3 out of 5
Directed by: Wilson Yip
A more subdued Ip Man entry, Ip Man 3 has our Ipster, portrayed by Donnie Yen, doing his ‘peaceful man pushed to fight’ shtick, capably directed with a lot of zips and zooms by franchise helmer Wilson Yip. But after proving his worth over the last couple of films, Ip Man 3 is without any serious stakes, requiring it to move through two average interactions – fighting Mike Tyson’s shipyard crew, fighting Cheung Tin-chi (Zhang Jin) for Wing Chun supremacy – in order to balance the drama of what feels like the film’s real focus: the sweet, quiet relationship between Ip and his wife (Lynn Hung) and her passing from cancer. Hung has been the perfect foil for Yen’s slightly-naive, always-in-thought Ip Man, and her balance here between caretaker and, when diagnosed, succumbing to the effects of the disease, is quietly touching. You’re frustrated with her at Ip’s absent-mindedness; you also sense her love when she sees her husband doing that which he does so well. Yen’s and Hung’s scenes together set the slower pace for the film, but our time with them is pleasant and engaging, suggestive of a slightly less-actiony flick that could have delved deeper into that relationship.
Then again, that’s not exactly why we’re watching the Ip Man series, and so we’re given a run of set pieces and fracas, with some great choreography revolving around staircases at a couple of points, and Yip playing around with choice slo-mo, and getting the camera right up alongside the lines of motion. The battle with Tyson is exciting but it feels very much inserted just because he’s Tyson, and it’s conclusion functioning as the de facto resolution of his part of the storyline (he’s a baddie that needs the land Ip’s kid’s school is on) feels way too perfunctory and video gamey; the threat / stakes just aren’t really wended into the plot like they were in Ip 1 and 2.
The squaring off against Cheung should’ve made for a fascinating dynamic – so it’s pretty awesome we got that Master Z spin-off flick, but, again, this story thread feels incidental. Cheung’s wavering between ‘do whatever it takes to be the best’ and his sense of honor is shown but not exactly felt.
As the (at the time it was announced) last flick in a trilogy, Ip Man 3, beneath the surface, wants to give its characters more of a serious, contemplative conclusion. But that intention gets sacrificed to the needs of the genre – i.e. action – and while the movie entertains, and is choreographed to perfection, that split focus prevents the fights from really wowing or the drama from really landing.