Yip Man 4

Kenji Kawai

" there are a lot of recognizable composer's trademarks that elevate the score just above being plain ordinary. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the download only release

Kenji Kawai began his career with a lot of cheaply sounding rock and synth pop-inspired scores, while also using predominant electronics and orchestral instruments for inspiring and complex atmospheric scores, followed by some spectacular, idiosyncratic hybrids of synthesizers and orchestral instruments. The remarkable thing is some of Kawai's musical DNA, as simple as an outdated synthesizer effect, is still returning in recent days as if time stood still. This is also evident in Yip Man 4. Also, the level of deviating quality of scores throughout his career makes him one of the most inconsistent and unpredictable Japanese composers. Yet, he has at least scored a few dozen works of absolute brilliance.

In the new millennium, the composer began writing scores for a series of martial arts Hong Kong productions, including the Yip Man series, excluding Yip Man chin chyun, scored by Chun Hung Mak. The genre of traditional Hong Kong martial arts films benefits from being a genre in which much can be forgiven; an irrelevant plot, typical Hong Kong humor, inconsistencies, bad music. In the end, all that matters are well-choreographed action sequences. A random action sequence can be underscored by cheap generic music, yet it would not hurt the quality of the scene, even though there are limits to what can be tolerated musically. To those who appreciate the genre are likely to have a higher tolerance for these less significant elements. In fact, still just covering the action sequences, a generic piece of music is probably the best method of scoring, in which the execution – live instruments or full, even outdated synthesizers – isn't relevant. In fact, solely the spectacular taiko drumming in Kawai's score to Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, could also prove to be useful in any film of the genre. These films have certain typical ingredients, but certainly have always been tried from different angles. The Yip Man series is recognized by the combination of greater production value, a serious and melodramatic story and well-choreographed action scenes.

For the first IP Man set an effective, but rather an unremarkable tone for the series. There's a lot of generic action music, a recognizable typical heroic main theme and portions of dramatic pieces. Basically nothing extraordinary. And yet, there are a lot of recognizable composer's trademarks that elevate the score just above being plain ordinary.

The Yip Man series hasn't really evolved musically and each new chapter is very similar in approach. Once the heroic anthem for Yip Man returns for this fourth chapter. It's recognizable for the IP Man series as a whole and is an instantly hummable theme, but musically is far from being greatly evocative. There are also some playful training music, a Chinese cello and dramatic passages that evoke an equally suitable emotion. Yet, they are all written in Kawai's typical style, which makes them slightly more engaging.

The music to the action sequences, looking beyond what I feel such scenes need, is also relying much on the heritage of the composer. ´Challenge and fight´ uses some fine percussion (including taiko), a generic action rhythm, some strings and some digitally process choir and synthesizers. It's the kind of hybrid score that can be terrible, acceptable or brilliant given my experiences with Kawai's music, but here it's somewhere in the middle. Just this single cue shows a lot of Kawai's musical DNA, with retro synthesizers, and other specific sounds, that haven't changed since their first appearance long ago and the manner in which he records and mixes the musical layers is also largely the same. These constant reminiscent feelings to vintage Kawai scores largely make me appreciate these pieces much more than I normally would. In 2020, the Best of Yip Man compilation was released, which is doubtful as a release, but the notion of ´best of´ is perfectly summarizing the composer's approach to IP Man 4. However, he rarely dares to just reuse chunks of his very best action music, more so teasingly quoting and referencing them, aided by the things that define his musical DNA as a composer.

1. Opening 0:40
2. Despair 1:21
3. The Challenger 0:44
4. The Barrier 1:11
5. Chinese Benevolent Association 3:46
6. Practice 0:55
7. One On One 4:36
8. Learn from Each Origin 4:07
9. The Origin 1:25
10. Introspection 1:18
11. The Mid-Autumn Battle 4:10
12. Challenge and Fight 6:19
13. Downcast 2:13
14. Final Battle 7:43
15. Home 0:31
16. Memory 3:31
17. Ip Man 4:03

Total duration: 48:33

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(total of 1 votes - average 3.5/5)

Released by

Mandarin (download only release 2019)