Ip Man 3 (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment) Running Time: 105 minutes approx.
Over the past decade a plethora of films made about the life of martial arts legend Yip Man have surfaced, from Herman Yau’s The Legend is Born to the valedictorian The Final Fight, with Wong Kar-Wai’s arthouse interpretation The Grandmaster in between. Standing out above all of these films however is the trilogy from Wilson Yip (no relation) and starring Donnie Yen.
After two hugely successful film dramatisations, this third outing sees the timeline reach 1959 and Ip Man (Yen) is now a successful and highly respected martial artist and Wing Chun teacher now residing in Hong Kong with his wife Cheung Wing-Sing (Lyn Hung) and youngest song Ip Ching (Wang Yan Shi).
When local Triad leader Ma King-sang (Patrick Tam) threatens the Principal of Ip Ching’s school (Tats Lau) for refusing to sell the school to Ma’s boss, American property developer Frank (Mike Tyson), Ip Man steps in to fight off Ma and his thugs. When Frank learns of this, he decides to play nasty and make the matter personal.
It would seem that the longer the Ip Man story goes the more the reliance on fictional elements becomes. Wilson Yip has never denied that a fact-filled biography of Ip Man was never his intent, wishing merely to entertain the audience. Naturally some facts need to be adhered to otherwise this would be a huge slight against Ip Man’s name and his memory.
On this occasion the story revolves around Ip Man playing hero to the little man, only this time he isn’t fighting alone, benefiting from his pupils, led by Tsui Lik (Louis Cheung), to provide some extra muscle. The biggest help comes from rickshaw puller Cheung Tin-chi (Zhang Jin), a gifted Wing Chun fighter in his own right, introduced to Ip Man via his son Cheung Fong (Can Cui) fighting with Ip Ching over whose kung fu is the best!
The story twists itself a round with the introduction of Cheung as he is a poor man who competes in underground fights run by Ma for the prize money, hoping one day to open his own school. Ma enlists Cheng to take care of some business on his behalf for a hefty pay off but Cheung finds his loyalty tested when Ma’s gang kidnaps a group of school kids, including Ip Ching and Cheung Fong.
Regular viewers of martial arts films will recognise the plot as a staple of the genre, making this feel somewhat inadequate as a way to celebrate the incredible life of Ip Man. Whilst the first two films were also built around plots derived from similar genre fare, the level of fiction and liberties taken here is far greater this time round.
But we don’t watch martial arts films for the plot – it’s all about the fighting and this film, like its predecessors, is chock full of it. The Wing Chun style as practiced by Yip Man relies largely on defensive strikes and close body combat which initially looks less dynamic than the overt high kicking and flying style of wu xia films, but as Yen demonstrates is still effective and engaging to watch.
Highlights include Ip Man going three minutes with Frank to end their dispute (a riff on the fact that Tyson won 21 fights via knockout in the first three minute round) which is a taut and well constructed clash of styles. There are also the multi-man scraps where Ip Man kicks his way through a slew of weapon welding thugs with poise and panache, and a spectacular fight inside an elevator against a Thai boxer (Sarut Khanwilai).
The climactic bout is an intriguing face off which sadly doesn’t run long enough to be considered a classic of satisfyingly conclusive but the actual content, fought using three different disciplines, is deftly choreographed by Yen himself and superbly executed, definitely leaving the audience wanting more.
Keeping things grounded and reminding us that Ip Man was human, a tragic subplot involving Wing-Sing developing stomach cancer provides a sentimental anchor for both Ip Man and the film, ensuring the downtime between fights are not spent waiting for the next scuffle but exploring the bittersweet reality of gifted fighter finding himself in a battle he cannot fight himself or help anyone win.
Donnie Yen has long been mocked for his acting skills never being able to match his fighting prowess but the Ip Man films have seen this negative appraisal diminish vastly. Here he is called upon to emote more than any other time whilst keeping the discipline of his character’s pride intact. Luckily Lyn Hung is on hand to carry most that weight with a dignified performance.
The big attraction for many will be Mike Tyson who is called upon to play a character for the first time. While I wouldn’t say it to his face he isn’t great but is better than you might imagine, although I suspect his few lines of Cantonese dialogue were dubbed. Actually the worst turn comes from the British police chief with his “awfully awfully” accent which deserved a right kicking!
Perhaps Zhang Jin could deliver that kicking – his Wing Chun style is different from Yen’s but just as effective, his fight scenes equally hard hitting and bristling with fluid fiery strikes. And if you’re wondering, Yip Man’s most famous pupil does make an appearance – once at the beginning being told he is not good enough, and later on to teach Ip Man dancing in return for training.
Ip Man 3 suffered a scandal in China when it was discovered the distributor had bought 56 million Yuan’s worth of tickets to inflate its success, only to harm it instead. The film itself however is no scandal – a top-notch martial arts outing rife with exhilarating fight scenes build on a solid dramatic foundation. Rumours of a fourth film persist but if it doesn’t appear, this one brings the series to a satisfying conclusion.
English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
English 2.0 LPCM
Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Cantonese 2.0 LPCM
Behind The Scenes
Making Of IP Man 3
Rating – ****
Man In Black