The latest installment of the Ip Man film was already exciting enough in and of itself. Add on top of that the fact that Mike Tyson is in it, and with a face off with Donnie Yen no less, and we’ve got a martial arts movie legend made before it hits the screens.
Often with martial arts movies, we have to put up with stupid story lines and shallow characters just to narratively string a bunch of fight scenes together. Once in a while, though, we get one that has the best of both worlds, a good story with amazing fight choreography. That’s IP Man 3.
Now, I’m not saying the narrative was die hard revolutionary or anything, but it was solidly a martial arts plot and martial artist character driven story that also plays out as a story with characters your average viewer can care about. That’s definitely not easy to do. I especially liked the Ip Man foil character, Cheung Tin-Chi, played by Jin Zhang, who was a gray character that provided a less socioeconomically privileged version of Ip Man, who did a more traditional form of Wing Chun and provided not just a character foil but also a martial artist foil, as well as the opportunity for Wing Chun vs. Wing Chun action that was awesome.
The fight IQ of this whole film was pretty high, what with legendary choreography Yuen Wo-ping at the helm. Happily, the best fight scene in the whole thing was between Donnie Yen playing Ip Man and Tyson playing a bad guy boss. Tyson, of course, comes in as the known beast, where who he is outside of the film, a heavyweight champion knockout artist boxer, just can’t be ignored inside the story. There was weight to the exchanges, and a battle narrative to it, too, not just sock’em and rock’em but the playing out of a chess match between two styles and two fighters. I loved this interview of Yen and Tyson together, especially when Yen says that choreographing the fight with Tyson was “life threatening”, which he says like three or more times.
Yen looked on spot in his form and execution of everything, but I did like Zhang’s form better, which probably makes sense since Zhang’s character was supposed to be the more traditional Wing Chun of the two.
The comic relief of the thugs was really great, although I think sometimes they weren’t meant to be funny and I may have ruined those parts when they come in to antagonize and I just laughed out loud at the screen because they looked so ridiculous. There were, however, also some intentional comic relief, fun little interactions between all the characters that put a smile on people’s faces, especially the occasional screen time for the Bruce Lee character played by Kwok-Kwan Chan.
The only major disappointment of the film was the fight scene between Ip Man and the Thai boxer, played by Sarut Khanwilai. I don’t know if Wo-Ping did the choreography for that scene in particular, but whereas the other fight sequences seemed really, really well-thought out, especially the Tyson-Yen one, this one just seemed sloppily put together. What was sloppy was the conceptual match up between Wing Chun and Muay Thai, how something like that would play out and what the fight narrative would be for that. Whereas the Tyson-Yen one had high fight IQ in its design, the Khanwilai-Yen one seemed to have low fight IQ in its design, and it came off looking more like a generic martial arts exchange rather than a style specific one for Muay Thai. For the average viewer, it’s an exciting exchange in an elevator between Ip Man and a Muay Thai fight thug with Ip Man’s wife caught in the crossfire. For the martial arts fan, it looks like propaganda to make Wing Chun look better than Muay Thai without giving the Muay Thai aspect of it a full demonstration. Maybe Wo-ping or whoever was in charge of putting together this one just doesn’t have a good enough handle on what Muay Thai is supposed to look like.
Overall, a great martial arts film, definitely up on the shelf with the classics, as with all the Ip Man films. Donnie Yen has always been a integral part of the martial arts film world, but in the 80s and 90s and even early 2000s, it was always Jackie Chan this and Jet Li that, especially in America where the two Chinese action heroes suddenly started hitting the U.S. big screen by storm and became household names. When asked about Donnie Yen, most Americans shrugged their shoulders back in the day, and Hollywood even dared kill Yen off in Blade II without an amazing fight scene send off. Yen is definitely better known now, and is the current go-to guy for the best martial arts film action today. Hopefully, this means he will be brought in to films in Hollywood as a lead or co-star, definitely not just as cannon fodder for mutant vampires. While we wait for some awesome Yen-in-Hollywood action, Ip Man 3 will more than suffice in serving to quench our thirst for amazing martial arts film making in the meantime.