Ip Man 3 **1/2

An underwhelming martial arts film elevated slightly by a bittersweet love story.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Ip Man was a real life Wing Chun master and teacher. A legend in his own time, his immortality was cemented when he took on a young Bruce Lee as a pupil. He was so famous that several Kung Fu films were made about him. In 2008, “Ip Man” was the latest re-imagining of the man in cinematic form. With charismatic Donnie Yen in the lead role, it was a huge box office and critical success.

However, I was underwhelmed by the original film. Years later, I gave “Ip Man 2” a chance. While better, I still didn’t love it. Now comes “Ip Man 3,” and it is, supposedly, the last chapter in the highly successful franchise. Is it better than its predecessors? Not really. It’s about par for the course. I was ready to write it off completely, but then it did something surprising that elevated the film from mediocre to…not great by any means, but a little better than average.

The story picks up with Ip Man living with his wife and youngest child in 1950s Hong Kong. Highly respected by the community, he leads a quiet but happy existence as a Kung Fu teacher. A wrench is thrown into this idyllic life when Frank (Mike Tyson. Yes…Mike Tyson!), a western crime lord/land developer, begins to violently pressure the locals into giving up their properties to him. Ip Man intervenes when Frank’s gang tries to take his son’s elementary school. This sends the martial arts master on a fight-filled path culminating in a showdown with the hulking Frank.  

The plot is a little odd. No, nothing described above is the least bit odd. Actually, it’s pretty standard for a Kung Fu film. What’s odd is that the main plot is finished off about half way into the film with a central fight between Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson. It’s a decent battle too. I liked how Yuen Woo Ping’s fight choreography (he also did “The Matrix” trilogy and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) pairs the two disparate fighting styles of Wing Chun and western boxing without favoring one over the other. He, with returning director Wilson Yip, also does a good job of showcasing just how powerful a Mike Tyson punch might be. Sadly, though, the fight, and the Mike Tyson plotline with it, ends in a severe cop out. 

What happens for the rest of the movie? Two side stories take center stage. The first is not unusual. It involves Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang, who’s on camera fighting is impressive), another master of Wing Chun, who wants to prove that his version of it is purer and better than our hero’s. This portion doesn’t amount to more than a decent fight scene in the climax. And sadly, the only memorable thing about Cheung is his amazingly styled hair that never moves (even while fighting), with just the right wisp of hair falling forward roguishly.

The third story is the most untraditional and best part of the film. Early on, Ip Man unwittingly takes his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), for granted because his attention is taken up by his battles with Frank. But then his wife becomes gravely ill. This leads to a bittersweet section of the movie where Ip Man tries to make her days as happy as possible. It culminates not in a fight, but a lovely, little dance sequence.

Believe it or not the love story is more memorable than the film’s myriad fight scenes (and most of those show up in the movie’s back end, about 50 minutes into the running time). It doesn’t help that the fights tend to be a bit underwhelming. Ip Man, in this stage of his life, has nothing to prove and it looks like the filmmakers felt like they didn’t either. Yes, the battles are well shot and must have been hard to pull off, but they all come off a little rote. We’ve seen this all before.

“Ip Man 3” is about the same quality as the first two films, so if you like those, you will probably enjoy this one too. I just figured that it would soon be shelved in the same nebulous recesses of my mind as its predecessors, that place where you know you’ve seen a movie but can barely remember anything about it. Then the love story ensued. And while it didn’t make the movie great, at least it made it a little more memorable. 

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