Any movie that features Hong Kong martial arts/action star Donnie Yen going up against Mike Tyson with fight choreography designed by Yuen Woo-Ping (“The Matrix,” “Kill Bill”) at least has a sense of humor about itself. But “Ip Man 3” — the latest in a long line of films about the legendary Ip Man, the real-life master who trained Bruce Lee in the mighty art of the wing chun style of kung fu—is more than this burst of stunt casting and pop-culture cool suggests.
A satisfyingly electric action movie that is also surprisingly touching and personal, “Ip Man 3” confounds the usual downward spiral of sequels. It’s more visceral and fun than its two predecessors and other riffs on the man’s life such as “Ip Man: The Final Fight” or Wong Kar-Wai’s beautiful but chilly “The Grandmaster.”
“IP MAN 3”
“Ip Man” and “Ip Man 2” portrayed the character as a freedom fighter in China against the invading Japanese in the ’30s and in Hong Kong against British colonialism in the ’40s, respectively. In “Ip Man 3,” it’s 1959 and an older Ip Man (Yen, reprising his role) seems to have put all that behind him. He’s settled into an easy, quiet life in Hong Kong with his wife (Lynn Hung) and young son (Wang Yan Shi).
But, as in “The Godfather” — where just when you thought you were out, they drag you back in — trouble comes looking for him. Frank (Tyson), an American crime lord in Hong Kong, wants the property where Ip Man’s son attends school. He and his toughs rough up the principal and torch the place.
Meanwhile, Cheung Tin-chi (Jin Zhang), the father of another student, is a down-on-his-luck would-be wing chun master who makes a living as a rickshaw driver and underground, back-alley kung fu brawler. With ambitions of being as widely admired (and feared) as Ip Man, he’s tempted to the dark side when one of Frank’s minions hires him as muscle. So, once again, Ip Man has to fight for what’s right.
Just as all this is happening, Ip Man has to deal with his wife being diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s this side of the film that gives it an emotional resonance that’s not usually found in martial arts movies.
Besides the strikingly staged and well-choreographed fight scenes, “Ip Man 3” is also an enjoyably cartoonish Hong Kong time capsule where Frank and the English police are routinely called “foreign devils,” the English still say “cheerio,” cha-cha classes are the in thing, and the thugs look like extras from “American Graffiti.”
The one drawback — or plus, depending on your tolerance for unintentional humor — is the cardboard acting. As usual, the unflappable Yen shows off his calm, zen style of fighting but no one’s going to be showering Tyson with Oscars any time soon. Still, this isn’t enough to knock down “Ip Man 3.”