Review: IP MAN 3 葉問3 (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Review: IP MAN 3 葉問3 (2015)

Despite the episodic storyline, IP MAN 3 succeeds as a tense martial-art action genre and a surprisingly heartfelt character-driven drama.

A few years ago, the martial arts genre of HK cinema was dominated by the overwhelming success of Wing Chun-related movies that exploited the life of the legendary grandmaster Ip Man. The most popular of all was the first two IP MAN movies (2008-2010), which both directed by Wilson Yip (SPL, FLASHPOINT) and played by Donnie Yen as the title character. Even veteran director Herman Yau had his hands on two Ip Man movies, including 2010's THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN (which starred real-life kungfu champ-turned-actor Dennis To as the younger version of Ip Man) and 2013's IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (which starred Anthony Wong as the elder version of Ip Man). The popularity of the Ip Man movie didn't end there, as Wong Kar-Wai's long-delayed Ip Man biopic of THE GRANDMASTER (2013) made history by winning a total of 12 Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Film, Best Director (Wong Kar-Wai) and Best Actress (Zhang Ziyi). Five years after the financial success of IP MAN 2, Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip finally made a comeback in the third and possibly last entry of the IP MAN series. When I first attended the press screening of IP MAN 3, I figured that I'll be getting more or less the same old formula that preceded the first two movies. But to my surprise, IP MAN 3 surpasses my expectation where the movie succeeds as an entertaining, yet heartfelt martial arts drama filled with top notch performances from Donnie Yen and Lynn Xiong.


After surviving the trials and tribulations in the first two movies, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is finally settling down into a low-profile life with his wife, Wing Sing (Lynn Xiong) and his young son. The story is then focuses on Ip Man, who subsequently volunteers himself as a bodyguard to prevent the school that his son attends to, from a local gang led by Sang (Patrick Tam). Apparently Sang is sent in by his American property-developer boss Frank (Mike Tyson) to force the principal (Tats Lau) to sell the school at all cost. Meanwhile, rickshaw puller Cheung Tin-Chi (Zhang Jin), who happens to be a fellow Wing Chun practitioner, teams up with Ip Man to help defeat all the thugs. However, Cheung grows increasingly jealous of Ip Man's fame and respect, and wants to prove himself as a true Wing Chun expert by setting up a one-on-one challenge against him.


With the help of cinematographer Kenny Tse and editor Cheung Ka-Fai, Wilson Yip has again demonstrates his directing skill in the action department. The camerawork is fluid and graceful as always, while thankfully devoid of tight close-ups and shaky-cam technique that plagued most action movies these days. Renowned martial arts choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping, who replaced Sammo Hung in the first two movies, successfully stages some of the best fights in the IP MAN series. Whether it was a slow-motion martial arts move between Ip Man and Bruce Lee (Danny Chan) in the stylish opening scene or a more grounded fight against a dozen of thugs near the school area and again in a shipyard, Yuen's action choreography is remarkably tense without the glaring wirework previously shown in Sammo Hung's sometimes over-the-top choreography in IP MAN 2. There is also another scene where Yuen brilliantly utilises the tight confines of an elevator during a fight between Ip Man and a Muay Thai opponent (Sarut Khanwilai, best known as Tony Jaa's stunt double in SKIN TRADE). It has a similar claustrophobic feel that Yuen has successfully done before in the memorable narrow bathroom-stall duel between Jet Li and Michael Ian Lambert in UNLEASHED (2005).

Apart from the gritty martial arts sequences, returning screenwriter Edmond Wong (along with co-writers Chan Tai-Li and Jill Leung) goes deeply personal in IP MAN 3 by exploring more on Ip Man's relationship with his wife, particularly during the midway of the movie. Here, Donnie Yen gets to prove himself more than just a martial arts icon as he finally grows as a caring husband, who realises that family value is more important than anything else in the world. Although he has shown his competent acting skill in the first two movies, I would say this is the one where he truly evolves as an actor. Then there's Lynn Xiong, who delivers her best performance to date as Ip Man's wife, Wing Sing. In fact, she is the main reason that helps elevate the movie from mediocrity. The scene where she gets diagnosed with cancer provides the necessary dramatic tension that is both profound and heartbreaking.

Finally, the cameo appearance of Danny Chan (best known for his role as the goalkeeper in SHAOLIN SOCCER) excels with his spot-on performance as Bruce Lee, who wanted to prove his worth as a potential student to Ip Man.


Ip Man (Donnie Yen) vs. Frank (Mike Tyson)

As promised in this much-anticipated fight scene, former boxing great Mike Tyson still packed a punch delivering his trademark lightning-fast jab. The raw brutality of Tyson's boxing technique brings a subtle contrast that matches well against the graceful elegance of Donnie Yen's Wing Chun-fighting style. The fight may have been brief, but entertaining and satisfying enough to keep both fans of the stars happy.

Ip Man (Donnie Yen) vs. Cheung Tin-Chi (Zhang Jin)

It's no secret nor a spoiler regarding the final fight between Donnie Yen and Zhang Jin. Compared to the last two movies where Donnie battled against Hiroyuki Ikeuchi in IP MAN and the late Darren Shahlavi in IP MAN 2, this is easily the best and most satisfying final fight ever staged in the IP MAN series. In fact, it's finally nice to see Donnie found a truly worthy opponent in the form of Zhang Jin, a former Wushu athlete/stuntman-turned-actor who shows tremendous agility and skill in his Wing Chun-fighting style. Not only both of them get to display their nifty hand-to-hand combats, but also demonstrates excellent coordination in using wooden poles and double short blades.


While I applaud the way Edmond Wong focuses more on Ip Man's relationship with his wife, the story which involves Ip Man trying to save the school from being terrorised by a local gang, is somehow weak and underwhelming. Even though I'm glad that Edmond doesn't choose to repeat the same old "battle for the country's pride and honour" formula shown in the first two movies, his latest storyline doesn't feel strong enough for a supposedly final entry of the IP MAN series.

If that's not enough, the gradual story shift to Cheung Tin-Chi's growing jealousy against Ip Man, feels jarring. Although Tin-Chi is already hinted earlier in the movie as a fellow Wing Chun practitioner eager to see Ip Man's similar martial arts technique, his role is frequently sidelined to make way for the major school-related storyline. By the time the movie finally settled for Tin-Chi again, he is now suddenly depicted as a main rival who wanted to prove to the public that Ip Man's Wing Chun skill is not as authentic as his. Had the movie focuses more on the proper build-up of his character, IP MAN 3 would have been more refined than being ended up as a scattershot piece of work that tries to stitch two stories together.

The stunt casting of Mike Tyson may have been a novelty idea, but apart from his remarkable boxing skill, his role as Frank feels more like a standard caricature of a villain.


Despite some of the movie's shortcomings, IP MAN 3 proves to be a worthy yet effective conclusion to the popular series.

* This review is written courtesy from Lotus Five Star and RAM Entertainment press screening *

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