“Ip Man 3” was a modest box office success this winter. I gave it 3 stars when I reviewed it for the Buffalo News.
There’s an easy way to tell whether “Ip Man 3,” the third in a series of films based on the life of iconic martial arts master Ip Man, is right for you – answer the following question:
Are you intrigued by the idea of a three-minute survival-of-the-toughest fight sequence between martial arts mindblower Donnie Yen and former boxer Mike Tyson? If you answered yes, you’ll likely emerge from “Ip Man 3” with a smile on your face.
It is an ideal bit of mindless late-January cinema, albeit one that might require a little pre-film study. The real Ip Man was the master of a style of martial arts known as Wing Chun. One of his disciples? Bruce Lee.
The two films in the series, “Ip Man” and “Ip Man 2,” are streaming on Netflix. Both are directed by Wilson Yip and star the great Donnie Yen; all three are uniquely intense historical action films that play fast and loose with the real facts of Ip’s life.
As “Ip Man 3” begins, the title character is already renowned for his mastery of Wing Chun. The rather odd story that follows first involves his son’s school, and the real estate scheme of a shady developer played by Tyson.
Tyson’s gangster, Frank, oversees brutal matches dominated by Cheung Tin-ch (Zhang Jin), a rickshaw driver struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Frank’s henchmen follow through on his plan to take the school by any means necessary. Ip Man, of course, stands in the way.
After Ip and Cheung team up to protect the school, Frank challenges Ip to the three-minute challenge. It’s a gloriously fun sequence, one highlighted by the divergent styles of Yen and Tyson – I mean, Ip and Frank.
The property storyline is soon dropped, and the film’s second half is instead concerned with Cheung’s jealousy over the fame earned by Ip. He starts a competing school and challenges the mighty Ip Man to a public battle. And quite a battle it is.
Director Yip prefaces the final fight with some tender moments between Ip and his dying wife, Wing Sing (Lynn Hung), and it provides a nice counterpoint to the closing duel. Like the rest of the 105-minute film, the ending is both silly and involving.
The presence of Yen is the chief reason we stay interested. An immensely likable star who will be seen in December’s “Star Wars” spin-off “Rogue One,” Yen is known worldwide for both his extensive background as a legitimate martial artist and his filmography.
His Ip Man is calm, controlled and even sweet. Yen is as believable in quiet scenes with Hung as he is battling Cheung or Tyson.
Yip and cinematographer Kenny Tse surely deserve credit as well. One sequence, a lengthy fight scene going down a stairway that is shot overhead, is particularly impressive.
However, it is hard to know what to make of the appearance of Tyson. The still-fascinating, still-controversial Tyson is a matter-of-fact actor, one whose performance seems wildly out of place here. Yet his involvement makes that three-minute fight far more memorable.
“Ip Man 3” is unlikely to win over anyone who is not already a fan of martial arts cinema, but offers modest pleasures for action junkies. It also reaffirms Yen’s status as a worldwide star. He might be the calmest butt-kicker in cinema, and that’s noteworthy.