by Mark Ahn
Ip Man 3 is the last installment of the Ip Man series which started in 2008, starring Donnie Yen as the title character, with the same team of Wilson Yip directing and Raymond Wong producing on all three films. Venerated stunt choreographer Yuen Woo-ping handles the action.
One of the strengths of this series is that all three movies are of a piece, with one movie picking up close to where the previous one had left off. This one opens with Master Ip practicing on the wooden training dummy (the same opening shot for the previous two), finally settling into life in late 1950s Hong Kong. He’s established his martial arts school, popularizing his Wing Chun style, so much so that he gets a visit from a face familiar to modern audiences, as a young Bruce Lee (Kwok-Kwan Chan) brazenly walks into Ip Man’s school and asks to be taken on. Ip Man, the historical figure, is best known in the western world for being Bruce Lee’s teacher and laying the foundation for Lee’s own martial arts philosophies, but in the movie, Lee is an overeager youngster in need of guidance, and his interaction with Master Ip is a little cameo for fans of kung fu history.
What makes this installment distinct from the other ones is not the overwhelming amount or innovation of the action (please don’t misunderstand, the action is solidly entertaining if not revolutionary), but as a goodbye, both for the series and for Donnie Yen. Yen, who is now in early 50s, still has years left in his acting career (showing up later this year in Rogue One and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny), he has mentioned that Ip Man 3 might well be his last kung-fu action performance, although one would suspect that he will continue making action films or appear in kung-fu movies in non-fighting roles. When thinking of an American counterpart to Yen in terms of box-office draw and star power, the only one who comes close is Tom Cruise, and Cruise is certainly not slowing down in his 50s; I highly doubt Yen will.
Although not quite hitting the heights of action in its previous installments, I found Ip Man 3 to be a satisfying emotional conclusion to the series that has been satisfying on so many levels: establishing Donnie Yen internationally as a superstar, and creating the most cohesively excellent and watchable trilogy of martial arts movies around.