As I sat through the screening of Ip Man 3, an insane amount of things were swirling through my head. One may say this fact doesn’t speak well of this film but in a weird way, I feel it added to the experience. Ip Man 3 is the final part of Hong Kong trilogy about the legendary martial arts master, Ip Man, who specialised in the Wing Chun style of Kung Fu and mentored a young man known as Bruce Lee in his lifetime.
Over the last eight years I reckon there have been four different incarnations of Ip Man in six different films that offered different things to audiences. The best of these films is probably Wong Kar-Wai’s stylistic The Grandmaster which is extremely assured with its more contemplative and forlorn tone. We’ve also seen Ip Man: The Final Fight starring Anthony Wong which presents the most fleshed version of the character. 2010’s The Legend Is Born – Ip Man creeps by and of course we have this Ip Man trilogy being driven by Donnie Yen and here it’s pretty much hard boiled action albeit spiced with admittedly endearing moments of sentiment.
The Ip Man trilogy has featured terrifically constructed (and contrived) fight scenes overseen by director Wilson Yip and fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. I watched Ip Man 3 and wondered why I didn’t seek out more East-Asian action films which used to be the first stop for top notch fight sequences. As kid I remember we used to rank the alpha Martial Arts stars and I always had Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and then Jet Li. Some folks used to put Li on top and that used to vex my innards. Yen justifies his position on my ranking as he features in the well-filmed bone crunching battles that I seldom see these days.
Yen continues to display tremendous skill and athleticism that translated to the numerous kinetic fight sequences on show here as he battles local land grabbing crime elements that that range from native thugs to corrupt colonial officials to Mike Tyson with a face tattoo. To be fair to this film, the series has been quite liberal with its storytelling and when we see the black crime boss with a face tattoo in 1950’s Hong Kong early in the film, we are being advised to suspend disbelief. Tyson doesn’t spend a lot of time onscreen but watch out for the brilliantly handled clash of styles when he faces up with Ip.
Tied to Tyson’s character is a rickshaw cart driver, Cheng Tin-Chi (Zhang Jin), who fights for money underground prize fighting rings to take care of his son. Cheng, like Ip, is skilled in the art of Wing Chun and plans on opening a competing school but his ambitions conspire to push him into morally constrained territory although his character does want for some earnestness and empathy. The film unravel to reveal an attempt at a complex relationship between Chen and Ip along with some more kinetic set pieces that are foreshadowed in an a scuffle between their young sons at school early in the film.
Outside the great action on show, my assessment of this film was severely affected by the fact the version of this film screened in my local cinema was a dubbed in English. This meant the moments of sustained dialogue began to feel like cut scenes from a video game. There is an interesting western motif the structure of this film but the dubbed voices almost reduced to this film to a piece of bad Manga. It was difficult to tune in to emotion and there are times when this film is relying on character exchanges to hit home but the dubbing just killed the vibe leaving me imaging terrific non-English films that would have also been ruined by dubbing.
Despite the challenges brought on by the dubbing along with the ponderous nature of the first half of this film, Ip Man 3 starts to take shape late on and the pensive melodramatic aura filers past the dialogue problems. By the end of the film we get a sense of the humanist spirit that resides in Kung Fu. There’s a lot of conflict here but resolution is found in consensus, not triumph – a great part of this film. The action alone is worth the price of admission but I bet I would have liked Ip Man 3 more if it weren’t dubbed in damn English.