When Donnie Yen finished filming Ip Man 2 six years ago, he thought he was done with the character.
He didn’t fancy stepping into the Wing Chun grandmaster’s shoes again as he reckoned there was nothing new he could do with the role anymore.
“I just couldn’t figure out what else was new for Ip Man to do,” Yen said during a roundtable interview with the media in Kuala Lumpur last week. Yen was here to promote Ip Man 3, which opens in Malaysia today, together with producer Raymond Wong and actress Lynn Hung, who plays Ip Man’s wife Cheung Wing-sing.
The popularity of the first two Ip Man movies was also a factor in the six-year gap between Ip Man 2 and 3, with other filmmakers jumping on the bandwagon and making their own Ip Man movies in between.
“We got very good responses for our first two Ip Man, but after that there were so many other Ip Man movies that we were worried people would be sick of him! We decided to stop for a while, so that people will miss us!” said Wong with a laugh.
Well, six years later, the definitive film version of Ip Man is back. This time around, his biggest challenge is juggling between his desire to help people and his own responsibilities as a family man.
Among the formidable opponents he has to face in this movie are a powerful crime lord, played by former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, and a rival Wing Chun master, played by former wushu world champion Zhang Jin.
The film also stars Patrick Tam, Karena Ng, Louis Cheung and Song Wenbin, and features action choreography by the legendary action director Yuen Woo-ping
According to Yen, all three movies have been about Ip Man as a family man. “The first was about survival, and living in difficult circumstances under the Japanese occupation in China. Ip Man 2 is about taking his family to Hong Kong and trying to make a living,” he said.
“Number three is about how Ip Man deals with life as a grandmaster, powerful and capable, but still facing the same problems as everyone else.”
One of the highlights of Ip Man 3 is the fight between Yen and Tyson. Tyson’s character sees Ip Man as a thorn in his side.
As a fan of Tyson’s boxing career, Yen relished the chance to fight the big man.
“I used to watch all of his matches. Later when we became friends, I found out he was also a fan of the first two Ip Man movies,” he said, adding that because Tyson didn’t have much experience in filming, it made their fight scenes quite dangerous.
“His punch was like a train coming towards me. Being an experienced boxer, he would sometimes forget that he is filming a movie, and improvise his punches!” said Yen.
“On one hand, I had to keep following the script and stay in character; and on the other hand, I had to be very alert and prepared, in case he changes his moves. He is so much bigger than I am, and if he KO’d me, I wouldn’t be able to go home!”
According to Wong, Tyson was not in the original, finished movie script, but the chance to add him was too good to pass up.
“It came out of nowhere! We had already finished the script for the movie when one of my partners called me from Los Angeles, where he had just met Tyson, and said that he was interested in appearing in Ip Man 3,” Wong shared.
“I called my son (screenwriter Edmond Wong) to ask if it would be possible to add Tyson into the script. He told me to ask the director,” Wong recalled.
“When I told Wilson (Yip) I wanted Tyson in the movie, he did this (holds his head in his hands) for three minutes, before finally saying OK.”
Besides tweaking the script to add a new character, they also had to figure out how to do justice to Tyson’s status as a former boxing champion.
“He’s a former boxing champ, so we can’t just let Ip Man beat him up! In the end, we found a way to write him into the story in a way that fits his image, and offered him the role within four hours,” said Wong, adding that the budget for Ip Man 3 was more than the first two films combined.
So, will Yen consider returning for a fourth Ip Man movie?
“I’ve been asked this question many times, and my answer is always this: I still have the ambition to go on. I believe in these movies. I believe that the world needs more movies like Ip Man, films that are about caring, love, and peace.
“These are the sort of films I want to keep doing. So, I won’t say that there definitely will NOT be a part four,” he concluded.