×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Ip Man 3’

Donnie Yen reteams with director Wilson Yip for an 'Ip Man' sequel stronger on old-school action than plot or characterization.

With:
Donnie Yen, Max Zhang (aka Zhang Jin), Lynn Hung, Patrick Tam, Mike Tyson, Karena Ng, Leung Ka-yan, Li Xiaolong, Kent Cheng, Louis Cheung, Babyjohn Choi, Danny Chan Kwok-kwan, Wang Shi, Cui Can, Sarut Khawilai, Cao Cao, Zong Fei, Liu Yifei. (Cantonese, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2888046/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Fans of old-school kung fu will eat up the rock-solid, joint-snapping fights in “Ip Man 3,” the long-awaited reunion of Hong Kong helmer Wilson Yip and action juggernaut Donnie Yen, here prolonging the saga of the Wing Chun grandmaster who famously taught Bruce Lee. Less offensively nationalistic than the second installment but falling short of the glowing humanity, genial Cantonese humor and visual flair of the first, the pic is somewhat tarnished by its pedestrian plot and limp characterization. It has presold to many territories and garnered respectable box office of more than $7.6 million in Hong Kong, while receiving considerable attention in the U.S. press for an Asian film. However, the delay of a planned China release (with 3D conversion) from New Year’s Eve to March may deal a serious blow to its overall tally.

Since “Ip Man”s release in 2009, a sequel helmed by Yip and four other related biopics have appeared, including Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster” and novelist-auteur Xu Haofeng’s “The Master,” an apocryphal yarn about the hero’s mentor Chan Wah-shun. Although none have secured the permission of Bruce Lee’s trust to incorporate him (or in this production’s case, his hologram) in a substantial way, “Ip Man 3” comes close to capturing his charisma in two playful scenes.

Notwithstanding the legendary star’s absence, this body of work has morphed into a homage to the heyday of Hong Kong chopsocky cinema, reaching back to the influences of Lau Ka-leung’s hardcore style and Lee’s classics (the stunt casting of Mike Tyson here recalls Kareen Abdul-Jabbar turn in “The Game of Death”). With Yen counting this as his last full-blown action performance, it’s also a swan song of sorts.

The original dramatized the protag’s early life of landed gentry and anti-Japanese resistance in Foshan, Guangzhou; the sequel followed his family’s migration to Hong Kong, where he began his teaching career and dusted up British colonialists. The third outing devotes more time to Ip’s relationship with his now ailing wife, Wing-sing (Lynn Hung). Although he strikes a heavy-hearted note, Yip details their reserved affection with a tenderly non-verbal touch by having them communicate through leftover food and notes jotted on bits of paper.

Although Yen continues to refine his gentlemanly persona with a mellow, dry sense of humor, the yarn provides no indication of his evolving mastery of Wing Chun, or the methods of teaching that eventually made the school one of the most practiced worldwide. In “Ip Man 2,” at least there was a subplot related to disciple Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming), while here there’s no interaction with any but one of his faceless students.

Picking up nine years after the previous film, “Ip Man 3” opens in 1959 — a prosperous era for Hong Kong as its manufacturing and shipping industries take off. Ip Man, Wing-sing and their youngest son, Ching (Li Xiaolong), are living in relative comfort, although almost nothing is said about how they fared in the interim. Ching gets into a scrap with classmate Fong (Cui Can), which leads to an acquaintance with Fong’s father, Cheung Tin-chi (Max Zhang, aka Zhang Jin), a rickshaw man who turns out to be his Wing Chun alumni.

American property boss and all-around-evil-foreigner Frank (Tyson) employs local mobster Brother Sang (Patrick Tam, hammily despicable) to seize Ching and Fong’s school for redevelopment. Ip and his pupils set up a patrol squad to guard the school against vandalism. However, the devious Sang finds ways to ambush them. This leads to two pandemoniac action set pieces in a shipyard that fondly recall the ice factory rough-and-tumbles in Bruce Lee’s action debut, “The Big Boss.”

At each critical moment, Cheung, who competes at Frank’s underground boxing club, ends up reluctantly fighting on Ip’s side, yet his ambitions makes him increasingly restive. Despite playing second fiddle as he did in “SPL 2: A Time for Consequences,” Zhang gives his role class just by flexing his knuckles with characteristic coolness. His aggressive fighting style acting as a foil to Yen’s measured responses, Zhang has a remarkable ability to invigorate a scene, turning every brief appearance into a tantalizing buildup to the spectacular final showdown.

Yet, for an opponent worthy of the grandmaster in stature and martial prowess, Edmond Wong’s screenplay is inexcusably skimpy on Cheung’s personal history or motives. His behavior seesaws between decent and self-serving, yet there’s no moral or psychological complexity underlying that ambivalence. For someone with such a superior aura, it’s unconvincing that he would try to oust Ip for reasons as banal as money or jealousy.

Interestingly, Zhang not only played Ip’s adversary of sorts in “The Grandmaster”; like Yen, he was mentored by the film’s action director, Yuen Woo-ping, who gave him bit parts to start off his acting career, making the actors real-life alumni. While Cheung claims to belong to the same branch of Wing Chun as Ip under Chan Wah-shun, nothing is said about where he came from and how he got his training. This kind of backstory is vital for a genre in which lineage is everything. It’s especially frustrating that after Cheung pours scorn on Ip’s “phony” Wing Chun style, the story never explains what’s considered the real deal.

Yuen’s action choreography adheres to the old-school traditions gracefully rendered by Sammo Hung in the first two films, with the emphasis on authentic kicks and punches, sans wire stunts, and with CGI kept to a minimum. Whereas Hung worked wonders with homey props — a duster, a bamboo pole or a wobbly dining table — in keeping with Ip’s gentle nature, Woo’s preference for massive crowd brawls often buries the protags’ skilled moves in noisy, formless melee. Not surprisingly, the most thrilling free sparring takes place in an elevator and a cluttered umbrella shop, as the simplicity, directness and pliancy of Wing Chun are most potent deployed in narrow spaces.

The anticipated square-off with Frank thankfully delivers through cartoonish disparity in physicality, with his burly frame and raging bull might pitted against Ip’s lean build and grasshopper agility. The match nails the fine points of Eastern-vs.-Western techniques within three minutes.

Quality tech credits by the predominantly Hong Kong crew help cover up some of the film’s narrative inadequacies. Extra kudos to Cheung Ka-fai, editor of the two earlier episodes, for setting a subtly balanced rhythm to so many loose and tonally incompatible scenes; ditto Kenji Kawai’s score, which moves from somber to rousing without bombast, in tandem with Kinson Tsang’s orotund sound mix. D.p. Tse Chung-to highlights the action with steady camerawork and occasional high-angle flourishes. Mak Kwok-keung’s lavishly retro production design doesn’t show how Hong Kong was in the ’60s, but how it looked in the movies of that era.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Ip Man 3'

Reviewed at  Rodeo screening room, Beverly Hills, Jan. 14, 2016. Running time: 104 MIN. (Original title: "Yip Man 3")

Production: (Hong Kong-China) A Pegasus Motion Pictures (Hong Kong) (in Hong Kong)/Well Go USA Entertainment (in U.S.) release of a Well Go USA Entertainment, Pegasus Motion Pictures (Hong Kong), My Pictures Studio, Dreams Salon Entertainment, Starbright Communications presentation of a Pegasus Motion Pictures (Hong Kong) production. (International sales: Pegasus Motion Pictures, Hong Kong.) Produced by Raymond Wong.

Crew: Directed by Wilson Yip. Screenplay, Leung Lai-yin, Chan Tai-lee, Edmond Wong. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Tse Chung-to; editor, Cheung Ka-fai; music, Kenji Kawai; production designer, Mak Kwok-keung; costume designer, Lee Pik-kwan; sound (Dolby Atmos), Kinson Tsang, You Chun-hin; re-recording mixer, Tsang; visual effects supervisor, Raymond Leung Wai-man, Yee Kwok-leung, Garrett K. Lam; visual effects, Free-D Workshop; action director, Yuen Woo-ping, stunt coordinator, Alfred Hsing; Wing Chun consultant, Ip Ching, Ip Chun; associate producer, Pang Yuk-lam; assistant director, Cheng Wai-kei; second unit camera, Samuel Fu.

With: Donnie Yen, Max Zhang (aka Zhang Jin), Lynn Hung, Patrick Tam, Mike Tyson, Karena Ng, Leung Ka-yan, Li Xiaolong, Kent Cheng, Louis Cheung, Babyjohn Choi, Danny Chan Kwok-kwan, Wang Shi, Cui Can, Sarut Khawilai, Cao Cao, Zong Fei, Liu Yifei. (Cantonese, English dialogue)

More Film

  • If I Were a Rich Man

    Filmax Nabs Alvaro Fernandez Armero’s ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Filmax has taken international rights to Álvaro Fernández Armero’s comedy “If I Were a Rich Man.” Produced by Telecinco Cinema, Think Studio and Ciskul, and backed by Mediaset España and Movistar+, “If I Were a Rich Man” is a Spanish remake of Michel Munz and Gerard Bitton’s French comedy “Ah! Si j’étais [...]

  • Baby

    Latido Takes Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s 'Baby' (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Latido Films has taken world sales rights outside Spain on Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “Baby,” a drama with a psychological thriller narrative thrust starring Rosie Day (“Down a Dark Hall”), Harriet Sansom Harris (“Phantom Thread”), Natalia Tena (“Game of Thrones”), Charo López (“All Night Long”) and young actress Mafalda Carbonell (“To Live Twice”). [...]

  • Noahs Ark

    India’s Symbiosys to Co-Produce, Co-Animate Gullane’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Noah’s Ark – A Musical Adventure,” Brazil’s most ambitious animated feature ever, just got a bit bigger with the announcement that producers Fabiano Gullane’s Gullane, Walter Salles’ Videofilmes and Felipe Sabino and Daniel Greco’s NIP will be joined by leading Indian animation studio Symbiosys Technologies as co-producers and co-animators. The partnership marks the first occasion [...]

  • Navarra

    Navarre Film Commission Celebrates First Decade at San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —    Since the 1950s, Spain has been a favorite European shooting locale. One of the biggest reasons remains its easily accessible, unique and diverse locations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this past June, the Navarre Film Commission kicked off a traveling exhibition which has been touring Spain over the summer and will present [...]

  • Rambo Last Blood

    Film Review: 'Rambo: Last Blood'

    Home has always been an abstract concept for John Rambo, which is what the last scene of 2008’s otherwise expendable “Rambo” sequel finally gave the iconic Sylvester Stallone character: a moment when this unsettled Vietnam War survivor, looking very much the worse for wear, lumbers up to a mailbox bearing the character’s surname. At last, [...]

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content