Pegasus Motion Pictures released a teaser trailer for Ip Man 3 last week, featuring a very quick look at Mike Tyson’s role as a property developer and street fighter opposite Donnie Yen’s Ip Man. The few seconds we see suggest a showdown between the two, and most of the rumors swirling around the production hint at a fantastic fight scene between Donnie and the man known in the Chinese world as 拳王, the King of Boxing.
This should be the last installment of the Ip Man series, which loosely followed the life story of Bruce Lee’s first master and the man who brought Wing Chun kung fu to the global audience. The first two movies focused on China’s struggle to maintain independence in the face of foreign aggression as the backdrop to Ip Man’s development as a martial artist. Kung fu in this context is a patriotic endeavor, and destroying huge white boxers and morally bankrupt Japanese in the ring symbols of national strength. The third film, scheduled to hit theaters across Asia this coming Christmas (hopefully followed quickly by an opening in the U.S.) shifts to Bruce Lee as an adult and presumably 1960s and 70s Hong Kong. Lee will be holographic image, a CGI rendering of the man, in an ambitious attempt to realize some of William Gibson’s coolest visions: graphic collections of memories and quotes as real as the flesh and blood people they’re pretending to be. AI in search of a soul.
Can it be done?
Depends on the action scenes. The action in the first two films took the classic kung fu setting and hurled it into the modern world—fights heavy with chi sao and pak sao trapping were crisp, elevated duels; more complex than a Rubik’s cube and just as cathartic when solved. Will the digital shadow of Bruce Lee’s essence put up a good fight? The film is setting itself up to disappoint me. A computer generated Dragon could turn out worse than the bearded stand-ins from 1978‘s Game of Death. The voices were different, the kicks were weak. The tensed, poised, striking stance of the Bruce Lee we adored was sloppy and as dangerous as wet brown paper. The CGI version has the benefit of that debacle to work off of, but can a computer ever truly replace the man? We shall see, provided the haters don’t scuttle CGI Lee at the last second.
I personally am more interested to see how the two aging warriors, Tyson and Yen, perform their choreographed violence onscreen. What possibilities! How will the uppercut from hell break through the web of angled deflections, specifically designed to alter larger mass, more velocity, with just a hint of barely received touch?
Picture Tyson bobbing and weaving, like in those training videos with Cus, delivering five second combos to a flailing, flying wisp of a kung fu man. Rhino versus Heron; columns exploding under right hooks as the stone-faced Wing Chun master slips away just in time, eyes locked, repeated kicks to the thigh like bamboo on concrete. The fight the second Batman-Bane encounter could have been: a climactic phenomenological event which releases us all into the ecstasy of the true world.
Or perhaps this fight is just another trap to pull me into the theaters like Phantom Menace did way back when, only to send me out dejected like a Buffalo Bills fan every other Sunday. Playing with my emotions, that’s what a teaser like this one is, flipping the curtain back just enough to afford a two-second glimpse of a possible match-up between the King of Boxers and kung fu cinema’s current reigning champ.
There isn’t enough hype for this movie, ready to hit screens just a couple months from now. That could mean anything really: it’s meant for a Chinese audience (as the first two were, for the most part) or the movie is a final cash grab on a series Donnie Yen said he was done with six years ago. Or they’re marketing on the under, waiting for the explosive word of mouth to circle the globe and establish this last Ip Man film as the “classic” of the three, more over the top than the first one, better fight scenes than the second, a more dramatic ending than either of them (is it even possible to end a movie with something cooler than Ip Man meeting the child Bruce Lee?).
I’ll wait till the trailer comes out, I suppose, and see how I feel then.
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