. That was the first Hong Kong Kung Fu movie where I got to be the big bad at the end, but they changed it in the editing. I was very disappointed at that and felt a bit shortchanged. We finally managed to do it right with ‘Ip Man 4’. 

THN: In terms of the direction Hollywood is moving with LGBT representation and equality, do you think that your character in this film is an effective way of demonstrating the problems the world is still facing with racism and inequality?

Adkins: Honestly, I don’t care about all this politically correct nonsense. It does my head in! [laughs] I think its a bit out of control and it’s gone too far. I like my characters to be a bit complex and say what they want to say. Look at ‘Accident Man’, where we got into trouble for not being ‘politically correct’. Nobody is trying to upset anyone. We’re just trying to entertain people. I feel like people are scared to say things now. Comedians who are being told off for the things they’re saying, and it’s just silly. 

THN: In the same breath, Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time In Hollywood’ received some negative backlash for its portrayal of Bruce Lee. Do you think that the character of Bruce Lee in ‘Ip Man 4’ is more accurate and respectful to the late martial arts star? 

Adkins: We show him as he was meant to be shown. But also, I am a massive Tarantino fan. I love all of his movies and he’s extremely talented. I know why he did what he did with Bruce Lee. He wanted to build up the character of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), so by the time the end fight happens you know he’s a badass. He gets the better of Bruce Lee earlier in the movie, but I can see that they also made him out to be a bit of a buffoon. I’m sure he probably was arrogant as all big stars are, and Tarantino’s included in that! Tarantino definitely has a sense of arrogance about him, because he believes in what he does and he’s ready to defend it to the hilt. Just like he’s defended the portrayal of Bruce Lee. I’m aware that he’s obviously a fan, but it just upset me a little bit because it felt slightly disrespectful. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNaIewXwLHs

THN: On a slightly different topic, can you give us any updates on the status of the upcoming ‘Accident Man’ sequel?

Adkins: Well, they say that you shouldn’t talk about things until they’re 100% in this business because anything can happen. I didn’t used to believe in these nonsense old wives tales. Then I did an interview recently where I confirmed we were filming the sequel in February, and the very next day we hit a huge roadblock! So, now the film has had to be pushed back. It’s ready to go in terms of the script, but we’re just waiting for the stars to align. The film isn’t set in the UK and we’re struggling to find a country fo shoot in with the limited budget we have. It’s challenging, but we’ll get there. 

THN: What are your personal highlights from the past decade? 

Adkins: I have to say that 2019 was a good year for me. ‘Triple Threat’ was a massive action movie and ‘Avengement’ was critically acclaimed, with people telling me it was my best performance. Then ‘Ip Man 4’ closed out the year on a really high note. Although, after my role in that film I’m probably the most hated man in China [laughs]. 

In terms of the decade, it was nice because I spent most of the 2000s trying to stake my claim and work to be recognised. The jobs were very scattered around and all over the place. People really liked me as Yuri Boyka, but that took a while to gain momentum. It was in 2011 that I really broke through, and I started to get better parts offered to me on a more regular basis. 

THN: Do you think that the rise of streaming has had an impact on your career over the decade? 

I think streaming services have massively helped my films get exposed to a larger audience. Back in the days of videos you would have had to physically go out and pick the film up, which would have made people more wary to take a risk. But now, because it’s all available on Netflix and Amazon prime, people are more willing to give something new a try. On the flip side though, videos meant that people were more likely to watch a film all the way through because they’ve physically had to go and spend money on it. Whereas now, they may turn off after 10 minutes and find something else to watch. 

‘Avengement’ for example, was released on DVD and Blu ray but it was when it hit Netflix that people really started watching. I really wish that Netflix would give me a series. That’s the holy grail [laughs]. I’m always seeing my films on there nowadays. Im flicking through the popular section and I can see ‘6 Underground’, ‘The Irishman’ and then suddenly ‘Savage Dog’ and ‘Debt Collector’. Do they know and they’re just showing me what I want to see!

Related: Interview: Scott Adkins for Accident Man 

Below you can check out what stuntman, Mark Strange (‘Batman Begins’, ‘Avengement’) had to say:

THN: Your last role prior to ‘Ip Man 4’ was in ‘Avengement’ alongside Scott Adkins. With the film now on Netflix after high critical praise, it has become a huge success!

Strange: It’s fantastic! I’ve actually got two films on Netflix now. I’m one of the leads in ‘Redcon-1’, which is a very cool war film with zombies. Then I went onto ‘Avengement’ and I loved that film. Scott’s performance is absolutely brilliant. 

THN: The industry has transformed so much in the past few years, and streaming services are now dominating the media. 

Strange: Oh yeah big time. The entire industry is changing and it’s insane. I was talking to my friend Robert Rodriguez the other day about his film ‘El Mariachi’, which is a brilliant, very famous film. He made that for around $7000 and it grossed millions. Nowadays you just can’t do that without a studio budget behind you. It’s really tough. 

THN: After working alongside Scott in both ‘Avengement’ and ‘Ip Man 4’ you must have developed a great report. 

Strange: With ‘Avengement’ Scott called me and gave me the opportunity to play Cliff, the doorman. That was officially our first film together. But weirdly, back in the day we both worked on Jackie Chan’s ‘Medallion’ together. Unfortunately, we never actually crossed paths on that film because I shot my scenes during reshoots. But, I was very excited to work with Scott. I think he’s a fantastic actor and I’d wanted to work with him for a while. He now calls me ‘the wild man’ because I do like to give it 100% [laughs]. I always give more than is required. 

In ‘Ip Man 4’ I play a karate champion that challenges Bruce Lee and I absolutely loved it. What a dream come true to work with Scott again, and also get to fight Bruce Lee. 

THN: Were you always a fan of Bruce Lee? And did it influence your passion for martial arts?

Strange: Yeah of course! Bruce, Jackie [Chan]…all the big ones. Danny Chan, the guy who plays Bruce, was such a nice guy. But, as soon as they shout ‘action’ he really does embody Bruce Lee [laughs]. It really did feel like I was fighting the real guy. His body movements, his facial expressions, everything. It was incredible. 

THN: Had you previously followed the ‘Ip Man’ franchise?

Strange: Yeah, I’ve always been a big fan. It’s shot beautifully, it’s coreographed wonderfully. It’s great. 

THN: It’s interesting that both you and Scott began your careers on Jackie Chan’s ‘Medallion’ and now you’ve both come full circle and to reunite working with another martial arts legend, Donnie Yen. 

Strange: I get battered at the beginning of that film by Jackie in some sewers [laughs]. I actually went out there for a different film called ‘The Twins Effect’, which was directed by Donnie Yen and had a cameo from Jackie. Then I ended up getting on the ‘Medallion’ reshoots and working with Jackie twice in the space of three months. Which was brilliant.

THN: You also had a role in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’, which was very early on in the superhero era of cinema. 

Strange: Yes, I played a member of the league of shadows! That was back in the very early days of my career. But, that was an experience and a half. Those sort of movies just have seemingly unlimited budgets. It’s interesting because I’ve seen productions from indie level, to mid range, to super budget studio stuff. But, those type of films are gargantuan.

THN: In terms of stunt-work and martial arts choreography, is there a big difference between the smaller films and the big budget studio productions?

Strange: Sometimes no. I always say its the team, and it’s the passion. You have to love what you do and I believe that’s what makes a great film. Money doesn’t solve anything and its not always the expensive films that are the best. I think that people lose the passion and the love of doing it when too much money is involved. That’s when it becomes a business, rather than a passion. I’ll never lose that passion. 

THN: What projects do you have coming up next? And which direction would you like to take your career in following on from ‘Avengement’ and ‘Ip Man 4’? 

Strange: I’m actually working on something myself as a new vehicle. It’s in very early stages at the moment. I’d also love to work with Scott again, as he’s a great guy. But, I’m still so privileged to be part of this film, which is one of the biggest martial arts franchises in the world. They even shot it in Preston, as a double for San Francisco, which is my hometown. I remember a magazine cover promoting the second film back in 2010. So, all these signs were pointing me towards this film. Then, I thought I’d missed my chance to be in the franchise when I found out this was the last one. The next thing I know, I get a phone call and the rest is history. I’m so honoured and I know I’m very lucky. 

Finally, producers Jackson Pat and Guy Allon spoke about their involvement in the franchise, and the further for ‘Ip Man’:

THN: What was the creative process that brought you together to collaborate on ‘Ip Man 4’? 

Pat: Me and Guy have actually been working together for a long time. Almost 20 years now. We started working together in 2000, and have since collaborated on a lot of Hong Kong films. When ‘Ip Man 4’ came along we were very intrigued. Initially they wanted to actually film it in San Francisco, but they quickly realised it would be a bit too expensive. Then they also thought about filming in Canada, but there’s not really a lot there, so they came to the UK. That’s what brought us onboard as producers. 

Allon: They were looking for visual elements that could resemble America in the 60’s and San Francisco was initially what they wanted. But again, England does still have a lot to offer in that respect, with ‘Captain America’, ‘World War Z’ and ‘Fast & Furious’ all shooting over here in the past. There are some great areas of the UK that can recreate almost any era of America with their similar architecture. 

THN: With the film recently beating ‘Star Wars’ at the Chinese Box office, you clearly knew this project was something special.

Allon: Well, its the fourth and final film in the franchise. It has a huge following in both the east and the west. I’ve spoken to people across the globe who are such huge ‘Ip Man’ fans, and this film is getting its just desserts with such a huge theatrical release. I had a feeling it would do well in China particularly. 

THN: How much creative input did you have into the films portrayal of Bruce Lee? And do you think that it is an accurate representation? 

Allon: The actor who plays Bruce Lee, Danny Chan, also played him in the third ‘Ip Man’. We’ve worked with him before and he’s actually played the role in various other projects. The scene in this film where he gets into a fight in the American diner is actually one of the only scenes we couldn’t shoot in the UK. 

Pat: Originally we wanted to shoot it in the UK, but we couldn’t find a diner here that was convincing enough. So, in the end we found somewhere in Shanghai. 

Allon: Whether this is all true to what Bruce Lee would have done is something I can’t really comment on [laughs]. 

Pat: Well, the film is about Bruce Lee going to America, but that’s not actually true. He never went to America. This is a dramatisation that isn’t intended to be a factual recount of his life. The first time his likeness was used to represent Bruce Lee was in ’Shaolin Soccer’, and from then on producers spotted his resemblance to the late star. At the period of time ‘Ip Man 4’ is set Bruce Lee should still be in his 20’s, but Danny is over 40 now! [laughs] He’s a bit old for the part and Lee was a bit chubbier at that point of his life. Danny is still quite skinny, so his appearance is meant to portray a more classic version of the actor. But, the movie is about Ip Man, not Bruce Lee anyway. The real Ip Man doesn’t actually look anything like Donnie Yen! So, it’s meant as a film and not a historical biopic. 

This film is also intended for new audiences who don’t know anything about the Ip Man or Bruce Lee. We were watching the edit in a hotel, and the director asked ‘what happens if the audience hasn’t seen the first three films?’ So we added an extra scene involving the shrine to his dead wife. We thought it was important to let viewers know about this backstory in case they are new to the franchise. 

THN: Is this really the end for the franchise? 

Allon: Never say never. If Hollywood can find ways to revive characters, like they usually do, then you never know. I keep joking ‘when is son of Ip Man coming out?’ You could easily have a spin-off. 

Pat: If I have my way, then there will be more. In ‘Better Tomorrow’ Chow Yun-Fat’s is killed, but they brought him back as his characters twin brother for the sequel. So, it’s possible. We could bring the Ip Man back as his twin brother! We could also do a prequel and de-age Donnie Yen like in ‘The Irishman’. He says it’s his last action movie, but I don’t believe that. Sylvester Stallone is still going!

Ip Man 4: The Finale’ is out now.

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