There are two elements of a martial arts movie necessary for it to be entertaining: strong fight scenes and an engaging star. “Ip Man 3” has both plus an additional pleasant surprise.
The latest film in the action series has Ip Man (Donnie Yen) pulled into a battle between a local school and a crooked property developer (Mike Tyson). It’s a very traditional story of greed versus good.
Donnie Yen has already shown in two previous films in the series based on the true story of the Wing Chun Kung Fu master who mentored Bruce Lee that the quiet power he brings to the role makes him engaging. Unlike Jackie Chan, who uses comedy and some martial arts gimmickry to make his films so popular, Yen is a very peaceful presence on screen.
Director Wilson Yip takes advantage of the power Yen can show in such a peaceful manner to give the movie a quiet base. But he never lets that stillness sit too long, as the movie is filled with incredibly choreographed fight sequences.
Whether it is a battle between two martial arts masters or a street battle against an army of thugs, “Ip Man 3” is never wanting for action. The sequences are almost like a fist-flying ballet as Yen glides through each encounter.
The most interesting showdown comes when Ip Man comes face-to-tattooed face with the central villain played by Tyson. The pair square off in fighting styles that could not be any more different.
Tyson attacks the fight with the same unbridled bullish power that made him a champion in the boxing ring. There is no style or grace to his fighting approach. It is just pure physical power.
This is a contrast to Yen’s style, which is based on skill, finesse and the power of a single blow. This clash of very different titans is fun to watch, but writers Lai-yin Leung, Chan Tai-Li and Edmond Wong go for a safe resolution rather than playing this fight out to a proper ending.
The writing is the weakness of this movie. The story line about efforts to save the school from the crooked developer is dropped early in the film. This does open up the movie for a second story plus one of the most emotional sequences in the film series. It’s just a little jarring to see such a key plot point eliminated in such a matter-of-fact way.
Dropping the story line does open up the film to the surprisingly sweet element of Ip Man and his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung). Romance elements are not always a big part of such films, but the decision to look at the relationship between the pair gives this movie a sweet quality, even if it comes across as more of an addition to the story rather than part of the natural flow.
The blip in the writing doesn’t disrupt the overall strength of “Ip Man 3.” It has enough masterfully staged fight scenes, a strong-enough leading character and the added bonus of a sweet love story to make this third chapter both as strong with its punches as its emotional blows.