I’ve been quite a big fan of Donnie Yen’s martial arts flicks, and I mean I was watching his movies even before Yen became a household name in Ip Man (2008).
My first great memory of him was watching him battle Jet Li in Once Upon A Time In China II (1992) and in Shanghai Knights (2003), I was rooting for Yen to beat Jackie Chan.
Naturally, I have caught the previous instalments of Ip Man and loved them both. Having learned that he had been cast in the first Star Wars spin-off movie, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for next December got me even more excited, as who wouldn’t want to see him as a kickass Jedi (even though the exact details of his role have not been announced yet).
Sad to say though, I have been terribly let down by some of his more recent movies outside of the Ip Man series. Endeavours such as Iceman and The Monkey King were ridiculously unbearable to watch, so do avoid them like the plague! Yen managed to redeem himself with Kung Fu Jungle (Kung Fu Killer in the US) in 2014, and I’m glad to say that his reprisal as Ip Man puts Donnie Yen back in his game as the de-factor Asian action star.
The movie starts off with Bruce Lee (Danny Chan Kwok-kwan) paying Ip Man a visit, to get Man to accept him as a disciple. It’s really a in-cinema joke, since most fans of the series know that Ip Man is the real-life shi-fu of Asia’s best known action icon, Bruce Lee. Ip Man then challenges Lee to a test of speed, which he seemed to have pulled off pretty impressively (with amazing finesse and precision), by kicking at Ip Man’s cigarettes while he was attempting to smoke. But alas, it wasn’t enough to impress the grandmaster, who showed the young Lee to the door.
The story then progresses into standard storytelling fare, of troubled times in Hong Kong. Property developer-cum-street fighter, Frank, played by American boxing legend Mike Tyson wants to take control of the city, with the help of a corrupt foreigner police head. When Frank gets his thugs to terrorize a school to force the Principal to sell the school, Ip Man steps in to save the day as coincidentally, his son attends the school too.
Eventually, the thugs resort to kidnapping a bunch of kids, including Man’s son, which forces Man to confront the thugs in their homeground at the shipyard.
Along the way, rickshaw puller Cheung Tin Chi (Zhang Jin), whose son also attends the same school, steps in to help out. It’s rather convenient that Cheung was also trained by the same master as Ip Man, and is proficient in Wing Chun too. So where was he in the first two movies?
He teams up with Man to make short work of the thugs, and his fame grows in the process. One thing leads to another and Cheung ends up defeating all the other kung-fu masters one by one, and proclaims himself the Grand Master of Wing Chun. He successfully opens his school with much fan fare, but he isn’t satisfied, because he has yet to defeat the one person who really matter, Ip Man.
So where did Man go? After the showdown with Frank, Man finds out that his wife is suffering from the final stages of abdominal cancer, and decides to devote his time to care for her, by leaving everything behind.
This is the part of Donnie Yen that audiences rarely get to see, as Yen plays Man with a new vigour, as the caring father and loving husband, and it’s great that longtime partner and director Yip chose to infuse this movie with some more than just another fist fight.
Next Up, The Three Big Fights
But that’s not the say that Ip Man 3 fails to deliver on the punches. It will be tough to top the fight that Yen had with Sammo Hung in Ip Man 2, as well as in SPL, but the battles in this sequel hold up well on their own, and managed to quench my hunger for some badass martial arts choreography.
Ip Man vs Thai Kickboxer
This is a pretty intense battle that takes place in a lift. Right after collecting his wife’s medication, the couple enter an elevator and are accosted by the kickboxer. It’s amazing how Man skillfully blocks his adversary’s blows from landing on his wife, and manages to drag the fight out of the elevator and onto the stairs. The tight space setting is something that Hollywood directors have tried to film one on one fight scenes in, with one of the most memorable being in The Bourne Ultimatum, when Bourne fights Desh. Now see how a top notch action star and director take it on.
And I won’t deny the satisfaction I get in watching Man continuously kick the Thai fighter down each flight of stairs until they reach the ground floor. But what you will get from this scene is not the fight choreography, but the fact that Man is not fighting for glory, revenge or fame. He just wanted to spend time with his wife, came across an obstacle, overcame it and choose to move on. It might be a tad melodramatic, but it pains me to see that despite all his skills, he cannot help his wife fight the condition that is killing her.
Ip Man vs Frank (Mike Tyson)
How does Wing Chun fair against heavy-weight boxing? This is where Tyson’s character gets to do what he does best, by throwing those heavy punches. This also gives us a perfect excuse to ignore Tyson’s really bad acting. Frank is set-up to be quite a match for Ip Man, as his punches were impactful and deadly.
The trailers have touted this fight scene as a must watch and while it is satisfying, you get the sense that Man will win. It’s like the fight between Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, where you recognise two great icons on screen but know that the game has been rigged. Contrast this to the massive fight between Jackie Chan and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, and you might be disappointed.
This was apparently Mike Tyson’s first real acting role. His previous outings, such as in The Hangover 2, were mere cameos.
Ip Man vs Cheung Tin Chi
This is the climactic fight sequence, where Wing Chun takes on Wing Chun. Both Ip Man and Tin Chi start off sparring with wooden poles, and both were evenly matched. The duel progresses into dual short blades, and things get way more intense. The fight choreography here is just insane, as both adversaries manage to parry every single slash and thrust with such amazing precision.
Under all the flying fists of fury, Ip Man 3 is a kung fu flick with plenty of heart. The third outing for Yen not only delivers on the fights, but it also manages to showcase his softer side, as a loving husband and devoted father. I’m not sure if Yen and director Wilson Yip have any more plans, but Ip Man 3 is definitely a worthy closing chapter to the Ip Man trilogy.