Ip Man 3 Review — Donnie and Mikey Playing Knuckle Tag

Ip Man 3 starring Donnie Yen

While Ip Man 3 had been out and passed by the time of this writing, I felt compelled to put something out about this movie. Perhaps it’s my martial artist side that kept me on this, or it could be my (failed) filmmaker side. In any case, it’s a good thing that I stayed with it since I feel that this movie deserved a look regardless. It does well as the final installment of the series, with a good bit of thought put into its production.

Ip Man 3 might as well be called “we know we’ve long lost the plot” since it really got crazy in the second movie, but comparing Twister (RIP Darren Shahlavi) to Mike Tyson’s character Frank is like comparing Mountain Dew to artisanal bottled lemonade in terms of sugar content. Ip Man never changes, it’s just the places he ends up in and faces of the jerks he chain-punches that do, and his Wing Chun stays fairly constant as well—always insanely good.

NOTE: As this is intended as a full review of this title, there may be some spoilers. You’ve been warned.


I guess Ip Man 3 just the protagonist getting settled in after having to go through what he went through in the second movie to actually put up a school. However, stuff had to happen with local Triads and his kid getting into trouble, and his wife gets diagnosed with cancer. In the meantime, another Wing Chun master had popped up and started climbing the ladder to become top dog. At that point, Ip Man opted to spend more time with his wife in exchange for his reputation as the top dog of Wing Chun, but his wife then arranges a duel for him to get it back.

That’s pretty much Ip Man 3’s story basics right there. I got it down to one paragraph, and everything else in between is either another fight scene or just Mike Tyson getting angry at something. The Triad angle was just there to add a bit more conflict and to sneak Tyson in for the much hyped fight. It’s not that you’d expect top notch storytelling in an Ip Man movie, much less the third movie where authenticity has pretty much been tossed to the side in favor of entertainment.

The only authentic thing in Ip Man 3 is the Wing Chun, and even that is somehow stretching it. Perhaps the story around this version of Ip Man was merely put up just to have him solve various problems with his kung fu and calm demeanor. Seems like that’s exactly what this movie series is all about, and that paints Ip Man more vibrantly on the canvas of legend.

ADD: I kind of messed up by forgetting to mention the last thing Ip Man says to Cheung Tin-chi after the latter was soundly defeated and acknowledged it by breaking his name banner. Another subtle, but firm affirmation by Ip Man that he understood Cheung’s motivations.


Of course, the big hype in Ip Man 3 is Mike Tyson. Most likely, all they wanted was to have him fight Ip Man since this is the last installment in the trilogy and they wanted to go nuts. Upon casting the boxing legend, they wrote a story around his character that somehow ends up being a what-if scenario of sorts.

What if Mike Tyson kept his millions after retiring from the fight game and invested it on real estate in a different country, as well as being a Triad boss (just because)? That’d be Frank, the character he plays in this movie. They must have used a random character generator for that, but Mike made it work because he is who he is and actually spoke Cantonese pretty well here in Ip Man 3.

Max Zhang is good in his role as Cheung, a struggling father who pulls rickshaws for a living. When he was somehow able to gain reputation for his fighting prowess, he challenges Ip Man’s position as the Wing Chun head cheese. He’s not really an antagonist as he doesn’t seem to be that bad of a guy, and the concept of martial arts masters struggling to have his own school for profit was established well in Ip Man 2. He could really use the boost, but Ip Man was just better than him.

The character that made me scratch my head the most in Ip Man 3 wasn’t Frank (he’s pretty awesome here), but Bruce Lee. I guess they had to have him be the nose-thumbing son of a gun that pop culture embraced here, and few truly know how he really acted when the cameras were turned off. Perhaps 19-year-old Bruce Lee really did act like that, far from the more natural 25-year-old Bruce Lee that auditioned for a role in The Green Hornet.

Of course, Donnie Yen is perfect here as always. Lynn Hung as Ip Man’s wife also gets a more prominent role here due to her subplot, which made for most of Ip Man’s motivations throughout the film, sacrificing his own reputation as a Wing Chun master for her. To top it off, she repays him with a chance to regain his martial honor, most likely confident that he would succeed. (I actually shed a tear in this part. I quite liked it.)


Wilson Yip pretty much had the formula down when it comes to collaborating with Donnie Yen and Yuen Woo-ping. Compared with another recent Yuen Woo-ping work—Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny—this one has better “storytelling” in its fight scenes. Little details matter as much as the big movements, making for what I think is a martial artist’s martial arts movie.

The penultimate scene that showed Ip Man peacefully coming to terms with losing his wife is a highlight for me. In this action film, there was a quiet moment that was framed and shot beautifully. That alone sums up how I like the cinematography and direction of Ip Man 3—something most usually don’t expect from action movies.

Final Score

Ip Man 3
7 / 10 out of 10
  • Authentic Wing Chun action
  • Well-crafted fight choreography
  • Donnie Yen is excellent as always
  • Max Zhang does well in his role
  • Cool matchups with other styles
  • Dying wife subplot adds some emotional depth
  • Great final fight scene
  • Mike Tyson
  • Bruce Lee?
  • Not exactly an "authentic" biopic (similar to Ip Man 2)
  • Certain subplots and character motivations are questionable
  • Mike Tyson?
  • Bruce Lee

This and Ip Man 2 would've been right at home within the pages of a comic book, but this universe got this film version. Perhaps in some far-flung alternate universe, this was indeed a comic book and Ma Wing-shing's Storm Riders started out as a movie series instead.

It's a biopic of a kung fu master with Mike Tyson in it. What else can you say about it? It's wacky in its own way, yet it doesn't go far enough in taking itself too seriously. It could've gone so wrong in so many ways, yet Donnie Yen played such a badass straight man that perhaps the tongue-in-cheek quality of everything else here was kept in check.

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