I love Donnie Yen. Good or bad I’ll pretty much watch any movie he’s in. I was fortunate enough to interview him four years ago when Ip Man 3 was still being developed and this weekend, that movie is finally hitting screens across America. The original Ip Man is what made Yen a breakout star overseas and the sequel helped propel him even further into the spotlight. You can imagine the excitement people, including myself, are/were feeling with the arrival of the [likely] final film in the trilogy.
When a gang of thugs led by Frank (Mike Tyson), a property manager looking to take control of the city’s real estate, decides that they need a school to shut down and be sold to them for the sake of making more money, they pick a fight with the wrong man’s school. Ip man and his students decide to protect his kid’s school from the onslaught of attacks, even receiving help from an ambitious Wing Chun practitioner, Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang), looking to make his own mark on the martial art scene. With two major side plots, one about the relationship with his sick wife and another about the competition between Ip Man and Cheung Tin-chi, Ip Man 3 spreads itself out, offering an emotional and human local element among the larger and standard foreign devil story.
The plot of Ip Man 3 isn’t what I would have hoped for based on the way Ip Man 2 closes and the way the third film opens. Bruce Lee is in the movie but for a total of three minutes. It’s an absolute waste of an important character in Ip Man’s life and felt like the movie would have been better served without him even in the film.
In a similar vein, I thought the casting of Mike Tyson was an incredibly odd choice since the second movie’s main baddy was an American boxer. While he doesn’t play a pro boxer in the film he does box in it and it feels like a poor uncreative choice for a movie that people were hyped about. Also, Tyson isn’t exactly known for his dramatic acting chops so anytime he spoke it felt very wrong…just like his tattoo for that time period. I appreciated the fact that he actually spoke in the native tongue a few times, but his casting as a boss baddie but not the climactic fight felt very out of place.
As you may have expected, the fight choreography in the film was terrific, thanks to the presence of Yen, Zhang and Yuen Woo Ping. There were some excellent scenes where both Yen and Zhang fought off hordes of people, giving fans enough hardcore, head pounding action to keep us invested in the film.
This leads me to my favorite part of the film, Cheung Tin-chi’s story and dynamic with Ip Man. Played by an exciting up-and-comer, Cheung was the film’s anti-hero. On the one hand, he had a good heart and was trying to train, inspire and protect his son/disciple but, on the other hand, he was willing to do some of Frank’s dirty work. He also had a cocky attitude when it came to dismissing Ip Man’s style, trying to do anything to get him to have a friendly match to determine who’s Wing Chun style was better. I actually felt Cheung was the glue that held the film together, he wasn’t the main focus but his presence was there enough that you could have a spin-off film, that’s how much I loved, and even hated, his character.
Overall, I enjoyed Ip Man 3 but it wasn’t the film I was hoping for. Wilson Yip’s third round with the character proved to be entertaining even if half the plot felt like a regurgitation of the past two films. He also disappointed by not utilizing Bruce Lee and made him a throw away character. If you can toss out your expectations of what you thought the film should be, then I believe most fans of the franchise will end up having a good time, once I got over my issues I ended up enjoying it more myself.