Donnie Yen pummels historical accuracy with his trademark rapid-fire punches in Ip Man 3. The latest in the historical action drama series that really needs to put some quotation marks around the word “historical”.
The original Ip Man took place in 1937 and Ip Man 3 (Diep Van 3) takes place twenty-two years later in 1959. But wow, would you look at how insanely young both Ip Man (Yen) and wife Cheung Wing-Sing (Lynn Xiong) look? Forget practicing Wing Chun – Ip Man should have bottled his family beauty secrets and sold them. Not only would he be world-famous but he’d also be filthy rich and surely able to afford the charities he supported via punches and kicks. Not that reality matters for producer Raymond Wong and director Wilson Yip. The Ip Man movies aren’t historical documents.
They’re action-packed folk tales based on the life of a Wing Chun master best known for being Bruce Lee’s teacher. Ip Man 3 actually begins with a meeting between Ip Man and Bruce Lee (Chan Kwok-Kwan). But after an audition, Lee is shown the door and Ip Man continues not being Bruce Lee’s master.
Instead, Ip Man gets embroiled in community service. Chi Yan Primary School, which is attended by Ip Man’s son Ip Ching (Li Xiao-Long), is targeted by thuggish gang boss Frankie (Mike Tyson – you know, the guy from The Hangover) so he can snatch the land. Frankie sends his number two. Brother Sang (Patrick Tam), to threaten the school but once Ip Man gets wind. He beats up the thugs and has his followers, including student Hui Lik (Louis Cheung), guard the school 24-7.
This reassures the principal (Tats Lau) and teacher Miss Wong (Karena Ng), whom Hui Lik takes an obvious shine to. Their romance amounts to absolutely nothing, however, as the characters fade from the narrative. Besides Ip Man, the story mainly focuses on Cheung Tin-Chi (Zhang Jin). A rickshaw driver and Wing Chun practitioner who wishes to open a school. Cheung also wants to challenge Ip Man’s supremacy. But he’s not exactly a mustache-twirling villain. Instead, he finds himself both opposed to Ip Man and also aiding him against the gangsters. Who grow more despicable in their attempts to terrorize the school.
Cheung Tin-Chi is surprisingly Ip Man 3’s most interesting character. Zhang Jin gives him a smoldering intelligence that engages even when the actor says nothing. Cheung is clearly jealous of Ip Man but doesn’t actually dislike him. And while he’s morally murky. Cheung competes in illegal fights and is not above paid thuggery. He’s got his own principles. Cheung’s strong relationship with his son is one clue, and his aversion to seeing innocents hurt by Brother Sang is another. Cheung Tin-Chi is a complex character who’s a strong counterpoint to Ip Man’s sometimes Pollyannaish righteousness. And the contrast between the two makes for potent tension.
Unfortunately, the character gets shaft midway through; at some point, Cheung Tin-Chi takes a too-far heel turn and the film neglects to address one of his most dubious acts. The character still retains interest, but his actions lack the shading present in the first half of the film. Cheung’s arc ultimately becomes a prop for Ip Man to gravely give more Pollyannaish advice like, “The most important thing is to have your family at your side”.
Ip Man says a lot of other high-minded things, like “The world belongs to the pure of heart”. And “We need to be role models” – basically any wisdom on the level of “Eat your vegatables,” he espouses in the film. Ip Man being portrayed as a good man is old hat at this point, but it still affects thanks to the film’s narrative support of his character.
For example, Wing-Sing suffers from abdominal pains, which leads to her hospitalization. But rather than waste time being torn between helping his wife and standing up for righteousness. Ip Man makes his decision swiftly and unerringly. It’s how the character so assuredly does the right thing that makes him so admirable. Particularly stirring are the action sequences where Ip Man must fight to help his wife or his son – Ip Man immediately acts out of compassion or care, and forgets pride and ego to take care of the things that truly matter to him. Donnie Yen (Chung Tu Don) doesn’t turn in a complex performance but the strength of Yen’s acting is in his unwavering calm and genuine, compelling conviction.
Unfortunately or not, these details about Ip Man are largely fabricated. The real Wing-Sing was separated from Ip Man so he couldn’t attend to her when she suffered from severe medical issues. Similarly, Ip Ching was born in 1936, meaning in 1959 he would clearly not be of elementary school age. And let’s not get start on the Bruce Lee details. They could make a movie about a time-travelling Ip Man who does the hadouken and it might be only a little more exaggerated than what we’re seeing.
However, these historical inaccuracies are just something we have to accept. Like Wong Fei-Hung, Ip Man has progressed beyond the subject of biography into near-myth. The Grandmaster or Ip Man – The Final Fight notwithstanding. We probably all believe by now that Ip Man was the best man ever. That’s basically what Ip Man 3 is about: Ip Man’s super-awesome character plus a whole lot of fighting. A side effect to this personal focus is that the sequel has little Chinese nationalism on display. Outside of some grousing about “foreign devils.” That’s a nice change from the bombastic previous films.
The action is good, so you can celebrate that. Yuen Woo-Ping’s action direction is sharp. Fight sequences feature a high number of contact points per shot. Even in the one-on-many fights that both Donnie Yen and Zhang Jin participate in. Overall the action is not that fast compare to other Donnie Yen films. But the choreography is intricate and always entertaining. If you’re in this for the fights, then you should have skipped to this paragraph and ignored all that stuff about Ip Man’s family and righteousness. A segment of the audience cares only about fighting (just like a segment cares only about the whole love-in-movies thing). Ip Man is a cool dude who fights bad and not-as-good people. And that should be all this particular audience needs to know.
Overall, Ip Man 3 is an improvement on Ip Man 2 in that it shies away from Chinese nationalism and explores themes more in keeping with Wing Chun’s ethos. The story isn’t remarkable, but this is a solid, entertaining action film with satisfying content interspersed between fight sequences. Acting varies outside of the leads. Lynn Xiong is OK. While Patrick Tam and Louis Cheung add personality to their stock characters.
Mike Tyson apparently studied with Michael Wong, as he strangely mixes Cantonese phrases into his English. Also, good news! There’s clearly an Ip Man 4 in the offing because one major factor in Ip Man’s life has yet to be fulfilled. Bruce Lee still hasn’t become Ip Man’s disciple, which paves the way for a buddy film titled Ip Man and Bruce. Where the two team-up to solve murders committed by foreign devils. Hey Wilson Yip, I just wrote your sequel – go ahead and use the idea if you want. This review comes from Lovehkfilm.com.