Directed by: Wilson Yip
Starring: Donnie Yen, Jin Zhang, Lynne Hung, Mike Tyson, Karena Ng, Kent Cheng
Set after the events of Ip Man 2 - Wing Chung master Ip Man has now settled into life in Hong Kong, but when a ruthless property developer called Frank sets his sights on taking over the local school, he feels obliged to offer his help, defending the school, its teachers and their students from local thugs. He also meets a fellow wing chung expert, Cheung Tin-Chi, who is hell-bent on becoming the most famous martial arts master in Hong Kong.
When I offered to screen Ip Man 3 to a bunch of fellow karate instructors, the first question they asked was "Do I need to have seen the other two films?" The answer is no, but you really should. Not for continuity's sake but because they're damn good films! And, I'm happy to report that Ip Man 3 shows no lack of quality.
The chief bad-guy in this instalment is Frank, an American property developer who has a lot of authority figures in his back pocket - including the British police lieutenant, much to the chagrin of local cop Fatty Po (Kent Cheng, Story of Rikki and Jackie Chan's Crime Story). Frankie is played by Mike Tyson, which might seem like stunt casting but he's actually really good in the role. His dialogue is a mix of English and Chinese, and his big scene with Donnie is definitely worth the wait. Frank, it turns out, is actually an honourable fighter who is true to his word.
As good as Frank and Ip Man's fight is, it is by no means the highlight of the film. That honour is actually split between two fight scenes. The first is when Ip Man is attacked by a Thai fighter in an elevator. At the time he is with his wife, and Ip Man is forced to protect her, deflecting blow after blow until he is able to open the lift door and move the fight away from her. Not only is the choreography excellent, so is the camera-work with some of the shots looking down on the fighters from above.
The other scene is of course the film's finale. Cheung Tin-Chi, a local rickshaw driver, learned his wing chung from the same master as Ip Man, and the two have a lot of respect for each other, and indeed Cheung comes to Ip Man's aid on more than one occasion. However he wants to prove that his version of wing chung is better and challenges Ip Man to a match.
This is a fight for the ages, with both men starting with long staffs then moving to twin butterfly daggers and then empty hands. The display of martial arts in this scene is exemplary and perfectly shot and edited. As mentioned, I watched this film with fellow martial arts instructors. Inexplicably they were unfamiliar with Donnie Yen's work but they certainly appreciated his skills. There were many gasps and various grunts of approval from them all the way through the film (one part that got a big reaction was during the fight with Frank, when Ip Man slowly lowers himself while standing just on one leg. I challenge you to try it!).
Jin Zhang is great as Cheung Tin-Chi, a man driven by wanting to share his martial arts with the world and a little put-out that Ip Man has paved the way before him. He fights in a more ruthless style than Ip Man but just as skilled. Fo most of the film, Cheung is a sympathetic character but he does commit one despicable act to further his ambitions and his beef with Ip Man seems contrived just to get the media coverage. However he totally redeems himself with an act of honour the likes of which you will only ever see in a martial arts movie.
Donnie Yen continues to impress as the mild-mannered Ip Man, and his screen fighting skills are as good as they've ever been, whether fighting multiple hoards or one-on-one. What is interesting about the three films is that Donnie's portrayal doesn't shy away from the fact that he wasn't the best of husbands to his wife Cheung Wing-Sing, often forgetting to pay her attention, allowing himself to get caught up in the school's problems and not noticing the pain and neglect his wife is experiencing. One exchange i loved was when he left her a button with a note to sew it - she sews it to the note! Its a shame that Cheung's plot thread doesn't work as well as it could - these scenes unfortunately slow the film down and walk a fine line between her complaining too much and Ip Man not paying her enough attention.
Another aspect which is underplayed is the introduction of Bruce Lee. We saw him as a young boy at the end Ip Man 2 (being told to come back when he's older). He has an interesting scene early on but is straight away shown the door, not coming back until Ip Man needs to learn how to dance. There's a particularly glaring continuity error as well, as Ip Man is shown to only have one son (Cheung was pregnant during Ip Man 2, and already had another son).
But these are small niggles in the scheme of things. Ip Man 3 works where it counts.
You don't need to have seen the first two instalments in order to appreciate Ip Man 3 - in fact most of the previous characters have been jettisoned for this instalment. The story is a classic tale of a man standing up to bullies but done with some of the best martial arts scenes you will see this year.
9 out of 10 MikeOutWest