Film Review – Ip Man 3
Ip Man 3
I want to be able to tell you that Ip Man 3 (2015) is a fantastic martial arts film, but then I also want to be truthful. Ip Man (2008) was something of a surprise, showcasing the attributes of actor Donnie Yen while displaying a historical context that was much more thoughtful than one would expect. This put Yen in the consciousness of more mainstream audiences overseas, and shed light on the real life martial arts master who famously taught Bruce Lee. The follow up – Ip Man 2 (2010) – was a mediocre outing that didn’t come close to matching the quality of the first installment. So now we’ve come to the final entry, where Ip Man (Yen) must once again use his mastery of Wing Chun (Kung Fu) to protect the innocent and defeat the corrupt.
Yawn. If there’s one thing that director Wilson Yip and his team have been able to do up to this point, it’s to hide how much of a bore Ip Man is as a screen character. I’m not sure if it was in Yip’s direction, the writing, or Donnie Yen’s decisions as an actor, but here we see what little dimension Ip Man has. Yen displays such a stoic expression that he’s almost emotionless, purposefully incorporating a poker face look. It doesn’t help that Master Ip is drawn with no personality. He’s your usual martial arts master:kind and warm and refuses to fight, but when provoked can lay waste to anyone without breaking a sweat. He spits out wisdom to his students like he memorized a textbook of catchphrases, and never fails to act respectful to anyone he meets (until he’s forced to action). Any problems that Ip Man encounters is just an obstacle he can easily overcome. Even the issues he has with his wife (Cheung Wing-sing) don’t have substance in the long run, because we know Ip Man will find a way to redeem himself, he’s just so perfect!
If that wasn’t enough, the plot features Ip Man protecting a children’s school from being overtaken by local thugs. Gimme a break! Is there anything remotely bad about this guy? Has he ever jaywalked, not tipped enough at a restaurant, or littered? He has such little fault that it borders on being obnoxious. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about the history of Ip Man or who he was as a person. But in this iteration he lacks all the attributes that make up a living, breathing human.
The fight scenes (choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping) are good but not great. At age 52 Donnie Yen shows no signs of slowing down, as he performs the physical requirements of the role with ease. Unfortunately, the filmmaking doesn’t do enough to amplify his abilities. Often, Yip (along with cinematographer Kenny Tse) chose to shoot the action in a medium shot, focused on Yen from the waist up. This helps in showing Yen’s face, but it obscures the movement of the actors – we can’t see what they’re doing as they fight. One of the best action set pieces features Ip Man fighting a kick boxer within the hallways of an apartment complex. In one overhead shot, we see the entire fight take place without a cut. This moment works because we’re allowed to see the sequence unfold uninterrupted and in full view. Unfortunately, much of the other fight scenes don’t have the ambition to follow a similar approach.
Did I mention that Mike Tyson is in this? He plays the crooked property developer that sends his thugs to take over the school. If there’s any indication of how far off the rails this franchise has gone, it’s the inclusion of the former heavyweight champ. It’s the definition of “stunt casting,” done only to draw attention and sell theater tickets. Interestingly, despite being all over the advertisements, Tyson is barely in the movie. If the filmmakers were worried about his presence, why even have him to begin with? I’m not going to get into detail regarding Tyson’s acting abilities – that would be unfair. The fight scene Tyson has with Donnie Yen is a clumsy at best. I suppose it was meant to highlight the different styles between the two characters, but came off more laughable than anything else. It was the type of fight scene appropriate for a Street Fighter video game than in the real world.
Seeing Mike Tyson and Donnie Yen going at it sums up Ip Man 3 as a whole. This is an uneven mess – neither the drama nor the action is good enough to warrant a viewing. How are we supposed to take the match up between Tyson and Yen seriously? We can’t be asked to see something that goofy and then expect to take the relationship between Ip Man and his wife earnestly. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. This is a mish mash of camp and poorly rendered melodrama, indicative of a franchise that no longer has anything new to say.