The Ip Man trilogy chronicles the life of the martial arts grandmaster who pioneered the Wing Chun style of fighting and served as a mentor for Bruce Lee. Donnie Yen (who I think is the best actor of all the martial arts superstars to go Hollywood) has been fantastic in the series, and those who don’t know him now certainly will after Star Wars: Rogue One. The first film is a legitimately fantastic film. The second film doesn’t carry the dramatic weight that the first does, but still manages to be a very cool action film. That brings us to Ip Man 3…and somehow Mike Tyson.
The end of the second film in the series promises that we’re going to see Ip Man’s training of Bruce Lee. However, due to a complicated series of legal issues that I don’t honestly have the energy to research (oh like you do), the Lee estate’s biopic rights are tied up in red tape. Lee is kind of in the film…if you know which character he is (because they can’t use his name), but the film in no way focuses on him. That’s really, really unfortunate, because it was the next logical step in this biographical series. Without that to hang the movie on, the film’s plot is wildly disjointed. Ip Man 3 almost feels like two different movies smashed together.
The first hour of the film (which takes place in 1959 Hong Kong) focuses around Ip Man defending a school against a gang trying to take its land. The gang is lead by Mike Tyson (yes, THAT Mike Tyson) and predictably culminates in a fight between Yen and Tyson that, while cool, means nothing. Tyson, by the way, requires subtitles even when he’s the only character speaking English. The second half of the film transitions to Ip Man losing his Grandmaster status as he focuses on his wife’s terminal illness. The two halves are thinly connected and though the fights are great, everything in-between them serves to just set up another fight. The previous entries seamlessly wove Yen’s martial arts prowess into powerful narratives. Ip Man 3 seems like a placeholder film while the rights to the Lee story are hopefully settled.
Ip Man 3 has great fight scenes, no argument. In fact, the final fight between Donnie Yen and Jin Zhang is so good that it tipped my score up a point. If all you care about are the fights, Ip Man still brings it. However, this series was so much more than that and to see the massive drop in storytelling quality is disappointing. Hopefully, if there is an Ip Man 4, we’ll get the story we were promised at the end of the second film.