Starring: Donnie Yen, Mike Tyson, Zhang Jin, Lynn Hung
Director: Wilson Yip
Original Year of Release: 2015Donnie Yen returns to the role that made him an international martial arts superstar in Ip Man 3. Yen reprises his role as legendary Wing Chun Grandmaster, and mentor to Bruce Lee, Ip Man. The film is set in Hong Kong in 1959. Ip Man has settled into a peaceful life with his wife Cheung Wing-Sing, and young son Ip Ching, and running his Wing Chun school.
A group Triads, who work for a wealthy American developer named Frank (Mike Tyson), is trying to force the owner of the school that Ip Ching attends to sell. When he refuses, the gang bullies him with force until Ip Man arrives and drives the gangsters away. The Triad steps up their efforts, launching a full scale assault on the school, and attempting to burn it down. Ip Man and his students defend the school with the aid of Cheung Tin-chi, another local Wing Chun master whose young son also attends the school. This eventually leads to a showdown between Ip Man and Frank for the fate of the school.
Cheung Tin-chi, jealous of Ip Man’s status as Grandmaster, opens his own Wing Chun School and challenges Ip to a duel. When Ip ignores the challenge, Cheung Tin-chi uses the local media to disparage his rival and even defeats several of his students when they try to defend their master by fighting in his place. This of course leads to the climactic battle to decide, once and for all, who is the true Wing Chun Grandmaster.
I love Donnie Yen and will watch anything that he is in, but Ip Man 3, despite his fantastic efforts, is a weak and uneven film. In fact it’s downright strange because it feels like two, separate short films, thrown together to make one feature. Ip Man and Frank settle their dispute at just over an hour into the film. We never see Frank again. It is at that point the rival between Ip Man and Cheung Tin-chi begins and plays out over the film’s final 40 minutes. It is clumsy, as if the story was written overnight, powered by a case of energy drinks. To me it felt like a car sputtering when you step on the gas pedal.
I don’t think I’m making a unique revelation by saying that Mike Tyson CANNOT act. Not even a little bit. His dialog is painful to watch. And when he speaks in Cantonese it is even worse because he is horribly dubbed. The guy does have a rather distinct voice and I dare you not to burst out laughing during these scenes. It’s clear that Tyson was brought in to be a “name” and to perhaps give the film more appeal to American audiences but it just doesn’t work. Tyson is not credible and even their big fight at the end is awkward and not up to the usual elegant choreography of most of Yen’s fights.
The plot involving Cheung Tin-chi works better but I suspect that the producers didn’t feel like there was enough meat and so the Tyson story was added to the mix. Zhang Jin, who plays Cheung, is a former Wushu athlete who got his start as a career as a stunt actor in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Their fight with the amazing choreography of Yuen Woo-ping goes a long way to making us forget the Tyson fight. Note that there is a fun scene at the beginning in which Danny Chan plays a young and arrogant Bruce Lee who tries to become Ip Man’s student.
While Ip Man 3 isn’t on the level of the first two films nor most of Donnie Yen’s other recent films, he remains today’s preeminent martial artist in film today and always watchable, even with substandard material.