Review: 'Ip Man 3' lacks a punchy plot

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Ip Man (Donnie Yen). (Shaw Organisation)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 104 minutes (~1.75 hours)

“Ip Man 3” is the third movie in the “Ip Man” series, a martial arts movie that’s based on the life of real life pugilist Ip Man. It follows Ip Man’s journey as he learns about what’s really important in life. It stars Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Lynn Xiong (Cheung Wing-sing), Mike Tyson (Frank), Patrick Tam (Ma King-sang), Karena Ng (Miss Wong), Louis Cheung (Chui Lek), Kent Cheng (Fatso), and Danny Chan (Bruce Lee).

“Ip Man 3” lacks that sense of cultural pride and fervour that pervaded the previous two films. It’s not a bad film by any length, but it feels like a completely different film from the previous two, even if most of the production team is the same. It focuses more on Ip Man battling hordes of mooks than him engaging in duels with famous pugilists, though the action still comes fast and furious.

Cheung Tin-chi (Max Zhang). (Shaw Organisation)

Highlights

Ip Man’s growth as a husband

This film focuses on Ip Man’s relationship with his wife, and how he grows and develops as a husband. There’s a stark difference in how he treats his wife at the end of the movie, as opposed to her importance at the beginning. It’s almost it were a three-way relationship between Ip Man, Wing-sing and Ip Man’s martials arts, as you can see the relative importance of each changes as the movie progresses. At the end, Ip Man truly understands what’s important in life, and in return his wife understands what’s important to Ip Man as well, allowing for his life to achieve greater balance.

Bruce Lee cameos are fun

The inclusion of Bruce Lee in to the film paid off handsomely, despite the issues that have surrounded the appearance of Bruce Lee in the film. The foreknowledge you have of Bruce Lee and his eventual destiny is what makes these scenes so much fun. It’s not so much whether Bruce Lee will convince Ip Man, but finding out what exactly it is that will convince the martial arts master to take him on. And in the end, Ip Man’s reason for accepting Bruce Lee ties in neatly with his character development as a husband.

Frank (Mike Tyson). (Shaw Organisation)

Letdowns

Cheung Tin-chi’s role is rather confusing

He appears as one of the supporting characters, clearly on the side of Ip Man — but then his role suddenly changes halfway as he positions himself as Ip Man’s nemesis and rival. Despite their eventual duel being telegraphed very early in the film, there’s no build up to the fight itself. You’re not sure what to make of the character, even at the end. Is he a sympathetic anti-hero, an honourable martial arts contemporary or just someone else for Ip Man to fight?

Frank’s skills exist in a vacuum

Frank (played by Mike Tyson) is clearly a very formidable opponent, and is perhaps the only person in the film who could possibly defeat Ip Man in a fight. Yet in a world where martial arts battles happen at every street corner, his skills are a secret from virtually everyone. His reputation as a fighter is non-existent, which is strange when everyone in Hong Kong seems hellbent on proving themselves as the greatest fighter alive.

No sense of an overarching story

And the biggest issue with the film is that there’s no continuous narrative that links everything together. It’s a collection of martial arts battles that just happen to be placed in chronological order. You’d expect certain characters to come back for their revenge, but it never happens. Ip Man fights, but he doesn’t truly have an antagonist that he must defeat for the sake of his countrymen. Without this sense of plot, “Ip Man 3” just seems like a series of fights strung together by a completely disconnected thread of Ip Man’s growth as a husband. It just doesn’t stir you.

Cheung Tin-chi battles Ip Man. (Shaw Organisation)

“Ip Man 3” feels different from the previous two films, but still manages to hold its own as a martial arts movie.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? OK.

“Ip Man 3” opens in cinemas 24 December, 2015 (Thursday).

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