The mythology of the Ip Man series has been paramount to Wilson Yip, but things are pushed in an exceptionally melodramatic direction with the third entry. 2015’s Ip Man 3 is decidedly sentimental and carries all the inflated wallop of a soap opera, complete with children in peril and enough domestic drama to fill a warehouse.
Wilson Yip is again in the director’s chair, while the screenplay by Edmond Wong, Chan Tai-lee and Jil Leung is steeped in tragedy and drama. Happily, Ip Man 3 is good-hearted enough to overcome the type of schmaltz that would fell a lesser picture.
Donnie Yen’s titular character lives in Hong Kong. He’s looking after his younger son Ip Ching (Wang Yan Shi), who is attending school. Ip Chun gets in a fight with fellow student Cheung Fong (Can Cui) and this draws the latter’s father Cheung Tin-chi (Zhang Jin) around. He’s a rickshaw driver who fights for whatever cash he can gather.
As usual, the gangs are a problem and they set their sights on Ip Chun’s school. It turns out that Frank (Mike Tyson) wants to acquire the land, so this leads to a series of confrontations. When that matter seems settled, Cheung Tin-chi challenges Ip Man for the leadership of Wing Chun. Meanwhile, Ip Man’s wife Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) is diagnosed with cancer.
There is an awful lot of plot in Ip Man 3 and Yip once again works in episodic fashion. He solves one problem at a time and the film feels more like a series of parts rather than a cohesive whole. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does give this effort an adrift quality.
Luckily, the characters and situations are entertaining. Yen showcases impressive range as he serves first as the defender of the schoolchildren and then as the distressed husband. Ip Man 3 illustrates what’s only been hinted at in past endeavours, setting the fact that Ip Man hasn’t been the best of husbands or fathers. His realization of this fact carries emotional weight.
While Ip Man 2 wages war with a preposterous enemy, Ip Man 3 carries it one step further by having the hero tangle with Ma King-sang (Patrick Tam). The brutish Triad harasses the school and even kidnaps the whole class, storing the screaming kids in a cage while thrusting pieces of apple at Ip Ching. The wickedness is so over-the-top that it nearly works as parody.
In a bout of irony, Tyson is rather restrained. His appearance is limited and his fight scene with Yen is a taut and tense display that makes great use of his style and power. He strikes as a formidable foe and there are hints of his humanity.
That basic humanity is a theme throughout Ip Man 3, particularly when it comes to the spoils of violence through the eyes of children. Kids are impacted by the cruelty of adults, like when Frank’s daughter’s red balloon floats away thanks to some broken glass or when the kids cover their ears over the vehement shrieking of the blades.
Despite its melodramatic shortcomings, Ip Man 3 meets the bar set by its predecessors. It offers satisfying martial arts, with Yuen Woo-ping’s choreography producing some dazzling stuff. And Mike Tyson isn’t so bad. Plus, there’s a delicate nod to the great future cha-cha champion of Hong Kong: the one and only Bruce Lee (Danny Chan).