AKA: Ip Man 3D
Director: Wilson Yip
Writer: Edmond Wong
Producer: Raymond Wong
Cast: Donnie Yen, Zhang Jin, Lynn Hung, Patrick Tam, Karena Ng, Kent Cheng, Bryan Leung, Louis Cheung, Danny Chan, Mike Tyson, Lo Meng, Babyjohn Choi, Song Wenbin
Running Time: 105 min.
By Zach Nix
When Wilson Yip’s Ip Man was released in 2008, it brought great attention to its titular real life martial arts master and kicked off a string of films based around Master Yip’s life and accomplishments. Ip Man 2 followed in 2010, as well as several films not made by Yip or Donnie Yen, such as the unofficial prequel The Legend is Born: Ip Man, the Anthony Wong fronted Ip Man: The Final Fight, and the critically acclaimed and long delayed The Grandmaster. Now that the Ip Man craze seems to have died down, Yip and Yen have finally returned to the series that started it all with Ip Man 3, the supposed final installment. While it is unfortunate that Ip Man 3 is nowhere near as good as its predecessors, and in all honesty a weak conclusion as far as finales come, the third entry is still a thrilling and emotional martial arts film with amazing action sequences courtesy of fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill).
Ip Man 3 picks up in 1959, several years after the previous film, as Master Yip and his family settle into life in Hong Kong. Yip’s son, Ching, is currently going to school. However, he and every other child’s education is threatened when Frank (Mike Tyson), a ruthless property developer, instructs triads to take over the school in order for them to develop upon the land. However, the triads find taking the school difficult as Ip fights back and helps defend it. As Ip continues to deal with the triads and their ruthless boss, his relationship with his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), is put to the test as she grows ill. Matters are further complicated when Ip meets Cheung Tin-chi (Zhang Jin), a rickshaw puller with ambitions to become a martial arts teacher. The tension within Ip’s life boils to a brim until he must physically confront Frank about the school and Cheung Tin-chi about who is truly the master of Wing Chun.
Although Ip Man 3 is the supposed conclusion to Wilson Yip’s Ip Man series, it pales as far as conclusions come. If anything, Ip Man 3 feels like just another Ip Man film as it continues to tell the story of Ip’s life without building too much upon his character. That being said, any Ip Man film is still something to celebrate, especially one featuring Yen in top form and fight choreography by Yuen Woo Ping. Regardless, it would have been nice for the film to be a more penultimate farewell to the character that Donnie Yen has become so famous for immortalizing. Therefore, one should prepare themselves for a light and small-scaled Ip Man story in contrast to an ultimate conclusion of sorts.
Much like the previous films in the series, Ip Man 3 interconnects several sub-plots that all result in various confrontations. Interestingly enough, the highly advertised fight between Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson does not close out the film, but instead comes towards the end of the second act. Wilson Yip closes out the film with a fight between Yen and The Grandmaster’s Zhang Jin, the true antagonist/opponent of the film. While one might mistakenly assume that Mike Tyson is the villain of the picture, his appearance is purely diversionary stunt casting, as he appears within only three scenes and adds little to the film beyond his marquee name. Therefore, one should have their sights on Zhang Jin as the film’s ever developing antagonist. Although, there is no harm in enjoying Tyson’s cameo, as it makes for fun fan service.
Speaking of fan service, the film opens with a charming scene where a grown Bruce Lee, portrayed by Danny Chan, comes to Ip and asks to become his student. Chan nails down Lee’s mannerisms quite well in the scene, such as brushing his thumb underneath his chin and yelling as Lee did during his kicks. He also appears later in the film when he offers to teach Ip how to dance in exchange to be taught how to fight himself. Although the Ip Man films have always kept their focus on Master Yip, it’s fun to finally see one give into Yip’s legacy and include some scenes with his famous pupil, Bruce Lee. In retrospect, it was a good artistic decision for the filmmakers to opt for a physical actor over the ditched computer generated Bruce Lee. After all, a computer animated Bruce Lee would have done nothing but conjure up uncomfortable feelings of uncanny valley.
Whereas the previous Ip Man films featured fight choreography by Sammo Hung, the third entry features choreography by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping. In comparison to the previous entries, the action is more brutal and faster paced, with punches and hits coming harder and faster than ever before. The lack of slow motion also attributes to this diminishing balletic and graceful quality that was especially apparent in the previous two films. However, the action flies by so fast at points, that I may have to watch the film a second to time to fully soak in Ping’s hard hitting fist fights. Ip Man 3 is a martial arts fan dream come true, as it is positively stacked to the brim with physical and melee fights galore.
Action highlights include a massive brawl against a gang of triads in a lumberyard as well as a tense close-quarters fight set within an elevator. In all honesty, no fight in the film is weak, as everyone brings his or her A-game throughout the entire film. It’s just that certain fights are better than others because they serve the story more naturally or offer up a concept not previously seen before. For example, the close quarters elevator fight thrilled me beyond belief because it had legitimate stakes to it. When Frank becomes frustrated with Ip Man, he sends a Thai martial artist after him. Fans of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive may experience a sense of Déjà vu during this scene, as Ip Man pushes his wife back upon realizing that a dangerous opponent has entered the elevator with them. What follows is a unique fight in which Ip Man must fight his opponent while moving his wife around and protecting her at the same time. Showy versus matches such as the Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson fight will always bring in action fans, but truly tense and original showoffs like Ip Man 3’s elevator brawl are the true treasures of martial arts cinema.
Ip Man 3 puts more of an emphasis on Ip Man’s relationship with his wife Wing-sing than the previous installments did, thereby also ditching the strong Chinese nationalistic themes that dominated the plots of the previous films. Although action fans will find themselves salivating at every punch and kick throughout the film, Ip’s marriage is what truly anchors the viewer throughout the picture, especially during the final act. In fact, after Ip’s anticipated fight with Frank, his marriage seems to be the only story element that will keep viewers invested. Both Yen and Lynn Hung get to participate in some charming scenes with one another where their natural relationship as a couple finally blossoms and allows us to learn how wonderful a lover Master Yip was, especially during his wife’s final days. If anything, Ip Man 3 covers the same philosophical and physical grounds as its predecessors, while expanding upon how great a husband Master Yip was.
Now that Ip Man 3 has finally arrived upon the scene, the film signals an end of an era for Donnie Yen. Yen has speculated that Ip Man 3 may be his last kung fu film, as he is now age 52 and may put less of an emphasis on his kicks and punches in film. He has also discussed that Ip Man 3 will most likely be the final installment in the series, as Yen feels now is the perfect time to say goodbye to the character. Ip Man 3 may also mark the end of the Ip Man craze, as all of the other Ip Man adaptations found themselves released in between the second and third installments. Plus, Yen will make his long awaited transfer to Hollywood this year with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, easily the year’s biggest blockbuster. Therefore, Ip Man 3 finds Yen bidding farewell to arguably his most famous character at a distinct point in his career.
Ip Man 3 is certainly an event amongst martial arts movie fans, as few martial arts franchises are as big as Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series. While a far cry from its immensely dramatic and thematically satisfying predecessors, Ip Man 3 is still a solid martial arts drama, although not quite what a typical finale calls for in cinematic media. Yen’s Master Yip may be gone, but his legacy will live on forever.
Update: This review should be taken as an initial reaction at the time of Ip Man 3’s release. While it was never explicitly stated that it was the final film in the series, the film carried the weight and feeling of finality for several reasons: such as the over-abundance of Ip Man films already, the amount of time in between the second and third installment, and Yen’s ever growing plate of projects. I had always felt that Ip Man 3 seemed like just another installment anyways, and not a finale, but had convinced myself otherwise. Therefore, with the recent confirmation of Ip Man 4, I’d like to remind everyone about the state of both Yen and the Ip Man series at the time, and how I perceived the third film upon first watch, per my review.
Zach Nix’s Rating: 8/10