For years fans of Chinese matial arts star Donnie Yen have been waiting for him to finally break through in America. He's finally on the verge of doing that as part of Disney's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but first he's taking one final bow in his most famous role, that of Wing Chun master Yip Man in Ip Man 3. For this latest collaboration with director Wilson Yip, Yen sends the franchise out on a high note by taking the legendary fighter through his most personal challenge.
In prior films Ip Man has battled Japanese and British occupying forces, but this one finds him in a war on the ground against American corruption, personified by boxing champ Mike Tyson. Tyson, looking built and menacing in a way he hasn't in years, plays the head of a local gang trying to take over a local school. Of course, Ip Man, defender of justice that he is, won't let this stand and defends the school day and night from thuggish invaders. But his fight for good comes at a personal cost as his wife Wing Sing (Lynn Xiong) grows ill and he's not around to take care of her, which puts a strain on their marriage. Meanwhile, he's also facing a new challenge from an ambitious wing chung master (Max Zhang) who thinks he better represents the style, which as most know was favored by Bruce Lee, one of Ip Man's real-life students. Man's connection to Lee is seen in a humorous intro in which the brash pupil (played by Danny Chan Kwok-kwan) is put through a near-impossible test to prove his worthiness.
These films have always been a balance between Ip Man's genuine exploits and fictional martial arts action, but this being the last chapter of the story it makes sense to lean on his personal life. Screenwriter Edmond Wong manages to give this story, smaller in scope than previous installments, greater resonance by showing how Man resolves problems that he can't simply punch away. That said, the fights have greater stakes thanks to the great action coordinator Yuen Woo Ping, who previously worked on The Matrix, The Grandmaster, Man of Tai Chi, and many more. Yen's clash against Tyson shows a perfect confluence of the actor's speed and grace with Woo Ping's energetic camera. What's interestin is the divergence of styles; the raw, brawling power of Tyson and the beautiful elegance of Yen's kung fu. If only that fight could have gone on longer, and if only Tyson's character had been better developed.
Yen has made it known that he may done with these kinds of action flicks as he's getting up there in age. It's the same kind of comment Jackie Chan has made, and we've seen him veer towards less physical roles ever since. If that's truly the case then Yen can at least say Ip Man 3 went out fighting like a true master.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5