Stone-faced martial-arts star Donnie Yen does a lot with a little in wuxia weepy Ip Man 3, the rare kung fu film whose sentimental dialogue scenes are just as good as its stripped-down action sequences.
The title character — a soft-spoken wing chun instructor based on Bruce Lee’s teacher — once again brings out the best qualities in Yen’s severe but deliberately un-flashy persona. Ip’s latest story is a variation on his last two adventures’ formulaic confrontations with wealthy “foreign devils,” to quote ineffectual police officer Po (Kent Cheng), such as American gangster Frank (a sadly unimpressive Mike Tyson) and his mustache-twirling, Lord Thistlewick Flanders–sounding British associates.
Little changes to set this apart as a superior sequel. But there’s power in scenes where the tough but tender Ip dotes on ailing wife Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), avoiding Hung’s gaze and listening attentively while doctors and pharmacists diagnose and treat her for cancer. Better still: Action scenes directed by legendary choreographer Yuen Woo-ping — his first contributions to the Ip Man trilogy — allow Yen to focus on give-and-take rhythm when he trades blows with imposing antagonists like Tyson and Jin Zhang, the latter playing an ultra-violent rival wing chun teacher.
Yen’s best fight scenes are more concerned with back-and-forth movement than crippling body blows, as we see whenever he redirects his opponents’ strikes onto window panes and wooden furniture. When Ip’s fists and feet do connect, they make Yen look like a uniquely disciplined icon.
Ip Man 3
Directed by Wilson Yip
Well Go USA
Opens January 22, IFC Center and AMC Empire 25