Donnie Yen once again returns to his iconic role as Wing Chun grandmaster (and Bruce Lee trainer) Yip Man. It’s 1959 Hong Kong, and Yip Man is struggling to balance his work and home life. The matter isn’t helped when his son’s school becomes the target of ruthless American property baron, Frank (Mike Tyson).
When, the headmaster refuses to leave, Frank and his goons turn to violence and Yip Man is forced to intervene. Meanwhile, a jealous Cheung Tin-chi, the father of one of Yip Man’s son’s schoolmates, sets his sights on Yip Man’s legendary title.
This multi-stranded plotting, while simple enough, has more depth of character than one might expect from the third film in a martial arts series. Yen’s hero is challenged – not only physically, but emotionally – and, as a result, the threat hits disarmingly close to home.
That’s not to say the fight scenes are in any way sidelined. Yen dances his way around huge makeshift arenas, taking on dozens of men at a time. This peaks in a second act fight scene across the wooden beams of a sprawling dockyard. The thoughtful production design present during that sequence extends to even the smallest details, a trait that results in a wonderfully realised rock and roll sense of time and place across the whole film.
Truth be told, the Yen vs. Tyson showdown pushed (understandably) by the marketing department is the least thrilling element of the film. Tyson only appears in the film fleetingly and their passingly entertaining mano a mano remains just that, and it feels unearned when compared with the sincerity on display elsewhere.
Ip Man 3 achieves a wonderful balance of spectacle and soul. The punches fly in brilliantly choreographed set pieces, but the driving force is always Yip Man’s love for his family and his community. A film as nimble as its titular hero.
Screener and image courtesy of Fetch Publicity. Thank you!