After playing the role of Wing Chun grand master Ip Man in four movies spanning more than 11 years, Donnie Yen is ready for something new. In fact, he is even ready to give up making kung fu films altogether.
“All good things come to an end, and I feel we’ve given Ip Man the most complete ending possible with Ip Man 4. As an actor, I also want to look for other roles and challenges. But I will still be making action movies. It’s not as if I’m retiring... I still need to pay the bills!” he said with a laugh.
Yen was in Kuala Lumpur last week to promote Ip Man 4: The Finale, the final chapter of the Ip Man series directed by Wilson Yip. With him were producer Raymond Wong, co-star Danny Chan and screenwriter Edmond Wong.
While Yen said it was sad to leave the character, he feels that they have given him the best and most conclusive story arc possible.
“It’s been 12 years since Raymond first asked me to make Ip Man, and over those years, we’ve developed a strong relationship with the character and gave him a very well-rounded story. This is quite a rare thing these days in film-making!”
Wong concurred, adding that 11 years ago, no one knew who Ip Man was. “Today, everyone knows him. They know that Donnie Yen is Ip Man, ” he said. “But back when I asked Donnie to take the role, he didn’t even know Wing Chun!”
According to Yen, the conceptualising of Ip Man as a character was one of the hardest parts of making the movies.
In fact, during an exclusive interview with StarLifestyle in 2008, he said he had spent more time researching and preparing for the role than any other movie he has ever done, a fact that he repeated during the media interview last week.
“Even learning how to walk like him was hard! Ip Man was a real-life person, but there was not a lot known about him, except that he was Bruce Lee’s teacher, ” he said.
“But we also didn’t want to be so faithful to him that we ended up making a documentary! In the end, we used his name and created a new hero out of it.”
“There have been many kung fu heroes, but never one that is like Ip Man, ” Wong added.
“He is a very introverted person, and even when someone tries to challenge him to a fight, his first reaction is ask whether he has eaten!”
Yen said another big challenge was how to creating something new each time, especially when filming the fight scenes.
“I’ve always tried to do something new or have a unique breakthrough in terms of my fighting scenes in every movie I do. That’s what makes it harder. But that’s how I want it to be, that every single scene is better each time.”
One of the show pieces of Ip Man 4 features him facing off against tai chi exponent Master Wan (Wu Yue), which Yen said took about 10 days to shoot.
“That was actually considered quite a short shoot! Kung fu films take a lot of time to film, because every small move has to be done right, ” he said.
“A fight as complex as that would usually take 20 days (to shoot), but Wu and I had enough experience and chemistry to complete it sooner.”
On the other hand, Ip Man’s final fight against Scott Adkins took almost two weeks.
“It’s not that it was more complex. Every fight we film has its complexities. Sometimes what looks like a simple fight on the surface could actually be even harder to film, ” he said.
“If you think of any classic fight scene that has been filmed, chances are they took a really long time to get it done.”
Being a former student of Ip Man, Bruce Lee also features heavily in Ip Man 4, with Hong Kong actor and Lee-lookalike Danny Chan reprising the role the first played in Ip Man 3.
Asked about being stereotyped as ‘the actor who plays Bruce Lee’, Chan says he doesn’t mind being cast as Lee again and again.
“As a Bruce Lee fan myself, I would play this role until I am 80 years!” Chan said. “The Bruce Lee this time around is more mature from the one in Ip Man 3.”
Yen was full of praise for Chan’s portrayal of Lee.
“Danny doesn’t just look like Bruce Lee, he has also researched and practiced Lee’s moves and fighting style intensively.
“No one has what he has. Some may look like Lee, but can’t fight. Others may be able to fight like him... but look like Eric Tsang!”
he said, laughing.
Ip Man 4: The Finale opens at GSC cinemas nationwide today.