According to IMDb, Ip Man 3 marks the last time martial arts star Donnie Yen will play the titular Wing Chun grandmaster famous for mentoring Bruce Lee. Not so fast, though, Yen tells Yahoo Movies.
“Maybe not, I don’t know,” said Yen when asked if the series’ third installment would indeed be his last. The 52-year-old Hong Kong actor, also known for actioners like Hero and Blade II as well as the upcoming Star Wars installment Rogue One, explained that there are several factors that will weigh into his decision. He has a hard time ignoring the vast popularity of the franchise, especially in Asia, where Ip Man 3 has been smashing box-office records. Secondly, he said, “There is room to tell stories between the student and the teacher, between Bruce Lee and Ip Man. And the producers and the director [Wilson Yip] really want to make Part 4.”
“I have to take a step back and really see how the story turns out when they finish writing the script. Never say never,” said Yen, who added that he’s been told that they wouldn’t make a fourth movie without him.
The film series, launched with 2008’s acclaimed worldwide hit Ip Man and followed by 2010’s equally as successful Ip Man 2, have furthered Yen’s status as one of the most talented — and most bankable — kung fu stars in the world. Though the movies are based on a real figure and the trilogy plays out within an accurate historical context (i.e., the first one takes place during the late-1930s Japanese occupation of China, while the second one follows him to Hong Kong in the early ‘50s), the actual narratives of the films are pure fiction.
“We decided not to turn it into a documentary eight years ago,” Yen said. “We wanted to create an onscreen hero borrowing his historical background that he is a grandmaster in the Wing Chun style and he’s Bruce Lee’s teacher.”
Set in 1959, Ip Man 3 finds the master teacher defending his young son’s school from a criminal syndicate intent on seizing the property. That syndicate is run by a ruthless American in Hong Kong played by none other than boxing legend Mike Tyson. “It was awesome,” Yen said about facing off against the former heavyweight champ. “It’s Iron Mike you’re talking about. I know the audience wanted to see that.”
Bruce Lee makes his first appearance as a film character in Ip Man 3, and it’s a relatively brief sequence. Played by Kwok-Kwan Chan, the future Fists of Fury star turns up early in the story as a young man seeking the tutelage of Ip Man (also known as Yip Man). After making Lee perform a few feats of speed and skill (including kicking water out the air, a slick nod to Lee’s own “Be Like Water” philosophy), Yip is impressed, but not bowled over enough to immediately enroll Lee, instead telling him to “come back later.” (In reality Yip began mentoring Lee at the age of 16.)
So the film certainly sets up a fourth chapter, and it would be surprising to see Yen not return. Of course, he does have another major movie series now in his portfolio: after February’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II, he’ll be seen in December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Lucasfilm’s first so-called “anthology” film is directed by Gareth Edwards (2014’s Godzilla) and teams Yen with Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, and Wen Jiang as a band of resistance fighters who hatch a plot to steal Death Star plans. Ben Mendelsohn and Forest Whitaker also co-star.
“I watched the very first, A New Hope, when I was living in Boston [where his mother, Bow-sim Mark, was a renown martial arts instructor] when I was 13 or 14,” said Yen, who didn’t have to audition for the role — he got a call from Edwards offering the part a couple months before Rogue One went into production. “Of course I never expected to be the first Chinese actor to be invited to the biggest film [series] in history.”
Unsurprisingly, Yen is tight-lipped when it comes to details surrounding the typically secretive Star Wars project, especially after he surely got a slap on the wrist for posting an image of Rogue One film props on Facebook page in August before they were quickly removed (yet of course captured on the Net for eternity).
Yen won’t confirm (nor deny) that he’ll show off his martial arts skills in the movie, for instance. “What can I say? I can say it’s going to be a great film,” he said. “And I will get to kick some butt. That’s all I can say.”
Ip Man 3 is now in theaters.