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Ip Man 3 : Do You Get Your Bang for Your Buck?

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The film Ip Man 3 (2015), starring Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung,  and Max Zhang, and directed by Wilson Yip, was released in American theaters on January 22nd, 2016 with limited show times and screenings.  This movie was the third installment of the Ip Man series.  Donnie Yen is still at the top of his game in popularity and action.  While his hands have slowed a tad since Ip Man 1, his Wing Chun skills have improved over time as well as the onscreen choreography.

The film takes place in Hong Kong after Ip Man’s move from Foshan, China in part 2, and the story revolves around a local gang interested in owning a piece of real estate that shelters an elementary school – unfortunately, the children of Ip Man and Cheung Tin-chi  (both Wing Chun masters)  belong to this school.   Then a back and forth struggle for power ensues between gangs, the police force, and the local folk hero Ip Man to save the school.  To add, the head of this local gang is named Frank, played by former heavyweight boxing champion “Iron” Mike Tyson, of course eventually squares up against Ip Man.

Now that we have dispensed with the formalities, let’s dig into the meat and potatoes: is this a good Kung Fu movie?  Yes.  Is there solid action, passable plot sequences, and dramatic tension which leads to the plot-driven fights?  Yes.  Is the movie based on a true story and actual events?  No, but who cares?  If we have good martial arts, strong acting, and a workable story, then that is all a Kung Fu movie needs!  No one watches Jackie Chan’s Police Story 1 for the plot, and no one goes to Hooters for the wings!

The two best fight scenes of the movie are the scenes between Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and Frank (Mike Tyson), and Ip Man and Cheung Tin-chi (Max Zhang).  In his debut performance in an action film, Tyson displayed a knack for acting as well as a natural screen presence and ability to express his physical abilities through the camera.  Also, co-star and newcomer Max Zhang has been very productive during the past 3 years: he was the central villain in The Grandmaster (2013), SPL 2 (2015), and now Ip Man 3 (2015).    He also played the stunt double for Zhang Ziyi in the smash international hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).  Zhang is former member of Sichuan Wushu Team and a Chen style Tai Chi.  Zhang’s performance in Ip Man 3 is perhaps his best work yet – his portrayal of the antagonist was thoughtful, complex, and sympathetic.  Here’s a short clip of Zhang in The Grandmaster :

And Max Zhang fighting Tony Jaa and Wu Jing in SPL 2 :

The fight between Ip Man and Frank was a mid-plot showdown – Frank, the gang boss, had mentioned to his goons that he wanted to fight Ip Man because he keeps foiling his plots and he heard that Ip Man is a great fighter.  They finally met at the crime headquarters, and Frank challenged Ip Man to last 3 minutes (length of a boxing round) of mortal combat with him.  The fight scene and cinematography was fantastic – the pace, camera work, and Tyson’s presence were kinetic and explosive.  In addition, the scene was able to encapsulate Tyson’s real life ring persona and fighting style with the aggressive bob and weaving style and continuous short range hook punches.  The fight is every Kung Fu movie fan’s dream.

Next, the film reaches its second climax in which Cheung Tin-chi is eager to make a name for himself and earn a living for his family by defeating local Hong Kong martial arts teachers.  Cheung comes from a different branch of Wing Chun and claims to practice the “real” Wing Chun.  Meanwhile, Ip Man is busy caring for his sick wife until she coaxes him into accepting the challenge, and we get to see the two Wing Chun masters duke it out in Cheung’s school.   They fight using all of the major weapons of the system (6 and a half point pole and butterfly knives) and bare hand.  My favorite part of the action scene was how it highlighted the differences between their Wing Chun styles – Ip Man learned Wing Chun from different masters and has been credited for recreating a simple curriculum that is more readily accessible to students.  The real Ip Man style of Wing Chun focuses on a few key characteristics: a higher, narrow stance (Two Goat Clamping Stance), compact hand movements for infighting, and extra focus on attacking and defending the center line (the imaginary vertical axis of a fighter drawn down the middle of the body).  In the final fight, Ip Man embodied these unique stylistic points while Cheung Tin-chi assumed a longer stance and threw wider more arcing hand techniques.

 

In addition, the concept of a hero fighting an equal usually makes a great arch rival.  We have seen many David vs. Goliath end scenes in movies, but some of the best showdowns involve equals: Superman vs.  General Zod in Superman 2, the Hulk versus a similar hulk in The Incredible Hulk TV series (a classic from my childhood), or Spiderman vs. Venom in Spiderman 3.

Overall, I felt Ip Man 3 was a successful movie and deserves a solid A.  The fight scenes were a spectacle, the acting was strong, and the movie effectively portrays the great territorial and power struggles on the small island of between the police force, underground crime, and various martial arts masters.  Yes, the events in the movie were fictionalized, but as a Kung Fu movie it is a solid watch. Please continue reading below if you would like a more detailed analysis of the martial arts action and Ip Man’s real life timeline.

ANALYSIS:

My criticisms of the martial arts action revolving around Wing Chun Kung Fu are as follows:

  •  Wing Chun Kung Fu is made precisely for close infighting – ordinarily, a Wing Chun stylist would have to work hard to close the range.  This requires swift footwork that uses to get close – this was missing as the camera only is shown on their upper bodies the whole film.
  •  In the fight against Mike Tyson, Donnie Yen utilizes a set of elbow techniques from the Bil Jee (Thrusting Fingers) form of Wing Chun (their third and most advanced form).  While the techniques can be used offensively, it is very likely that their choreography ideas stemmed from  comes from the Youtube sensation and shameless, self-promoter Master Wong:

  • Lastly, much of the action in Ip Man 3 displays Ip Man fending off multiple assailants –attacking him one at a time – a common cliché in martial arts flicks.

REAL LIFE:  

Having done some general research about Ip Man’s life, I can say Ip man’s life events have been highly exaggerated or fabricated.  This includes:

  • Ip Man has only been credited with stopping a few local gang members from charging locals for using the communal tap for water – he took on 6-7 men armed with staffs and beat them profusely.
  • Ip Man was not in fact an unemployed aristocrat, martial arts playboy, but attended St. Stephen’s College in Hong Kong at age 15 and returned to Foshan, China at age 24 to become a police officer and further his Wing Chun training.
  • Ip Man left China in 1949 due to the Communist take over (not due to Japanese occupation), and he had left his family (wife and two grown sons).  He arrived in Hong Kong homeless and penniless. He remarried another woman in Hong Kong in 1954 (in the movie, he is married with the same woman in Foshan and Hong Kong).
  • Ip Man kept a rather low profile in Hong Kong and was only made famous and prosperous in 1967 by Bruce Lee’s starring in the Green Hornet television series.

Happy viewing and be free to send me your comments and opinions at:chingyinwriting@gmail.com .

 

Ching-Yin Lee is a former two-time US Wushu team member and coaches at GOSU Institute of Chinese Martial Arts. He had graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland and is set to earn a M.A. in Teaching from the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) in December 2015. He can also play Street Fighter II and Tekken very well. If you have a movie that you'd like him to review or have comments, then E-mail at: chingyinwriting@gmail.com .