Written by Elias Levey-Swain
Wilson Yip’s newest addition to his Ip Man film series, Ip Man 3, is a wildly entertaining and surprisingly poignant feature effort that lacks only in plot structure and character development: two completely unimportant aspects of any film. Of course, in the case of a martial-arts film so brilliantly choreographed and shot as this one, that last part really is true. Ip Man 3 suffers from its lack of story-arc dynamics only when isolated from its excellent displays of Wing Chun (Ip Man’s martial art of choice). Otherwise, the story gets lost in the action in a way that contradicts everything we are told about how films should strive to be.
Donnie Yen’s quiet, emotionally fueled portrayal of Ip Man is persuasive in its candor and confidence, and smile-garnering in its non-cloying emotional sweetness. His ability as a martial arts-actor has never been called into question, and for good reason. He is no doubt among the greats of his generation. Lynn Hung’s tearful, but nevertheless strong portrayal of Ip Man’s wife, Cheung Wing-sing, is perhaps the most important of the film. She manages to turn a male-centric action flick into something all the more palpable and cinematic in nature. Their relationship on screen is what keeps those actionless moments captivating.
Jin Zhang plays Cheung Tin-chi, a new addition to the franchise, and a surprisingly subtle character – as opposed to Mike Tyson’s Frank, someone who I’ll be sure to return to in the coming paragraphs. Tin-chi’s morality is what creates perhaps the most non-action-fueled tension on screen in the entire film. He is a man whose villainy is born from need, rather than greed; and whose ambition turns out to be his poorest quality. Tin-chi’s ability to portray so much in only his body-language, even in a film that is so utterly physical as this one, is impressive and entrancing.
Characters in and of themselves are Ip Man 3‘s score, and action choreography. Kenji Kawai’s subtle, albeit commanding score narrates the effervescent drama present even in those scenes whose action is emotional rather than physical with outstanding confidence. His characteristic classical music addresses its audience in quiet revelry, especially in the scenes between Ip Man and Cheung Wing-sing, the two whose love has the power to make even the most compassionate among us feel inadequate.
Yuen Woo-Ping’s epic action choreography rivals most present in any action films of the past few years. Woo-Ping’s outstanding track record is by no means coincidental. His work is consistently above the bar in today’s landscape of action-cinema. His work specific to Ip Man 3 is reminiscent of everything that has ever made a martial-arts film important. Woo-Ping’s choreography paired with Ka-Fai Cheung’s film editing and Kenny Tse’s cinematography, creates an atmosphere of intrusion and absorption that makes its audience feel as though they have entered the world of the film. Truly outstanding work all around.
Now, Mike Tyson’s presence in a martial-arts film is one that cannot be overlooked, not even by the most cavalier of movie-goers. Tyson’s public image is one of absurdist caricatures, and so it is fitting that his performance in Ip Man 3 is the same way. His speech is attention-grabbing and at times, altogether too difficult to understand to be an appropriate addition to any movie ever. But the iconography that Tyson represents is extremely important to the image Ip Man 3 achieves. A man that is undoubtedly a figure of superstardom, giving a small performance in a foreign action film is just the cherry on top of said film. There is no doubt that the movie’s strongest attributes would remain the same without him, but his presence in the film is what makes it universal.
Ip Man 3 is emotional without being manipulative. It is an excellently executed action film without even verging on being offensive in its brutality. It is a surprisingly heartwarming exposé of martial arts in its most cinematic form. Ip Man 3 is triumphant in its pseudo-campy plot development and pacing, and truly epic in its set pieces, score, and most importantly its action sequences.