‘Ip Man 3’
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Mike Tyson
3 (out of 5) Globes
In real life, martial arts god Ip Man led a relatively quiet life, ascetically honing his craft and only occasionally taking it outside his schools. In “Ip Man 3,” he fights gangsters, a hotheaded colleague and Mike Tyson. Print the legend, goes the line — or better yet, make it up. Ip trained Bruce Lee in the Wing Chung art, which fact has been enough to birth an ever-swelling cottage industry of films (and a TV show). Most of them — notably Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster” — settle for mere exaggeration. Wilson Yip’s three “Ip Man” films are full-on fan fiction, inventing squabbles and even hardships, turning an often modest life into one of relentless, punchy-kicky drama.
The first, from 2008, found Donnie Yen’s Ip suffering during the Second Sino-Japanese War. That never happened, nor did the events of the 2010 sequel, which essentially remade “Rocky IV,” minus an ending where our hero solves the Cold War. The third includes his wife (Lynn Hung) slowly decaying from cancer, but everything else is either a light fib or an outright invention. That’s fine, especially given Yen’s regal-charming turn, and especially since Yip creates OTT action set pieces that are kinetic without succumbing to visual whiplash. His camera gracefully follows movement and his editing doesn’t simply cut on blows, even if it sometimes has to work around its star’s age (51).
Still, “3” can’t refrain from couldn’t-resist nudge-nudging. The opening has Ip getting a visit from a young upstart, who howls like a banshee as he kicks cigarettes and even water. His name is Bruce, if the elbow wasn’t already deep between your ribs. Later Ip tussles with Tyson’s seedy property developer, who dares him to hold his own for a Tyson-esque three minutes. Even the climactic bout, with Ip and his rival (Zhang Jin) grabbing an assortment of cool weapons, is somewhere between an homage to and rip-off of the most galvanizing bit from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Mixing massive amounts of fiction into fact, winking to those in the know, gratuitously shoe-horning in a pugilistic legend just ’cause — all are par for course for a series that, all things considered, doesn’t take itself seriously. It even goes light, and therefore genuinely touching, with the serious side, with Yen underplaying his grief as his wife falls apart, even boisterously taking up cha-cha to make her happy. Perhaps if there weren't a dozen or more Ip Man films then the faithless and silly “Ip Man 3” would feel like a crime. But there are, and you’re freed to enjoy a movie where our taciturn badass takes out a squadron of dudes, just like the real one probably never did.