Film Review: “Ip Man 3”


Photo Courtesy of AceShowBiz

Jacky To

While “Ip Man 3” sustains — albeit at a superficial level — the franchise’s moral core, the film lacks its predecessors’ grit, spirit and focus.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
Directed by: Wilson Yip
Starring: Donnie Yen, Zhang Jin, Lynn Hung, Mike Tyson
Release Date: Jan. 22, 2016
Rated: PG-13

Watered-down sequels are not only a problem domestically, but they are also, as “Ip Man 3” shows, an issue abroad as well. As the fame of the franchise grows larger and broader, it is apparent that the film’s producers felt compelled to capitalize on the audience before it dissipated. The result is an enjoyable but ultimately leveled and unambitious product akin to Disney’s series of Marvel movies — tonally consistent with its predecessors but lacking originality and substance.

What characterizes “Ip Man 3” is its overabundance of storylines and conflicts, none of which are clearly the main event. The most manufactured of these has the grandmaster trade obligatory blows with an internationally recognizable fighter in Mike Tyson. Tyson’s “character” Frank engages in a reckless pursuit of seizing the school that Ip’s son attends for no particular reason other than, if one had to guess, power? “If we don’t get that school,” Frank declares, “then this all means nothing!” What “this” refers to is never revealed, likely due to there being nothing other than a producer’s empty wallet.

Even that line, however, is bearable compared to Tyson’s other dialogue, much of which is spoken in atrociously-pronounced Cantonese. But despite how laughable Tyson’s presence in the film is, it does indeed make you laugh, which renders it forgivable if not commendable, assuming that’s what the filmmakers were going for. Plus, underlying the conflicts that his character causes are hints of genuinely intriguing topics — the consequences of globalization, methods of countering police corruption and the sustainability of a local quasi-militia. But all of these are left so shallow and uncharted that one might hesitate in attributing any intention or purpose to the filmmakers.

Photo Courtesy of AceShowBiz
Photo Courtesy of AceShowBiz

Fortunately, Tyson is neither the main antagonist nor the final showdown opponent. These roles instead belong to Cheung Tin-chi, a challenger to Ip’s reign over the Wing Chun branch of martial arts. Played admirably by Zhang Jin, Tin-chi is clearly the closest equivalent in kung fu that Ip has faced so far. However, beyond his intimidating skillset, Tin-chi is too confusing of a character to care for. At times, he acts indubitably good, defending the school from Frank’s henchmen out of his own spirit; at others, he acts despicably bad, accepting money from Frank to hospitalize another one of the town’s kung fu masters. Moral ambiguity is welcomed, but contradictory character traits left unresolved are not. Ultimately, Tin-chi’s threat and Zhang’s performance are wasted in favor of senseless, back-and-forth storytelling.

What supersedes Ip’s battle for the Wing Chun title, however, is his wife’s battle with cancer. Ip’s undying commitment to Cheung Wing-sing is arguably the moral crux of the film, but due to her character’s lack of development and autonomy, her struggle to live lacks emotional impact. Had the filmmakers granted Wing-sing her own arc, apart from getting sick and needing Ip’s attention, “Ip Man 3” could have been redeemed by the cultivation of a true, human love story.

Despite the film’s flaws, Donnie Yen, through reservation and posture, once again proves his handle on cinema’s most polite hero and badass. He flawlessly executes the series’ undiminished fight choreography, which Ip resorts to only when exchanging respect fails. They are, admittedly, thrilling to watch. Unfortunately, these otherwise engaging fights are framed within a film of underdeveloped characters — some too puzzling, others too cartoonish — and lack the story-driven tension to enhance them and render them meaningful. If the goal of the producers behind “Ip Man 3” was to replicate the spirit of American blockbuster cinema, they have excelled at the task and earned all of the money they stand to gain from their artistic compromise.