'Ip Man 3': A messy patchwork of stitched-together plotlines
Hans David Tampubolon
The Jakarta Post
An action-packed but ultimately disappointing finale of the Wing Chun trilogy.
Ip Man 3, the final installment of the semi-biographical trilogy about real-life Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man, who trained kung fu legends like Bruce Lee, is a disappointing closing act.
Action-wise, the film presents well-timed, beautifully crafted yet brutal fight scenes courtesy of choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, who takes a different approach to that of Sammo Hung, the choreographer of the first two installments of Ip Man.
Yuen's fight choreography features more bone-crunching moves as Ip Man (Donnie Yen) knocks out dozens of men with unique Wing Chun poses.
Unfortunately, director Wilson Yip and scriptwriter Edmond Wong fail to complement the excellent fight choreography with intelligent storytelling and character development.
The plot and narrative of the film feels off balance most of the time; like a series of fight vignettes that have not been properly stitched together into a coherent storyline.
There are many subplots that only add more awkwardness and confusion to the film.
Ip Man 3 tells of the period in which the Wing Chun grandmaster has taken on a peaceful life as a family man in Hong Kong. The setting is in 1959, around 10 years after the events in Ip Man 2 and 20 years after Ip Man, in which Ip Man fought Japanese imperialists during World War II.
Ip Man's past track record as a fighter who managed to win many battles against the Japanese has earned him the respect of his local community. He runs a respectable Wing Chun school with hundreds of students. He is prosperous and everything seems to be going just fine.
However, Hong Kong in the 1950s is anything but fine. Corruption rules the police institution, which is run by British officers, and gangsters roam the streets threatening people to abide by their rules. Kung fu masters like Ip Man are often asked by community members to protect them from gangsters.
In Ip Man 3, the most feared group of thugs are led by an American named Frank (played by former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson).
Frank runs an underground fighting scene and for some reasons unknown until the end of the movie, he is obsessed with obtaining the ownership rights of a school where Ip Man's son studies.
Throughout the first half of the film, the audience is presented with the constant battles between the kung fu masters led by Ip Man against Frank's gang of thugs. A character by the name of Cheung Tin-chi (Zang Jhin), who is also a Wing Chun master like Ip Man, emerges during this part of the film.
However, unlike Ip Man who has managed to earn a living through Wing Chun, Cheung only works as a rickshaw driver.
Cheung's son goes to the same school as Ip's and at the height of the battle between the kung fu masters and Frank's goons, Cheung is faced with a moral dilemma of upholding his principles as a kung fu master or succumbing to the seduction of a large sum of money offered by the gangsters to join them and fight against his colleagues.
Normally, one would think that the final showdown of the film would be between Ip, representing the vanguard of morality, against Frank, the sinister and evil gangster boss. However, the duel between them seems to show otherwise.
Their fight is excellently choreographed, but more of a comical fight rather than an epic and dramatic final fight. Tyson deserves a lot of credit for being able to show his versatility in dancing with Donnie to present a believable yet entertaining display of the mixture of styles between boxing and Wing Chung kung fu.
It turns out that the hostility between the kung fu masters and the gangsters only serves as a subplot of a larger rivalry between Ip Man and Cheung, who believes that his lethal and hard-hitting Wing Chun style is the true representation of the art.
Cheung, by all means, deserves to be in the final battle with Ip. However, if this is the case, then why is Cheung's character so insufficiently developed?
Basically, Cheung is virtually just a side show for the most part of the movie. It is only until near the end, he plays a larger and more vital part. Yet, if Ip Man faces his greatest rival in his final saga, Cheung's background should have been explored further.
For example, why does Cheung fail to attain the prosperity of Ip Man despite the fact that both men are very skilled practitioners of Wing Chun? What happens to his wife and why does Cheung raise his son alone without a mother?
If only these questions are explored, then the epic final battle with Cheung would have more importance and meaning.
To make things even more confusing, there is also another side story relating to Ip Man's wife and her battle with cancer. This, to be fair, manages to add another layer to the human side of Ip Man, but on the other hand, it is only takes time away from further exploring the essence of the story.
After the commercial and critical success of Ip Man 2, Donnie said that he believed it would be better for him not to play the character in another sequel because, as he said, Ip Man and Ip Man 2 had managed to gain cult status and it would be hard to successfully top them off.
Well, judging by the atrocious script and character development in Ip Man 3, there is a very large possibility that Donnie is regretting his final decision to portray the legendary grandmaster for the third time.
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