So once again we have survived.

Ip Man 3

tn_ipman3I’ve watched and enjoyed all the movies made about Ip Man so far, but IP MAN 3 is the first one I’ve seen on the big screen. A really big screen at a multiplex with only four other people in the audience. I feel like I should send AMC a thank you card.

After three years Donnie Yen returns to what has become one of his greatest roles, the real life Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, most famous here as a guy who taught Bruce Lee. Director Wilson Yip (SPL/KILL ZONE) and writer Edmond Wong (DRAGON TIGER GATE) also return, but the great fight choreographer Sammo Hung has been replaced by the also great Yuen Woo Ping. The weird thing about that is that Yuen did Wong Kar Wai’s rival Ip Man movie THE GRANDMASTER.

Part 2 took place in the early ’50s, with Ip Man and his family moving to Hong Kong, where he set up a Wing Chun school. Now it’s ’59 and he’s still living humbly in a small apartment with his wife (still played by Lynn Hung) and youngest son. We don’t really see him teaching anymore but apparently he is because he still has all his fiercely loyal disciples, and he’s getting into trouble with the wife and the kid’s school (math and reading type school, not fighting) for always working too late.

Once again this story involves a public challenge by another martial arts teacher trying to prove superiority over the local legend. This time it’s not a different style against Wing Chun, it’s a guy saying that he has pure Wing Chun and Ip Man is peddling some bullshit watered down autotune Wing Chun. This guy shouldn’t be fuckin with Ip Man, but he’s a sympathetic enough character that I didn’t initially realize he was gonna be the antagonist.

For a while he’s not. Ip Man meets Sum Nung (Jin Zhang, also in THE GRANDMASTER as a different character) after their sons get in a fight at school, bragging about their Wing Chun. The boys become friends and parallels are drawn between their fathers. Both show up late to meet with the principal. Ip Man defends Tin-chi, saying that work is always more important. (When he says it it sounds like it’s supposed to be common sense, but he’ll change his tune on that.) They both taught their sons to fight, both descend from the same school of Wing Chun, both end up fighting to protect the school from the gangsters who want the land it’s built on. But Nung’s ego causes them to have a challenge fight just like their “kids being naughty” did at school. It’s subtle about it but basically it’s comparing the thing that all of these movies are about to little boys being dipshits on the playground.

mp_ipman3It’s still refreshing to see a character who’s a total badass but with no ego or aggression, completely accommodating in all personal interactions. Ip Man will always swallow his pride and apologize even though he rarely is at fault. This is not just with people who want to fight him, but also with his wife when she’s angry and slaps him.

“It was my fault. I was wrong,” he says immediately. “It was my fault. I’m sorry.” Not in a pathetic way, more like he’s willing to take the hit to defuse the conflict.

When the challenge happens and all the students and the press and local masters and everybody are freaking out over Ip Man defending his legacy, he finds out his wife is sick and doesn’t even bother to go or tell anyone that he’d rather be dancing. This is pretty standard Hong Kong melodrama in that the wife is only seen being disappointed about Ip Man working too much, then feeling her stomach hurt, then finding out she has cancer. And rather than depicting the ravages of the disease we mostly see her looking pretty and sad. Still, their relationship has been built up enough over the three movies that it is very sad and the obvious moral about having time for your family is pretty effective.

He’s got to be the calmest of the iconic martial arts characters. Yen (who doesn’t look aged that much since the other movies even though he’s now supposed to be about 66 years old) is really impressive in these movies because he’s not only doing great fight scenes in a specific style that he had to learn, but because he’s giving a really good character performance that’s different from his other movies. Watch his face during the fights. That’s not Donnie Yen’s face, it’s his version of Ip Man’s face. It’s great.

Before it turns into a challenge movie it’s another tried and true action movie formula: standing up against the gangsters who are threatening people to get their property. As the neighborhood’s greatest hero it’s up to Ip Man to intervene when thugs are threatening the principal, when they board up the school and when they set it on fire. Sometimes backed up by his disciples, sometimes by Tin-chi or his mentor Master Tin (Ka-Yan Leung, TRUE LEGEND, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS), sometimes alone, he keeps having to face down big crowds of gangsters. He uses poles and blades in this but also just armlocks.

One of the best fights is a more intimate one. He’s on an elevator with his wife and gets attacked by a beefy Thai boxer (Sarut Khanwilai, Tony Jaa’s stunt double from SKIN TRADE). So it’s a close-quarters fight with these thunderous elbows and hammering fists hitting the sides of the elevator and coming close to hitting his wife. Ip Man gets him off of the elevator and closes his wife inside. Then when he’s done he opens the door again and gets her. She doesn’t have to watch.

In that fight there’s a pretty long take that’s a really cool overhead shot of them fighting down a couple sets of stairs. I noticed there’s some good use of stairs and banisters in these fights, making me think of an iconic Yuen Woo Ping creation, Beatrix running down the banister in the House of Blue Leaves.

In Hong Kong this was released in 3D, which must’ve been pretty cool because there are many gimmick shots in it. There’s a scene involving the slow motion kicking of cigarettes toward the camera. When there’s a pole fight, both combatants are sure to point theirs in the direction of the camera. There’s an important moment involving a finger chop to the eyes, and that’s shot with the fingers flying toward our eyes.

There was some hype about this being the one that finally deals with Ip Man teaching Bruce Lee. Last time we saw him as a cocky little kid who showed up wanting to learn Wing Chun, but Ip Man (historically inaccurately) told him he was too young. In this one he comes asking again, played by Kwok-Kwan Chan, the Bruce Lee lookalike goalie from SHAOLIN SOCCER and star of the TV series The Legend of Bruce Lee. But they don’t turn him into a co-star in the Legend of Ip Man, he’s just in a couple scenes with references to his “be like water” quote, his cha-cha dancing and the way he would wipe the side of his nose with his knuckle.

mp_ipman3bThe more significant co-star is Mike Tyson as the gang boss. His part as the “foreign devil” Frank doesn’t require much acting, and his interspersed Cantonese phrases are dubbed (I think by an imitator, but possibly by himself after more practice). But his fight with Ip Man is the highlight of the movie. Because of the size difference, his build and his history of crushing people with his fists, I was actually a little worried for Ip Man. He’s like a sharp kitchen knife fighting against a sledge hammer.

Frank is a bad person but (and this is one reason why I love martial arts movies) he has a sense of honor and respect for fighting skill, so this is more of a contest than a duel. They’re in his office, he sets an alarm clock and tells Ip Man if he can survive three minutes with him he’ll leave him alone. Of course he does last three minutes, so Frank goes over and turns off the alarm and that’s that. He doesn’t even have to say anything.

There’s a poetic moment during the fight when Frank is swinging at Ip Man and punching out a row of windows. It cuts to his little daughter in a room below as shards of glass shower down. She’s just sitting there holding a balloon, totally innocent, not understanding the violence going on above, or even the danger of the glass. And then with a quiet little “snk” one of the shards cuts the string of her balloon and it floats gently up to the rafters.

After the fight Frankie talks to her lovingly about getting a new balloon, and that’s the last time we see him.

I think there’s kind of a Peckinpah thing going on here with these shots of children witnessing fights. In the climactic duel it cuts to both fighters’ sons watching from the stairs above. When the fathers’ knives scrape together, one of the boys squeals. It’s not a cry of fear, just boyish annoyance with the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard type sound. They can’t really comprehend what’s going on here.

I think I like this third best of the official Ip Man trilogy (and I like THE GRANDMASTER better than those), and if it ends up being the last one that’ll be weird, because it seems more like an installment than a conclusion. But it’s still a movie I really enjoyed. You can take my word for it and stop reading now but if not I’m gonna SPOIL a nice moment from the ending to give an example of why I love these movies. Nung, who has a James Dean type of cool and came from humble beginnings as a rickshaw driver, makes a bad choice to commit a crime to get money to start his school, and then suddenly turns into an egomaniac, a change as abrupt as Anakin Skywalker or Tommy “The Machine” Gunn. He wants to be the best so bad that even before receiving his public match against Ip Man he commissions a big fancy sign declaring himself “GRANDMASTER OF WING CHUN.”

Eventually they get their match, and of course the old man wins. Cut to a shot of the Grandmaster sign being broken in half. It’s thrilling partly because it reminds you of an iconic screen moment for his famous student, the sign breaking in FIST OF FURY. But then the camera pulls back to reveal that it’s not Ip Man smashing the sign. Of course not. He doesn’t care about that stuff. It’s Tin-chi himself, acknowledging defeat. Sportsmanship. Honor. I love that shit.

The Ip Man saga:

IP MAN (2008)
IP MAN 2 (2010)
THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN (2010) starring Dennis To as young Ip Man
THE GRANDMASTER (2013) starring Tony Leung as Ip Man
IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013) starring Anthony Wong as older Ip Man

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 9:21 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Ip Man 3”

  1. Vern, just to be clear, you like THE GRANDMASTER more than the IP MAN trilogy? Wow. I might have to re-visit GRANDMASTER. It felt jarring to me just because of the unfamiliar actors in familiar roles. A superficial reason, I know, but I couldn’t finish the movie because of that.

  2. The IP MAN series suffers from a lot of kung fu movie conventions that are incredibly stale at this point in time, whereas THE GRANDMASTER is a poetic film that never really dwell within those pits. Wong Kar-wais film certainly feels more fresh at least from my point of view

  3. I love them both and I can understand preferring IP MAN. But yes, THE GRANDMASTER is such a beautiful art movie take on the subject, while also having great fight scenes and moments of badassness, that it both transcends and achieves within the genre. (Also I’m going by the longer international cut which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be easy to get anymore.)

  4. I like the IP-MEN. But I feel that they have the same kind of sensibilities that FIST OF FURY had. And that movie was made 40 years ago.

    China seem in recent years to have been more adament on producing and distributing their own myths and heroes. more intentionally. It feels like a conscious decision because a lot of people outside of Asia understands the genre after being exposed to it for so long so they think they can get away with it. How else would you describe the ridiculous increase in Ip Man properties? Chinas own modern mythology gets spread. You can certainly question how well they are doing, but the agenda is there. I doubt if it will work as well as the American Western is so deeply delved into our cultural consciousness, whereas chinese kung fu is merely seen as a curiosity.

    I don´t really have any substantial proof to all of this. I wrote an academic paper on the production and reception on THE MAN OF TAI CHI and some things I read in my research made me think more in lines of the following paragraph.

  5. I’m too are leaning towards GRANDMASTER. I’m a big fan of Donnie Yen, but an even bigger one of Tony Leung. He is, as far as I know, not trained in martial arts. Still he did one of my favourite movies, HERO, convincingly.

  6. I watched the chopped up version of The Grandmaster, and it was such a frustrating experience. In fact, it was so nonsensical that they were forced to put up text explaining the plot to the audience as we moved from one time period to the next. If you need to add text to a film because you have so brutally edited it down, then you have failed. I need to get a hold of the original cut.

  7. Vern – Its a shame that you didn’t get to see the 3D version of the movie, as there were certain parts of the film that it did add to the action. I assumed it would have been released in 3D where you are, as it was released in Scotland in 3D, and ususually we are lucky if a film like Ip Man 3 even gets a cinema release, let alone a 3D cinema release.

    RBatty024 – The original cut of the Grandmaster also had the text explaining certain parts of the film. The Grandmaster was one of my favourite films the year it was released, but even the full version feels incomplete, with Chang Chen’s character seeming as if he is forgotten about.

    In regards to which version of the Ip Man story I prefer, it probably would be the Grandmaster, although I think the Donnie Film’s are more enjoyable as straight up action films. I would also recommend Ip Man: The Final Fight with Anthony Wong which is also quite different but still great in it’s own way.

  8. Good to know, Daron. Sometimes Wong Kar Wai’s movies can feel incomplete, but the missing 22 minutes really makes the movie impossible to follow.

  9. I saw The Grandmaster in the theater, and I’m not sure what cut it was, but it was a fucking mess. YET, there were also many just wonderful moments that I ended up really liking it despite the narrative being — uh — fractured, to say the least.

  10. Jojo – It would have probably been the international cut, with the 22 minutes missing. I don’t think the full version was released in the cinema anywhere but China. I’m not sure of the differences as I Have only seen the longer version, but I can imagine it would take quite a bit away from the finished film.

  11. I also liked THE GRANDMASTER it definitely had a lot issues but it was engrossing enough to make up for them. I’m a Donny Yen fan but I’ve never seen these movies.

    My only take away is that thanks to them now more people on the net and in real life know who he is and they were notorious enough to inspire Disney to contact his agent.

    I guess I could start with this one since it is playing at a local AMC and it’s been a minute since I’ve seen any Asiam marti arts showcase on the silver screen.

  12. One of the successful themes of these films is the notion that a martial artist isn’t full of themselves but humble and non-aggressive. There’s so many martial arts films portraying a super confident but slightly maladjusted egotist, that the Ip Man films are a breath of fresh air in comparison.

  13. Holy shit! Is Donnie gonna play Wei Chen?!

    Donnie Yen To Headline ‘Sleeping Dogs’ For Neal Moritz’s Original Film

    EXCLUSIVE: Who best to start a new IP for Neal Moritz’s Original Film (Fast and Furious) than the IP Man himself? Martial artist Donnie Yen is set to star in a new feature from Moritz entitle…

  14. Ip Man3 sucked in so many ways but the biggest was the introduction of wires! They probably used wires in the earlier movies as well but the fights then still looked normal and “grounded” (so to say). But in this movie Ip Man has learned to fly. He no longer jumps down railings, he glides down. He no longer absorbs punches like a normal human beings, rather he flies through trajectories parallel to ground and through obstacles.

    The Mike Tyson thing was just a publicity stunt, that fight was just a generic boxing vs kungfu fight.

    The Ip Man’s impure Wing Chun vs Nung’s pure Wing Chun fight was also generic. The whole point of the fight was that Nung’s Wing Chun uses different strategies/moves than Ip Man’s but there seemed no clear distinction, it was just another kung fu fight. And then, after a pretty even match, Ip Man suddenly won! How? He got pissed that the other guy poked at his eye and decided to use his super secret punch? Or does Ip Man get super strong when he’s squinting? Or that the eye poking signaled that its no longer sparring and Ip Man started hitting harder, but then Nung was in non-sparring mode anyway and was pretty evenly matched so far, so what changed? It was confusing at best. I’d have loved if they had somehow showcased Nung’s pure Wing Chun’s moves during his other fights and then pitted those moves against Ip Man’s impure Wing Chung’s moves to show how Ip Man’s style still worked.

    Nung’s transformation could’ve been paced better but it still made sense. Nung is not much different from Ip Man – a great martial artist, yet humble, trying to open his own school but doesn’t have money (a problem Ip Man didn’t have), trying to provide a better future for his family by doing manual labor, trying to do the right thing when he can etc. The poor guy went out of the way to help free the kids (especially, when his own child was already out and he had zero reason to risk his life and limb by joining that fight) and got arrested for his troubles. To add insult to injury, Ip Man made the front page for pretty much just saving his own kid! And all the while seeing Ip Man’s popularity and privileges while knowing that Ip Man’s Wing Chun is not as “pure” as his own (a distinction that no other masters around there know or appreciate). Its a very effed up situation for him. Nung is more human while Ip Man is like a robot. Or, alternatively, Ip Man is the ideal human being who can never ever stray from the right path while Nung is a normal human like the rest of us. Or that Ip Man is superman while Nung is batman. Take your pick. Still, the fight sucked.

    One of the best scenes in the movie, for me, was how Ip Man quietly passes the bag to his wife in the elevator scene when he senses that the new guy in the elevator is up to no good. Both he and his wife are looking at the other guy but she still somehow knows that he wants to give her the bag and she accepts it. She never looks down and he never looks at her. So awesome! The movie sucked anyway. And I miss the Vern’s old edgy reviews where he used to “say like how it is” and websites were websights, these days they’re all a little too politically correct.

  15. @Achilles, I liked this the least of the IP MAN trilogy because it was the most sappy by far, and because the conflict with the gangs was just . . . stupid. I mean the bad guys threaten to KIDNAP and then MURDER children at one point. They deserve to die for this, but nonono, you can’t have swift justice in sappy Chinese cinema.

    Sanjuro would’ve cut the arms, legs, and heads off these thugs in less than thirty seconds, and he wouldn’t have batted an eye. And the audience would’ve loved it.

    ANYWAY, I disagree with you about the last fight, though. I mean, yeah, being able to tell the difference in style would’ve helped, but I thought IP MAN clearly won: he disarms Nung’s butterfly swords then tosses his own away, and then when they get to the fists, IP MAN is the clear point-scorer, landing the good shots and slowly conquering Nung. Nung gets the one good eye jab in . . . but that’s it, and then IP MAN delivers the gut bending punch.

  16. What did you think of the Mike Tyson fight, Christof?

  17. @Felix, I thought it was fine.

    But if I had the magic power to make it better I’d maybe have Ip Man get in a really good shot or takedown – something that would just level a normal man – only to have Mike basically shrug it off. Or maybe – in order to make it to the three minute mark – Ip Man realizes he needs to go on the offensive and just bombards Mike with combos. None of this knocks Mike out, but it forces him to defend and eats up the clock.

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