Ip Man 3 kicks a lot of ass and has Mike Tyson. Let me write some then we'll get back to that.
In the early 2000's, for a short time, there was a boon of Asian martial arts flicks coming over and making good money in the states. This was thanks to The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Quentin Tarentino for both Kill Bill (and both Kill Bills) as well as his role in bringing over movies like Hero and Fearless. This... isn't then. It's hard to sell a straight-up kung fu flick to the masses. So let me quickly go through the Ip Man movies, since you might have not heard of them (like the staff here.)
The real Ip Man (also known as Yip Man) is an important figure in China and around the world, known for being a Grandmaster of the Wing Chun style and teaching Bruce Lee, among other things. Since 2008, there have been five movies about him, including the Donnie Yen trilogy. (Side note – one of those other two movies shares a bunch of the actors from the Donnie Yen trilogy, but is completely unrelated. Confusing!)
Ip Man ('08) sees the rise of the grandmaster, played reverently by Yen, in a movie that feels truthful with light exaggerations. Ip Man 2 ('10), however, feels completely made up (some of it had to be real, but no idea what) with situations made just to get from fight A to fight B. The first Ip Man could go down in the pantheon of classic kung fu, both in story and action. Ip Man 2 has some cool fights, but not much more.
Okay, now we can talk about Ip Man 3! While 2 felt cartoonishly blah after the complete package that was the original, 3 found a good balance. A big difference is that the embellishments in 3 were mostly interesting bits of story, whether plausible or not. Well, plausible is pushing it given how hilariously high the stakes get (more later.) And if you happened to catch a trailer, the biggest marketing angle is this movie not only has Mike Tyson, but has Donnie Yen vs Mike Tyson in Tyson's first ever action movie.
Yes, story is important in a kung fu movie. It can survive without, but a well-motivated fighter hits harder. You want to root for or against someone if you know why they're fighting. Also you need stuff between fights, it just gets boring otherwise. Ip Man 3 is so afraid of you getting bored, it has many stories going on.
The movie begins with Ip Man in a comfortable place. He has a thriving school. He's a legend. He has a wife and son. Unfortunately, he takes his wife for granted, ignoring her left and right. Then she gets cancer. Story one. A big group of thugs run the crime in town, and for some reason I never figured out, gang leader “Iron” Mike Tyson (credited only as “Frank”) wants to own the school where Ip Man's kid goes and starts pressuring them to sell. Story two. Tyson also runs an underground fight ring, which Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang) – a Wing Chun expert who also studied under Ip Man's master – fights for cash as a poor rickshaw driver. He feels Ip Man's praise is undeserved, and acts as a lot of the film's fuel. Three.
You came here for fighting (or words about fighting), I get that. What sets the fights in 3 apart is the addition of legend Yuen Woo-Ping (most kung fu movies you can think of) as Action Director. All the fights are varied and brutal, and there's a couple different styles thrown in the mix. Ridiculous as it was to get a Muay Thai fighter for one scene, I'll be damned if I didn't love seeing Donnie Yen defend his cancer-ailing wife in a tight elevator against a Muay Thai fighter. Also, the Mike Tyson fight, which was in no way a let down aside from it ending. He's still Mike Tyson. Every punch looks like it has a tremendous amount behind it, and there's always that thought in the back of your mind: “I wonder if he went completely off script and did something crazy. They'd leave that in, that'd have to.”
When I teased “hilarious stakes,” the ol' “sick wife in the elevator” scene was one. But I have to mention the ludicrousness of... let's call them Bad Guys, Inc. kidnapping all the children from the school (including Ip Man's kid, of course), putting them in cages and threatening to sell them into slavery. This was maybe halfway through the movie.
Many more excellent fights, ending with the inevitable Ip Man vs. Cheung Tin-chi. But, as much as I enjoyed the stories, they sort of fall apart by the end. The school storyline is over by now. We spend a lot of time with Ip Man's wife Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), which is fair given she's been in all three movies, but when we come back to Cheung Tin-chi late in the film, he needs to rise from nothing through the ranks of local martial artists to become the number two Wing Chun guy. This rise happened in what was seriously a couple minutes - an insanely short amount of time that could have played out through the movie. Also? The worst offense Cheung Tin-chi commits related to Ip Man, Ip Man never even finds out about on camera, if we're to assume he found out at all. So the last fight, which was a parallel to the beginning, lost the chance to be a character arc and boiled down to whose kung fu was best. But hey, long poles and butterfly knives.
Ip Man 3 puts enough gas in the tank to cheer and wince during Yuen Woo-Ping and Donnie Yen's wicked choreography with some fun unintentional laughs along the way, but runs out just before the finish line. Analogies! I liked it, I'll see it again. Bonus: hearing Mike Tyson say “fuck off” in Cantonese.
Ip Man 3
Starring: Donnie Yen, Zhang Jin, Lynn Hung, Patrick Tam, Mike Tyson
Written by: Edmond Wong
Directed by: Wilson Yip
Running time: 105 minutes
Come harvest, Juese Cutler picks the ripest words from his garden to prepare fresh articles to feed the masses, fattening them before presenting his offering to YxYk from below in exchange for Juese's continued existence. He lives in Austin, had a video company, has an audio company, does improv, has acted with nothing but his mouth, and sacrifices the innocent to an Ever-beast on the cusp of the fall equinox. He likes black olives, Chrono Trigger, Terry Gilliam, not dying, and breaking the rule of three. And not watching the movies Taras does.