To the shock of fans of the franchise, Ip Man 5 is officially in development. The question is…how? Not only did the last installment, Ip Man 4: The Finale, imply it was the final film by literally featuring the words “The Finale,” but the movie also concludes with Master Ip (Donnie Yen) passing away from cancer. Despite this, it was announced at the Cannes International Film Festival and by series star Donnie Yen on Instagram that the story of Ip Kai-man, the Wing-Chun master who trained Bruce Lee, would continue with a fifth entry.
Apart from an announcement poster featuring the franchise’s iconic “wooden man” dummy, an army of knocked-out goons laid on the ground, and confirmation that Donnie Yen will be involved with the project, we know virtually nothing about the film’s story. As mentioned above, with Master Ip canonically dead, where can the franchise go from here? Well, upon further inspection, it turns out that there are quite a few directions for Master Ip’s next fight.
Mater Ip (Probably) Won’t Be Revived in ‘Ip Man 5’
While yes, the Ip Man saga is based on a true story and a real person, the series has taken more than a few creative liberties with its source material. The films are a true story in the same sense that RRR is based on a true story, and even that film admits that the two historical figures it follows never met in real life (as if that’s the most unrealistic thing about the movie). In real life, Master Ip never dueled a Japanese general during World War II, he never had a sparring match with a crime lord who looks like Mike Tyson, and he never had a near-death battle with a U.S. Army drill sergeant while he had cancer.
That all being said, while creative liberties have certainly been taken with Master Ip’s story, it’s never introduced any fantastical elements. Sure there are some fight scenes that are a bit over-the-top, but nothing in the realm of a resurrection after dying from cancer. It’s not quite the same situation as another franchise Donnie Yen, recently starred in, the John Wick series. As those who have seen and finished John Wick: Chapter 4 already know, the fourth film in the hit action franchise ends with its title character John Wick (Keanu Reeves) seemingly dying from his wounds. The imagery of Wick’s gravestone indicates a definitive fate, but this has led to heated debate online over whether Wick is actually dead or he’s just faked his demise to escape the gaze of the High Table.
‘Ip Man 4: The Finale’ Takes Place Years Before Master Ip Dies in Real Life
In the case of Master Ip, we’re willing to bet that he really is dead at the end of the film, but looking at the timeline of his actual life, the explanation for him coming back for a fifth film is actually quite simple. Ip Man 4: The Finale primarily takes place in 1964, when Master Ip is diagnosed with throat cancer years after his beloved wife also passed away from the disease. One would assume that Master Ip’s time is extremely limited after such a diagnosis, but as we see in the film’s epilogue, he would live with the disease (in the film continuity at least) for a very long time.
Per the text in the epilogue, Master Ip wouldn’t die until 1972, eight years after the events of Ip Man 4: The Finale (and also only seven months before Bruce Lee would pass on). That gives an eight-year gap between Master Ip’s duel with Drill Sergeant Barton Geddes (Scott Adkins) and when he would ultimately die. With that in mind, it is more than likely that the upcoming Ip Man 5 will take place between 1964 and 1972.
There’s also the possibility that Ip Man 5 is a “5” in name only and instead be a prequel or a midquel. This would be a first for the franchise, not including the many disconnected adaptations of Master Ip and his story. This theoretically would require the use of some de-aging technology, though to be perfectly honest, Donnie Yen has aged remarkably well and looks pretty much the same as he did when he made the first Ip Man fifteen years ago. Plus, this is something that the franchise has floated before, almost using early deep fake technology to bring Bruce Lee to life.
Could ‘Ip Man 5’ Be a Spin-Off or Passing of the Torch Story for Bruce Lee?
It’s certainly possible, but overall unlikely. Danny Kwok-Kwan Chan may return to reprise his role as Bruce Lee, but the odds of him replacing Master Ip as the title protagonist are fairly slim. As mentioned, Lee would only go on to live for a few more months after Mater Ip’s passing, and while a movie about the final days of one of the greatest martial artists of all time would be interesting, many of the events that made Lee the icon that he is taking place long before this time period. Plus, it wouldn’t really make a ton of sense to call the movie Ip Man 5 if Ip Man wasn’t actually in the movie.
This is further supported by the fact that the Ip Man franchise has dabbled in spin-offs before. The only current example of that is Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy, which follows the adventures of Ip Man 3‘s anti-hero protagonist, Master Chung Tin Chi. If this next installment were a passing of the torch-style story, it would probably have a much different title along the lines of something like Bruce Lee: The Ip Man Legacy.
All of this is still pure speculation, and we’ll just have to be patient to see how Master Ip will return and what will be in store for his next adventure. That said, if this next installment is even half as good as the previous four, we’re in for a martial arts treat.