The Ip Man series started almost a decade ago by chronicling the life of the man that brought the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun to the world. Though it has been a bit of a slow burn, the audience has grown to love the characters of Ip Man and the world that he inhabits. By the third film we are so invested that every detail means that much more.
With that in mind, it is fitting that the story remains rather small. By the time the third film begins it is already the late 1950s and Master Ip (Donnie Yen) has become a legend in his town. Humble and kind he remains a constant protector to the townspeople, even if it means neglecting his wife (Lynn Hung).
When an American gangster comes to town named Frank (Mike Tyson) and starts recruiting the local martial artists it does not take long before he has the Ip Man in his sights. At first they merely dance around each other but Ip Man’s talent for being at the heart of the trouble quickly makes him the focus of Frank’s anger.
Here’s where things get tricky. Putting someone like Mike Tyson in a film like Ip Man instantly makes him stand out. He’s still a relatively new actor and makes no real effort to conform to the style of the period. His face tattoo, for instance, remains a prominent part of his face. That means that every time he is on screen it is like the viewer is suddenly in a different movie. It can be jarring at times. But Tyson isn’t in there simply for show. Both he and Yen have an intense one-on-one battle that is so well done the audience will feel every blow.
Once Tyson is taken out of the film it becomes a very different movie. The film juggles some major subplots including a competitor (Ka-Yan Leung) from the wrong side of the tracks that might just be Ip man’s equal. This, as it turns out, ends up being far more interesting than the Tyson plot. The two have a history together and there is far more at stake than any threat Tyson may pose. Watching them fight, especially in their final battle, is like poetry in motion.
As expected whenever Donnie Yen is involved the fights are spectacular. Each confrontation escalates and changes the surroundings just enough to be totally fascinating. One of the best sequences of the film involves a henchman attacking Ip and his wife in a very small elevator. The Ip Man manages to protect her and defeat him at the same time. Their actions speak volumes more than any words could do.
Ip Man 3 will speak to both fans of the series and those coming into it for the first time. It is a standalone story that works just as well on its own but is even more rewarding if you’ve watched the previous films. It may not be playing everywhere but seek this one out.