Quietly stoic martial artist kicks white/Japanese/colonial ass to redeem Chinese honour, by way of spectacular fight sequences and lengthy discourses on Chinese virtue – it’s a formula that’s worked brilliantly for the Ip Man franchise, making its star Donnie Yen a household name.
This time round, with Yen on the cusp of global stardom via his role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and declaring Ip Man 3 his final martial arts movie, things are slightly different. The brilliant fight routines, jingoism and pantomime ang moh villains are all still there, but the pace is slowed somewhat.
While Ip Man has ever been the noble epitome of Chinese virtue, there is a lengthy subplot involving his wife (Lynn Hung a.k.a. Aaron Kwok’s ex) that gives us more of a glimpse into his family life. We see the couple in lovingly-shot, long romantic interludes, gazing into each others’ eyes and yes, even dancing. Perhaps it’s a chance to showcase Yen’s emotional range?
But on to the real attraction: the ass-kicking. Now happily settled in Hong Kong, Ip Man is like Michael Corleone – every time he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in. And so it goes, with a primary school threatened by dastardly American property developer Frank (Mike Tyson speaking bad Mandarin, y’all!) and his Chinese lackeys who are totes a disgrace to Chinese honour.
Meanwhile, a new challenger emerges in the form of fellow Wing Chun expert and Johnny Depp lookalike Zhang Tian Zhi (the very impressive Max Zhang), who issues an open challenge to Ip Man. It’s up to Ip Man to protect the primary school, defeat the (not so) evil American and prove himself top dog once more.
We’ve seen it all before. But the kung fu sequences still manage to be highly inventive, with some impressive camerawork. Right from the get-go, a neophyte Bruce Lee (Danny Chan) takes on Ip Man’s challenge of – you have to see it to believe it – flicked cigarettes and splashed water. Here, Ip Man takes on multiple attackers in the bowels of an uncompleted ship. There, he fights a solo Thai attacker in a lift, before taking the fight down several flights of stairs.
The much-hyped bout with Tyson only lasts three minutes on screen, but is an intriguing contest of skill and grace versus brute force. And the best is saved for last, via Ip Man’s extended clash with Zhang with poles, short swords and bare hands.
Zhang is something of a faster, younger, more aggressive version of Yen, and has plenty of charisma to burn. Just check out the sequence in a cramped umbrella shop where he takes on a veteran kung fu master. Zhang previously impressed as the baddie in Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster (2013) and was once Zhang Ziyi’s stunt double. Hollywood should really pay more attention to him. Personally, I’d love to see more of his character in a spin-off movie.
As pure spectacles of martial arts displays, I’d have to say that parts 1 and 2 were infinitely more satisfying. While humanising Ip Man more, the subplot with his wife really slowed down the pace of the show and left me restless. But this is still the Ip Man we know and love, and a fitting finale for the franchise.
Ip Man 3 is showing in Singapore now. Tell us what you think of the movie!