The year is 1959 and exponent and teacher of the Wing Chung method of martial arts Ip Man (Donnie Yen) has settled in Hong Kong, setting up a school there where prospective pupils include one Bruce Lee (Chan Kwok-Kwan) who wishes to prove himself worthy of joining, and to that end shows off his skills by kicking and punching cigarettes Ip Man throws in his direction. But maybe it is not to be just yet, and Bruce leaves somewhat downhearted. Part of the mentor's more sedate lifestyle includes his home life with his wife Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) and youngest son Ching who has been getting into trouble at the local primary school recently thanks to his pugnacious nature. To make amends, Ip Man invites the boy's rival and his father Cheung Tin-chi (Zhang Jin) to dinner...
Not realising that Cheung will soon become one of his fiercest rivals to the crown of master of Wing Chung before the film's end. This was the third instalment in the internationally popular Ip Man series, and apparently the last, which was no stranger to controversy when first they tried to create a CGI Bruce Lee for that opening sequence until Lee's estate started complaining loudly, so the plans were abandoned. Then after the film was released, the production was accused of corruption when they fiddled the box office figures to make it look as if it had been far more successful domestically than it actually had. However, for many fans the deal breaker was the casting of former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson as a combatant for the title character.
Tyson had acted before, indeed he was making something of a comeback in being rehabilitated in the minds of the public as he put his troubled past behind him, but to have him fighting the historical figure of Ip Man in a decidedly non-historical situation was a step too far for purists who had not so much been bothered about Donnie Yen's screenwriters basically making a bunch of stuff up because it sounded good rather than it genuinely happening to the real tutor. On the other hand, with Yuen Woo Ping on board as choreographer, you could allow yourself raised hopes that this might be all right, and if you could get over the major stunt casting then you'd find a pretty decent action sequence when Tyson and Yen came to blows.
Even if the actual victor was left in doubt, presumably to spare any blushes as to who would have been the best, since that would involve one of them losing. Still, if that stuck in the craw, it was easily overlooked in what was a five minute part of a one hour forty-five minute movie, as Yen's other battles were rather more realistic in that he didn't kill anybody, he was more a people's champion as he tries to save his son's school from criminals (a lot of criminals in this society, it seemed) when the baddies try to demolish it for the real estate cash. One nice aspect was those combats were not edited in the by then irritating fast-cutting style, allowing at least a number of hits to each shot before it changed, and that did make a difference because it proved these performers could talk the talk and walk the walk.
Yen was trying out a lot more acting than before, too, not content to stay in his comfort zone as the stoic leader of men; here he cracked a joke or two, got to cry (no tears to be seen, mind you), and even danced, though for a man with such superb control of his body he wasn't half stiff when it came to busting moves on the dancefloor. The emotional business came about for a surprisingly touching subplot that grew in importance as the story progressed when Wing-sing was diagnosed with terminal cancer and her husband had to face up to living the rest of his life without the love of his life. This was really nicely played by the big-eyed Hung, who brought out a humanity in her co-star that was not often well portrayed, if indeed it was often portrayed at all, and contrasting this with the rise of inexorable rise of the morally ambiguous Cheung who wants to topple Ip Man was a decent idea. Although there were some who would balk at what could have been a mishmash, Ip Man 3 was probably the best in the series, with a heart in the right place and worthy action sequences such as the assassin in the lift setpiece. Music by Kenji Kawai.