Ip Man is like James Bond. Viewers could
debate for hours which actor best brought them to life. Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster represents the character’s
artistic high-water mark, sort of making it the Ip Man Skyfall, aptly featuring “Little” Tony Leung’s romantic brooding in
the Daniel Craig tradition. Anthony Wong was the oldest Master IP, so he must
be Roger Moore. Yet, for real fans, nobody fit more comfortably in the role
than Donnie Yen, the Connery-like original article. Reportedly, Yen was done
with the franchise after his second outing, but never say never. In one of the
most eagerly awaited films of the year (even though its only January) Yen once
again serves as the Wing Chun standard-bearer in Wilson Yip’s Ip Man 3 (trailer
here), which opens this Friday in New York.
Much like the old days in Fushan, Master
Ip is the universally respected dean of Hong Kong martial arts instructors. He
is a bit older now, but his skills remain undiminished. Yet, his traditional
garb and self-effacing modesty are at odds with the increasingly jaded tenor of
the times. Gangsters even want to grab the land currently occupied by the
school Master Ip’s youngest son attends.
Of course, Ip Man is not going to idly
watch as the principle and teachers are bullied by thugs. Initially, Master Ip
forges an alliance with Cheung Tin-chi, who is also a highly skilled Wing Chun
practitioner. However, the covetous Cheung will become a rival for the title of
“Grandmaster.” It is all very inconvenient for Master Ip, especially when his
beloved wife Cheung Wing-sing’s health starts to fail.
Donnie Yen is one of the most charismatic
movie stars in the world today, but from time to time, he will bail on
everything but the action scenes when a film doesn’t come together as he might
have hoped. However, Ip Man has always brought out the very best in him and the
third time is no exception. In fact, it really is something of a charm.
In some ways, Ip Man 3 is closer to the gritty street level action of the early
HK films starring the Master’s most famous disciple, Bruce Lee. Over the course
of the film, Master Ip will face off against hundreds of tire iron and lug-wrench
wielding ruffians. As fans would hope and expect, Yun Woo-ping’s action choreography
is wildly cinematic. Donnie Yen is also still the man when it comes to martial
arts beatdowns. Yet, rather strangely, the big showdown everyone is looking
forward to comes relatively early, around the end of the second act.
Ultimately, it does not matter, because
Yen and Lynn Xiong (Hung) are so darned good together as Master and the ever
patient Cheung. Xiong easily gets her most dramatic scenes of the Yip-directed trilogy
and she makes the most of it with her scrupulously restrained but achingly dignified
performance. Iron Mike Tyson also shows some respectable villain chops as
Frank, a mobbed-up land developer with a ridiculous facial tattoo. Right, as if
anyone could walk around with something like that on their mug.
Like all franchises that really click, we
feel like we have been through a lot with Yen’s Master Ip and his family. As a
result, Ip Man 3 might just choke
fans up, but in a deeply satisfying way. The action duly delivers, but is its
grace that really surprises. Very highly recommended, Ip Man 3 opens this Friday (1/21) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Donnie Yen, Ip Man, Lynn Xiong, Martial arts cinema, Sequels