Ip Man 3 continues the tale of the late Grandmaster of Wing Chun, Ip Man (or Yip Man), following him through his years in Hong Kong between 1959 and 1960. Besides a few key elements here and there, this film is almost entirely fictitious – something that sours the milk marginally. Despite it, the film continues the series’ nonstop barrage of action and blindingly fast martial arts fights, but delivers something far more emotional than could have been anticipated. Minor spoilers do follow.
The story, again fictitious, sees foreign gangsters wanting to set up real-estate in Hong Kong, for reasons(?), and they threaten a school principal to sell them the location. Ip Man, and others, intervene. This sets the stage for some hot blood between the gangsters and the martial arts community, and Ip Man is caught dead center of it all. Meanwhile, a newcomer on the scene, Cheung Tin-chi, seeks to start his own Wing Chun school, and though he’s kind of a nice guy(?), he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. This eventually also causes some dissension with Ip Man.
It’s essentially a film with two different plots that the writers just couldn’t choose between. So they meshed them together, interweaving threads that sow for some interesting and highly entertaining action.
On top of it all, Wing-Sing, Ip Man’s wife fights issues all her own. In classic Rocky fashion, Ip Man must realize that his relationship with his wife is more important than his martial arts career. In a sequence of events that feels all-too real, the film is given the connective tissue that holds it all together, albeit rather emotionally.
Mike Tyson plays a guy named Frank, the boss of a triad. For reasons. And yeah, Ip Man and Frank go at it. But the film is self-aware enough not to take this, of all the fights, too seriously. All Ip Man needs to do is last 3 minutes in a fight with Frank – a nod to the fact that many Mike Tyson fights didn’t go past the first round.
Donnie Yen is, in my opinion, the best high-profile martial artist of his generation, and with each film his expertise seems to grow. Whether that’s all choreography and slick editing, I don’t know. But his reflexes are insanely fast, and his blows pack only enough punch to land as intended, without crippling the opponent. To my Western eyes, it’s a mesmerizing dance.
Ip Man’s calm demeanor and earnest humility set him apart from the rest of the cast of martial artists, something that feels oh-so superheroish. And that’s totally fine. In a martial arts film, you want a superhero helming it. But as a character trait, the humility really draws you to him. Donnie Yen takes the arc of this character to the next level, getting to show off some of his true acting chops alongside the stone-faced hero.
Much of the film is a nod to The Game of Death, the 1978 film released 5-years after Bruce Lee passed away; the one Lee never got around to finishing. Mike Tyson’s bout with Donnie Yen is highly reminiscent of Bruce Lee’s fight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The similarities don’t end there, but that is certainly the most blatant. Y’know, besides the fact that Bruce Lee actually shows up several times throughout the film, dancing and thumbing his nose.
This is far better than the second entry in the series, and it’s probably just a smidge beneath the first Ip Man in quality. With the exception of the 10-man fight scene in the first film, this film’s choreography is probably the best in the series. I’m now exceptionally excited to see what Donnie Yen’s mysterious (and possibly blind) character will be like in Rogue One. The door is open for a fourth film, and Yen has said its “very likely.” If it’s at all as strong as this film, it should be a genuinely fun ride. But if this is the last outing for Donnie Yen as the Grandmaster of Wing Chun, this is a nice bookend to a solid trilogy.