Monday, January 18, 2016

IP MAN 3 (2015)

(This review contains potential spoilers)

IP MAN 3 is proof that some series get better as they go on. A wonderful continuation of the story of Ip Man it’s a film that will delight those who have seen the earlier films but it also will work extremely well for anyone who is using this as an entry point. The film has some of the best work Donnie Yen has done both in the action department but also in creating a character. Yen is so good that if Oscar wasn’t blind to international action films he’d be in the running for Best Actor.

The film picks up in 1959. Ip man is quietly teaching his students while his son goes to school and his wife takes care of the two of them. When a foreigner land speculator and bad guy, played by Mike Tyson, tries to force the sale of a school which is key to his real estate plans Ip man is drawn into the fray. Meanwhile, Cheung, the father of Ip Man’s son's friend is trying to set up his own competing school of Wing Chun and will do anything to rise to the top

The likelihood of Donnie Yen getting nominated for an Oscar for IP MAN 3 is almost nil. Not only is it a martial arts film from China which almost instantly disqualifies it out of the box, but it’s also his third time attacking the role which Oscar also frowns upon. Never mind that Yen’s performance is one of the finest I’ve seen in any film for years, Oscar simply is going to overlook what is quite simply a fine blending of physical (and I don’t mean fighting) and vocal acting of the sort that few anywhere in the world is capable of. Yen has become one of the best dramatic actors working today.

That Donnie Yen has tuned in a performance this good is not really surprising to me. I’ve suggested to him in interviews to give up the action and just do a drama because he is too good to be doing just fighting. I know it’s a ballsy thing to do, but when you see some of his performances over the last few years you realize just how good he is. Watch his films and you too will argue for him to do more with his god given talent.

I first noticed it in BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS where his portrait of a fallen cop trying to do the right thing breaks your heart as he tries to make a better life for his kids. This carries over to IP MAN 3 where Yen’s physical presence, his looks, his gestures and even his way of standing adds weight to whatever he does. Yes, he’s the uber cool Ip Man (watch him stride into battle during the fight outside the school) but at the same time for the first time in the series we see the life going on behind the eyes. He’s not just a fighter but a man who cares about his wife, his son and friends. The fact that Yen can make us feel what he feels makes everything better.

This is especially true in the fight sequences which, when taken in the context of the story, are some of the best Yen has ever committed to film. While not as spectacular as some of the fights in his other films, they have a weight that amps up the tension to the point you move to the edge of your seat.


Because there is a potential cost to what happens as we see the violence leaves many people broken. People get hurt, and the characters really feel for each other. It’s as simple as showing the kids having black eyes at the start or the principal with a bruised face later in the film, but more of it is the intensity in Yen’s eyes and the urgency in his movements- he fears some one will get hurt or die if he doesn't act. All you have to do is watch the shipyard fight sequence or the elevator fight and look beyond the motion to see Yen’s body language and expression. Yes, he’s cool as cucumber in many ways but it’s also clear that he is concerned for his wife in the elevator fight and son in the shipyard battle. Yen’s Ip Man isn’t just fighting for himself, he is fighting to protect that which he loves and holds most dear (a thought reinforced by the final line of the film).

If you want to know how important the emotional connection is to making the fight sequences better compare any of the Ip Man battles with the rapid fire fight sequences that his friend Cheung has with the heads of the various martial arts schools. The fights while spectacular  and more flashy than some of the Ip Man fights have much less weight. This is because we are not invested in them, partly because Cheung is a secondary character but also because there is nothing at stake. If he wins it’s a matter of pride it, it’s not to save the life of a loved one, which is the stakes Ip Man is always fighting for.

You want to cheer at the end of each of Ip Man's fights. The satisfaction that we feel at the end of any of the fights is why the truly great action films are more than ballet of motion. While I know seeing the fights out of context would be exciting, they don't measure up to seeing them in the context of the film, where we know the characters and back story which lifts them up. Its kind of like watching the chase in BULLIT with Steve McQueen, yes it’s a great piece of cinema that is frequently screened on it's own, but when you see it in context, with the back story of the characters and the tension of the plot attached it becomes something truly magnificent.

Despite being the best film in the series IP MAN 3 does have its share of problems. Chief among them is that the film has no conclusion to any story line other than the one concerning Ip Man’s wife's illness. The Mike Tyson story line literally stops when the fight between Yen and Tyson does. Seriously the fight doesn't conclude, it just stops. I know it's a spoiler to say this but the pair have a kick ass 3 minute fight that just stops with both parties walking away from each other. It’s an odd moment, but  you think it will play out later but it never does.  From that point on the film ignores that whole plot line and instead focuses on Cheung's‘s quest to be the Grandmaster of Hong Kong. It’s a plot line that goes until the battle between Ip and Cheung and when that's done the film just ends right there. Its a weird way to end the film that makes you feel like you’ve missed something.

When the film ended a bunch of us stood outside the theater talking about the weird way the film ends. As we all discussed what we thought we all had the feeling there is going to be another film in the offing. Additionally despite our feelings toward how it all ended we all were chomping at the bit to see the film again because we all enjoyed it so much we didn’t care about any flaws we just wanted to see the great film again.

I should probably mention Mike Tyson. If you're looking for him to be in the film for a large amount of time, you're going to be disappointed. He's in the film for perhaps ten minutes but his presence is felt all through out, so it was right to cast him in the role, His performance is uneven with some of his dialog dubbed in by a voice that doesn’t match his normal voice. But he fights like like hell and I'd love to see a rematch with Yen that runs longer. (The fight between Tyson and Yen is responsible for  some continuity goofs such as Tyson punches out a series of windows which are miraculously unbroken after the fight.)

This is the first film that's going on my lists for the best films of 2016, certainly for Donnie Yen's performance if not for the film as a whole.

An absolute must see- especially on the big screen.

The film gets a limited theatrical release Friday and is being released on VOD-but seriously if you can see it big with big sound make it a priority-its a trip and then some.

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