Film Review: “Ip Man 3” is a Hard-Hitting Conclusion to a Classic Kung Fu Trilogy
Directed by Wilson Yip
Written by Lai-yin Leung, Chan Tai-Li, and Edmond Wong
Produced by Dreams Salon Entertainment Culture et al.
Early on in Ip Man 3, a young Bruce Lee approaches the Kung Fu master and asks to become his student. Ip Man pelts him with cigarettes and water, which Lee intercepts. Not unimpressed, the master tells the young man to return later. Lee will, but not in any future installment; this is purported to be Donnie Yen’s final turn as the master, in a series of films that has curiously chosen to turn away from what many would consider the most interesting aspect of its subject’s life.
Perhaps this is fair. The story of Bruce Lee, and Ip Man’s role as master, must be all too entrenched in the Chinese consciousness. Indeed, the success of Yen’s earlier Ip Man films led to many other biopics, including acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar-wai‘s The Grandmaster, to the point where Yen worried about an oversaturation of the character. With Ip Man 3, he provides cathartic closure to an original portrayal.
The real Ip Man practiced Wing Chun, a form of Kung Fu specializing in close-range attacks. In the film’s fight scenes, which sprawl through inventive locations such as an umbrella shop, a cramped elevator, and the hold of an unfinished ship, Ip Man strikes his opponents at heart-rupturing speeds, races nimbly down staircase railings, and uses flying bodies to turn every available board into kindling. Given the impossibility of the movement on display, I imagine wires were used, but they are difficult to spot. The fight scenes were formulated by famed choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, whose work Western audiences have seen in the Matrix and Kill Bill films as well as international martial arts marvel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
I am assuming there is little of the real Ip Man on display here. This is not a shortcoming, as films such as this serve the purpose of expanding legends. We see Ip Man as a family man long devoted to his wife (Lynn Hung) and young son (Wang Yan Shi). He is well respected in a culture that attaches more importance to its Kung Fu schools than it does its police force. But he is also charmingly dense for a sage – his wife worries about his absence, and he decides it best to respond by leaving her a note to repair a garment.
The plot is a jumble. Tired of earning money in underground fights, one working-class martial artist (Jin Zhang) believes his Wing Chun superior to Ip Man’s and stages public humiliations of masters to drum up media interest. Mrs. Ip develops an illness, causing her husband to rethink his treatment of her. A contracted gang kidnaps their son and holds him and his classmates prisoner at the local shipping yard. These storylines and others do not complement one another, but function as roads to the next impressive fight sequence.
Boxing legend Mike Tyson makes an appearance as an American property developer and “foreign devil” hell-bent on torching the local elementary school. Lacking only a stringy moustache to twirl, Tyson is able to go punch for punch with Yen. This was no doubt a bolded and underlined condition in his contract. Yen, a veteran martial arts actor, will be in the upcoming “Star Wars: Rogue One.” I like his presence, which like the Ip Man film series is simultaneously kind and intense.
Ip Man 3 is playing at The Mayfair Theatre through Tuesday, January 26. Visit mayfairtheatre.ca for showtimes.