SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for the entire film below!
The third installment of the Ip Man film series has recently been released in the UK. ‘Ip Man 3’ depicts yet another tale from the legendary life of Wing Chun Grandmaster Ip Man (played by Donnie Yen) who is somewhat reluctantly called on to defend his son’s school when crime boss, Frank (Mike Tyson) demands his gang bring him the deed to the school no matter what. Also mixed up in this is Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang), another student of Wing Chun who intends to open his own martial arts school and prove himself the grandmaster of true Wing Chun. Ip Man must defend the school and his honour, all whilst helping his wife battle cancer.
The very first thing to note about the film is that there seems to be a lot of story. This does not mean that the story is confusing or misleading, there is just a lot going on; the main stories include a gang to fight, a martial artist to fight, battling with cancer as well as another corrupt British police chief. So there is quite a bit going on, and despite the stories interlinking almost entirely, the film didn’t feel like it had just one ending. As each story arc was resolved there was a moment in which the film could have just stopped right there and then, and to be honest, I would not have had a hard time adjusting with that. Each separate resolution was satisfying in its own right, always ending in a “final battle”, so to speak. Maybe this type of story in film is quite typical of Chinese cinema, I don’t know, I haven’t watched enough of it, but the two earlier Ip Man films didn’t share this structure.
Some other little thoughts on the story: I liked the fact that Ip Man was challenged at his own game. Cheung Tin-chi’s style of Wing Chun seemed so much more ferocious and deadly that it made me seriously question for a second whether or not Ip Man was going to win this battle. Also, I was interested to see the portrayal of the British police chief. It seems that in Chinese cinema, the British are often portrayed as ignorant, commanding and – in the case of Ip Man 2 & 3 – corrupt. Likewise, British and American cinema often makes use of the wise, old Asian as a character stereotype. It as just interesting to see that sort of thing from another perspective, I don’t often consider the stereotypes other countries have of the British (other than tea-drinking, suit-wearing, moustached gentlemen).
Onto the action, which was absolutely incredible! I mean it was just immense and so engaging: I kept wincing every time a fist made contact or a thug was struck with a weapon. I enjoyed watching every fight, most notably the fight between Frank and Ip Man, the way it was shot made me so scared for Donnie Yen! Every time Mike Tyson was shot advancing towards Yen I felt like I wanted to yell “get out of the way!” Surprisingly, and interestingly, the only injury sustained during filming that fight was a broken finger suffered from Tyson! Despite having a little giggle to myself every time a Cantonese line was dubbed into Tyson’s speech (which wasn’t all that often, I really enjoyed his performance. Being his action film debut, the performance would have to be convincing otherwise not many people would be jumping up to put him in front of a camera, but it totally was. As usual, Donnie Yen played an excellent Ip Man, he had the right mix of emotions and enough of a look of wisdom to be believed.
I completely adore the Ip Man films. For someone who loves comics, this type of Chinese cinema is as close as I can come to seeing the style of an actual comic strip come to life, what with the intense fights, the over-exaggerated jumping and framing. Seriously, read a good comic book and then watch a Chinese martial arts movie and you will see the similarities! Avengers may have all the characters, but a film like Ip Man 3 has all the style.