Ip Man 3
Donnie Yen is back once again to portray the real life, and iconic, Kung Fu master Ip Man. Picking up where the sequel left off, Ip Man 3 once again delivers impressive action coupled with some surprisingly emotional moments. Come inside to check out my full review!
As a long time martial artist (nearly 19 years now), the Ip Man films have inspired me in a few ways. It's about the man who trained Bruce Lee, a hero to all martial artists, and it features some of the most incredible fight scenes around. It's combination of surreal Kung Fu (using wires and such) along with practical techniques makes it super entertaining to watch. Fortunately, Ip Man 3 doesn't skimp on the fights and manages to set a new bar in choreography, though it suffers, just a tad in the story department.
Many Moving Parts
First and foremost, it's important to remember that these films aren't a direct historical account of Ip Man's real life. I mean, fights break out more than songs in a Disney movie. As the films have progressed, it's veered further and further away from biographical. This is especially true with Ip Man 3, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Truly, if you distance yourself from the bio part of it, and instead look at it as it's own thing, it's a pretty enjoyable movie which does it's own thing.
The story this time around sees Ip Man in the height of his prominence in the community and living fairly comfortably. Things get shaken up, however, when a group of thugs led by a foreigner (Mike Tyson) begin causing trouble and messing with the local school...Ip Man steps in. Along the way, he encounters another Wing Chun expert, Cheung Tin-chi, out to prove himself. What this all leads to is a ridiculous amount of cool looking fight scenes, and some touching moments.
From the outset, the meat of the story appears to be about Ip Man fighting against this new gang who's causing trouble, and apparently has higher-ups in the police force "in pocket". It offers plenty of reason for our main character to get involved (his son goes to that school) and gives more than ample opportunity for fighting to happen, without seeming too out of place.
The problem, however, is this isn't the primary plot point and later in the film a couple more pop up seemingly out of nowhere. The final act of the film is all about Cheung Tin-chi trying to discredit Ip Man and take the title of Grandmaster away from him. Seriously, this is the final fight and happens after the gang 'war' business is concluded in one of the strangest ways possible. Tie this in with another plot point, that Ip Man's wife is dying of cancer, and the overall point of the film becomes way less clear.
All of these elements work fairly well in their own right. Ip Man's interactions with his wife and how he copes with her illness offer up genuinely touching moments in the film; getting me choked up a couple times. We see a legitimately challenge to Ip Man's prowess in Cheung's abilities, something many others haven't been able to do before. All three of these plots tend to preach the same theme, about the importance of family and loved ones over everything else. The gang battles are about protecting his son, while his wife's cancer teaches him the importance of his role as a husband.
In this way, all these different elements serve the same goal, but in terms of a single cohesive story...they struggle to work together. Instead, it felt more like I was watching three short films pushed together, instead of a single gripping story. Ip Man 3 does a great job of managing to make you care about all the characters and plots despite this, which is truly impressive, but the gap between the gang plot and the final act was enough to take me out of the experience. It felt like it needed a tad more focus on one specific thing, or at least a better connection between it all.
While it doesn't make the most sense, the final act of Ip Man 3 is done incredibly well, and features some subtle storytelling ability. As Ip Man refocuses his life in the wake of his wife's devastating news, Cheung opens his own Kung Fu school and begins challenging all the other masters in town. His progress garners a lot of attention and soon the media has made them their next darling. All of it goes towards his goal of challenging Ip Man, in the hopes of besting him and becoming more famous. Based on his previous adventures, this is the type of thing you'd expect Ip Man to jump on quickly, but he doesn't.
Instead we see him spending far more quality time with his wife and ignoring the world of Kung Fu to focus on what truly matters to him. While his actions seem like he's giving up to the rest of the community, it's clear to us, the audience. When Ip Man decides to respond to the challenge he does it quietly and without fanfare. There's no spectators or reporters, it's a more private affair. To me, this speaks volumes to his character and the journey he's been through. It adequately shows the caliber of character and contrasts with Cheung. While Cheung may have the skills to challenge Ip Man he's only looking for the notoriety.
It was a great way to show the difference in these characters while still keeping in theme, making for a more powerful scene, even if it DID feel like an odd one to end on.
As I mentioned at that start, Ip Man 3 once again delivers on some amazing action sequences. Seriously, in a world where intense fight scenes seem more frequently accomplished, they manage to stand out. Many of the fights involve massive groups of people trying to take on a handful (or even just ONE) other opponent. This serves to make Ip Man seem even more like a badass, while managing to keep the intensity up continuously.
That said, I think the film’s best actions pieces are the smaller ones, where it’s one on one. In those, the techniques applied are put in focus, giving the actual abilities of the fighters the chance to shine and impress. Seeing a crazy fast exchange of moves between two opponents in tight quarters gave me more “holy crap” moments than the large scale fight scenes.
The only issue with all of this, is that it severely takes the tension out of one specific battle. Mike Tyson’s character is set up to be some sort of mob boss and has been causing Ip Man trouble. As I said, initially I thought HE would be the primary antagonist. Slightly past the middle of the film, however, is when their confrontation happens and by that time, I can’t buy into the fact that Tyson is in any way a threat.
After watching Ip Man thoroughly dismantle entire CROWDS of fighters, it’s tough to believe that Tyson is not only able to hold his own, but nearly best him. While the fight was decent looking, I found myself almost entirely disconnected from it and couldn’t find myself emotionally involved. It was too hard to believe. Couple this with the fact that it doesn’t ACTUALLY end with any clear winner, and the plot is dropped after this point, and I found myself wondering what the point was altogether.
Aside from that, the fights are just as memorable and enjoyable as the previous films, while managing to step above them. I suspect many will return to this film time after time just to enjoy the fights that play out.