Review for Ip Man 3
I didn’t even know that they had made a third Ip Man film until I saw the title listed on a PR website. Even still, I wouldn’t have expected a UK release, at least not this timely. The first two Ip Man films starring Donnie Yen were released by Cine Asia, and Cine Asia went the same way as Hong Kong Legends before them, over-extending themselves out of business. Trinity Films picked up several Cine Asia licenses including Ip Man and Ip Man 2, and continue to release them, but they look to curate the back catalogue, rather than actively seek out new martial arts movies to license. Ip Man 3 actually comes through Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment, a relatively new label on the block, but with some choice titles. It looks as if Kaleidoscope have also either picked up the first two films, or worked out an arrangement with Trinity, as on the same day that Ip Man 3 is released, a trilogy collection, and steelbook collection is out too. It’s a good thing too, as Ip Man 3 is apparently Donnie Yen’s last time playing the venerable Wing Chun master, as he’s moved on to a galaxy far, far away with the forthcoming Rogue One movie.
Ip Man 2 saw Ip Man and his family relocating to Hong Kong following the end of the Second World War, and his difficulty in establishing a school of martial arts in the impoverished post-war era. In Ip Man 3 we move forward to 1959, with Ip Man revered as a Wing Chun master, his school flourishing, and with him even able to turn away promising young students such as Siu Long. Hong Kong is flourishing, prosperous and industrious, and with all that money comes crime. One particular gangster on the island, Frank has his fingers in many pots, including the underground fight scene, and property development. One regular fighter is Cheung Tin-chi, who wants the money to open his own school of Wing Chun. But Frank also has his eye on the local school, where both Cheung, and Ip Man’s sons study, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get the school principal to sign on the dotted line. Ip Man and his students know that the right thing to do is to protect the school, even when the local police are toothless and in some cases, in Frank’s pocket. But his civic duty is blinding Ip Man to more personal concerns. Cheung however has to walk a fine line between his ambition and doing the right thing.
It’s my first chance to see Ip Man in HD quality, following a couple of lacklustre DVDs for the first two films, and the 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer is initially quite impressive, offering clear and sharp visuals, excellent period detail, and showcasing the film’s production and costume design to great effect. The film has the digital grading to give it that period look, a slight sepia tinged tone to the image. It’s when you take a closer look that you notice a lack of dark detail, blacks aren’t quite as strong as they should be, and there is a disappointing degree of digital banding in the film. You have to look for these things though, and you’ll probably be more interested in the action sequences, which are spectacular. Following Sammo Hung’s fight choreography on the first two films, Ip Man 3 gets Yuen Woo-Ping to do the honours, and he brings a wholly different energy and impact to the action sequences that set this film apart from its predecessors.
The images used in this review were kindly supplied by the PR.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Cantonese with optional translated subtitles and a screen text translation only track. It’s a decent surround effort that really does justice to the film’s action sequences, while Kenji Kawai does the honours again when it comes to the film’s music. I gave the English dub a try, and it isn’t too bad, aside from Ip Man sounding in his early twenties. It’s an old school kung-fu movie in that even the original language track was looped in post, understandable when your actors speak Cantonese, Thai, Mandarin and English. Lip sync might be variable, but the foley is always dead on. The level of English acting isn’t great, although Mike Tyson passes muster. Why do imported British police captains in Hong Kong always sound like effete idiots? Also the subtitles could have used a little proof reading, as a couple of captions didn’t make sense in the context of the story, or were mistimed.
The disc autoplays with a trailer for Iceman starring Donnie Yen, which looks to be a remake of the old Yuen Biao movie, The Iceman Cometh. The disc boots up to an animated menu screen
There are a handful of brief extras on the disc, all in HD.
Behind the Scenes lasts 2:14 and is b-roll footage that offers Yuen Woo-Ping at work.
There are a couple of interviews here with Donnie Yen (6:38), and Mike Tyson (7:43), which are interesting, if somewhat trivial.
The Making of Ip Man 3 offers interviews on the film’s Action (2:56), and Story (2:28), and finally there is the theatrical trailer (2:03).
The US release gets a smidge more with two more trailers, and a joint interview with Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson, and an interview with director Wilson Yip, about 15 more minutes of footage all in (it also has a DTS:X Cantonese track), but really it’s not a patch on the Cine Asia releases which had hours of extras.
Ip Man 3 is the best of the Ip Man films to date, although how much of that is down to my receptiveness is another matter. Certainly I had the wrong expectations when I watched the first film, expecting something of a biopic, instead of a more traditional kung-fu action movie with occasional brushes with history. That is what these films are, painting their protagonist with reverent colours, and offering over-the-top action for fans of kung-fu in general, and Wing Chun in particular. I had the right expectations for Ip Man 2, but the film overcooked its ‘foreign devil’ antagonists to the point that it turned them into caricatures, and weakened the conclusion.
There is a touch of that with Ip Man 3, although not with Mike Tyson’s character who is given a more sympathetic dimension beyond just an unscrupulous gangster. Rather it’s the bent police captain who pontificates effetely and villainously on a couple of occasions, but really has no narrative weight in the film. Ip Man 3 is a much more balanced story, which while it delivers on the action front, going a tried and predictable way with its plot of a school at risk, and gangsters stopping at nothing, does wrong-foot the viewer on a couple of occasions, and defies expectations. I almost had a sinking feeling with the property developer villain plot thread, as it is so familiar a challenge for the film’s protagonists. But the film knows just how to pull the right moves to get the viewer invested, upping the villainy, threatening those closest to Ip Man, so by the time the final confrontation comes around, you’re rooting for the good guys to win in as emphatic a kung-fu smackdown as possible.
But the first wrong-footing is that this isn’t actually the film’s climax. This is the climax of the action storyline, but the dramatic storyline is yet to resolve, and there is a more emphatic action sequence yet to come. For through the film it becomes clear that there is something not quite right in Ip Man’s family, a certain lack of communication between husband and wife, and the sense that Ip Man is more concerned with maintaining his public reputation. That it has to do with protecting the school gives his actions nobility, but around the middle of the film, his personal circumstances start taking precedence, and the focus shifts to his family.
The interesting character arc in the film is that of Cheung Tin-Chi, who starts off as an ambitious rickshaw puller whose son goes to school with Ip Man’s son. Cheung is also skilled at Wing Chun, and he wants to open a school of his own. He also isn’t enamoured of Ip Man’s style of kung-fu. But to make enough money to open his school he walks a tightrope between dark and light, between self-serving expediency and altruism, and that taints his dream when he starts to achieve it. The final confrontation in the movie is between him and Ip Man, but the way that it’s framed, the way that it’s motivated comes down to Ip Man’s family, and who the man really is. The film then ends on a personal, dramatic note, as well as an action crescendo that strikes just the right balance.
While Ip Man 3, the third instalment in the series is just as much a kung-fu action movie with occasional brushes with historical fact as the first two, it is the best of the three, with a better script, sharper and punchier action sequences, and a stronger, personal drama. It’s well worth watching for martial arts fans and even for people who haven’t tried a kung-fu movie before.