I’m not sure if using the phrase “jumped the shark” works here, but I’m gonna use it anyway: the Ip Man series has, three movies in, jumped the shark. My understanding of this expression is that it means when something has clearly dropped in quality, usually with an obvious gimmick. Happy Days popularized this when The Fonz literally jumped a shark, and Ip Man 3 does this figuratively when Donnie Yen’s almost mythic Ip Man character squares off with Mike Tyson.
To be fair, it’s a character played by “Iron” Mike — thinly played, actually — but that doesn’t matter to the producers of the audience. It’s Mike Tyson. Through and through.
In the Ip Man series, Ip Man — the trainer of Bruce Lee — is made into the a legend by way of taking part in extraordinary events of heroism, usually involving saving the community and standing up for what is right. The first film was memorable in this regard, having him fight during WWII-era Japan. In it, he famously fought 10 or so men, beating them all to a pulp. By Ip Man 3, our hero is left to defend effortlessly a school from a real estate goon, which he successfully does halfway into the story.
There are multiple things happening; the introduction of young Bruce Lee, the trouble at the school, his wife becoming ill and a local fighter challenging him. The movie pretends to follow these threads to a fitting conclusion, but really just trots along with an almost plot. Indeed, Ip Man fights spectacularly, and the sequences are fun as always, but they don’t mean what they did two movies ago. Back then, it was a test of his will, his pride and his soul. But now?
Donnie Yen whips thugs around with ease, hardly ever being on the wrong end of a punch. This was somewhat true in the first movie though he was faced with tough questions regarding his style and philosophy. In the third movie, he’s a superhero without internal conflict. All that’s left for him to do is punch and kick his way out of situations.
The scenario with his wife does bring out some touching and wonderful relationship issues, and, in the end, reveals why he fights and who he’s always been fighting for. In a different movie with less going on and better focus, this would be most welcome. Instead, it’s too little too late in Ip Man 3. We see Bruce Lee once or twice, but never to be trained. Only towards the middle does his marriage become important. Same with his challenger. And by this point, the school no longer matters.
Nothing matters but seeing Ip Man fight. I didn’t expect this series to devolve so quickly into Rocky-esque self-exploitation, but here we are.
And that Mike Tyson bit? It’s a hilarious mishmash. From Tyson juking and jiving several feet away, to Donnie trying not to laugh, the much-billed fight falls pretty flat. The punches ring convincingly, but just like the rest of the film, the stakes are low and inconsequential. It merely exists as an idea pitched to a producer for financing. So unfortunate. Ip Man 3 is the Spiderman 3 of a Rocky wannabe.
Will we get an Ip Man 4? If they can pull a Balboa or Creed-type miracle, then I say go for it. If not, just shoot him into space to fight aliens on the moon or something. Ip Man X, to be sure.
2 / 5 *s
For more from the author, follow him on Twitter at @BillReviews and visit his support page at patreon.com/billreviews