Hearing that Wing-Chun blockbuster Ip Man 3 was so good that it knocked the most recent Star Wars film off the charts filled me with pride for my Chinese heritage and an appreciation for the martial art form. Thus, having seen “Star Wars”, I was keen to review “Ip Man 3” to see how the two REALLY matched up in my opinion. However, I do have some bad news for the Wing Chun/Donnie Yen fans. Ultimately, “Star Wars” was better. And seeing that this statement is coming from me, someone with a complete and utter bias towards Chinese pop culture, I think this review would be a worthy read for all.
At the beginning, it was all very impressive. Set between 1959 to 1960, the humble IP MAN played by Donnie Yen has worked his way up to being known as the best Kung Fu master in all of China, and now runs a Wing Chun school. He is happily married to wife Wing-Sing, with whom he has a son in primary school whom he dotes on. However, all descends into chaos when the undertones of a corrupt Hong Kong government begin to show their roots; American all-round dodgy fighter/entrepreneur Frank played by Mike Tyson orders his underlings to buy out the nearby school using force and is supported by higher-ups within the police force. Ip man and his students have no choice but to protect the school during this period, which leads to chance encounters with his son’s classmate’s father and fellow Wing Chun fighter Cheung Tin-Chi, initiating a rather one-sided battle to prove the authenticity of Wing Chun.
Of course, I had nothing but praise for the action sequences. Although I am far from a martial artist myself, each sequence was crafted skilfully and allowed the grace, agility and beauty of Wing Chun to truly speak for itself. Yen showed that his actions spoke louder than his words, using his martial arts skills to say what sometimes his language and body language while acting could not express. He may not be the best actor, but as a martial artist, I believe he truly took on the spirit of Ip Man by reflecting his humility, introverted confidence and focus through his moves. However, I would like to say that it would be nice not to see Ip Man win quite so much. In every action sequence, Ip Man’s opponent would only be able to deal one or two blows to the kung fu expert before being battled to the ground easily by Yen. A little unrealistic, no? However, I did appreciate the lack of blood and gore in the movie which certainly set it apart from other action films. To me, it further represented a ‘mind over matter’ approach to fighting which involved a deep respect for others and the sanctity of human life which is often forgone for gratuitous violence, even in “Star Wars”. Even in the most extenuating of circumstances, Ip man was never portrayed as fighting with the intention to kill, but as a form of self defense, and as a means of defending others and making the world a safer place.
Another thing I particularly appreciated about the film was its attempt at a unique storyline. Yes, some may say Mike Tyson and the introduction of Bruce Lee’s character was a marketing scam to get the monies rolling in, but hey. Don’t tell me you weren’t anticipating seeing them both appear in the movie, because you’re most probably lying. At least they incorporated them into the storyline in a rather unique way, and not overbearing manner, with Lee’s character only making a cameo. However, although on the whole a rather creative concept of cohering daily life with martial arts (Yen struggling to meet mundane commitments to his wife and balancing that against fending off baddies from taking over the school), the storyline ended up being inspired, yet haphazard in its resolution, with many loose ends left untied or unexplained in the movie. For example, a potential relationship between one of Ip Man’s students and the female primary school teacher was ignited but never resolved, and the random presence of Tyson’s Chinese wife and kid served no purpose in my opinion, since the storyline did not necessitate the showing of Tyson’s softer side; perhaps just to give Tyson fans a run for their money? Another thing that was never resolved was Ip man’s son’s reaction to his mother’s ailments, which were glossed over almost entirely by him appearing only in a montage of time passing as Ip Man cared over her.
However the biggest boon in “Ip Man 3” was its cast. Lynn Hung was endearing enough as Ip Man’s gentle wife who (spoiler alert!) demurely battled cancer, as were other supporting cast such as Patrick Tam, the ruthless gangster underling who was extremely convincing. The only character who I felt had a certain complexity to him was Ip man’s rival Cheung Tin-Chi who was played by stuntman/actor Zhang Jin. Constantly tossing up between good and evil, his tango between his vices (money, jealousy) and justice kept the audience on their toes and rendered his ultimate defeat at the hands of Ip Man even more satisfying. His character was well-shaped as one who is flawed and easily relatable to, causing the audience to build a strong connection with Zhang despite his faults. Yen who reprised his role as Ip Man on the other hand, was weaker both in terms of character development and acting prowess. Other than his martial arts scenes, Yen only has two expressions-a humble smile and a deadpan face which he alternates between without fail, making his character extremely two-dimensional. Even his body language, when not used in the form of martial arts appears rigid and awkward, to the point that I nearly laughed out loud at what was meant to be one of the most touching scenes in the movie, where he caresses his wife’s face (Note: kind of looked like he was slapping her). Overall, his performance wasn’t a thumbs up from me.
So in comparison to the latest “Star Wars”, I feel it unfortunately lost out on all points except for overall message. The former was an immensely slick production, with my only gripe being that the storyline was somewhat copied from the first Star Wars movie. Other than that, it told a gripping tale, incorporated old characters in a subtle way, and comprised of a stellar cast of convincing, talented actors. “Ip Man 3” however, found me less involved in the storyline, finding fault with production and also with the talent. If you’re just looking to relax and let out your frustrations kind of physically, this is the movie for you. But I’m just saying, in my opinion it ain’t no Oscar winner.