After the events of the first Ip Man movie, which saw the titular real life wing chun master (Donnie Yen) ignite the fires of hope in the people of a Japanese occupied Shanghai, Ip Man 2 continues its dramatisation (and, let’s face it, fictionalisation) of his life, as the master relocates to Hong Kong to set up a wing chun school. Soon enough however, he ends up butting heads with rival martial arts schools (headed by Sammo Hung) and the bullying British colonials, eventually accepting a challenge to fight Britain’s number one boxer (Darren Shahlavi)
First a lesson. We are currently in the midst (to my mind) of Hong Kong’s third wave of period based kung fu movies. The first came with the onset of filmmaking in Hong Kong and is the foundation the entire industry was built on. It lasted quite some time, but eventually was suppressed by the 80’s trend for contemporary set action films, popularised by such talents as Jackie Chan and John Woo.
The second wave came at the beginning of the 90’s, birthed by Tsui Hark and Jet Li’s masterful Once Upon A Time In China. The market eventually became flooded with sequels, spin-offs and copies, in large, centered around the historical character Wong Fei Hung. Again, people lost interest and moved on to period epics, comedies and so forth.
Then came Ip Man, a film that chronicled the “true events” in the life of the legendary martial artist best known for being none other than Bruce Lee’s master. And so, as is the industry’s like, any number of sequels and copies went into production (largely centered around the Ip Man character), and here we stand, mid wave three. The catch? Well, the talent pool for martial arts stars is drying up, so, with the exception of Donnie Yen (whom one could argue was but a second stringer during the second wave), the films are being cast with pretty but forgettable actors whose skills rarely move beyond the mediocre, and as such, little in the way of originality or sheer jaw dropping displays of chop-socky are being brought to the table, making the third wave the weakest to date. But who knows, my opinion may be biased, being a child of the second wave.
That being said, anything is better than nothing, and periodically the discerning martial arts film fan is being served up with a bit of a treat, as is the case with Ip Man 2.
Let’s talk about the martial arts action then. In short, it’s pretty damn good, which is as much as can be expected when you find out that the choreography was handled by the legend known as Sammo Hung (that would be the overweight gentleman from the Martial Law TV show, for the uninitiated). Wing chun is a close quarters martial art that is synonymously difficult to get to look impressive or in any way cinematic on film, and in actual fact the few films that have successfully incorporated the kung fu style (read The Prodigal Son and Warriors Two) were both directed by Sammo. Here he puts in no less effort, and what we are left with is quite a number of well paced, hard hitting, technically impressive fight sequences. Unfortunately, for every segment that is truly inspired, there are also, as is the trend, instances of unnecessary wirework.
Director Wilson Yip, visually, barely puts a foot wrong. The sets are lavish and full of detail, the camera work and editing are no nonsense, the pace is brisk and consistent, and the story is concisely told. All in all it’s a pretty slick looking production.
Concerning the story, it’s a simple affair, simpler in fact than the first Ip Man film, and to this reviewer’s mind, better for it. Fans of Rocky IV take heed though; the last third of Ip Man 2 may seem quite familiar.
While most of the performances are good, if typically (for Hong Kong films) broad, the western actors are reasonably atrocious. The female cast seem a little bland, but in all fairness, they’re given very little to do.
In conclusion Ip Man 2 is a fun, entertaining outing that is as good as the first film but falls short of being extraordinary. It’s no Once Upon A Time In China or Drunken Master 2 but it’s as good a martial arts film as you’re going to see for the foreseeable future.
C grade – for story
A- grade – for direction
B+ grade – for choreography
C grade – for originality
Overall grade – B
Ip Man 2 is released on region 2, 2 disc DVD and Blu-ray on March 7th courtesy of Cine Asia and contains oodles of additional features including a detailed commentary by the always informative Asian film expert Bey Logan, three world exclusive documentaries concerning the art of wing chun and the legacy of Ip Man, and many other interviews, ‘making of’ featurettes, deleted scenes and so on. A genuinely fantastic package for the true fan of the genre.
The region 1 release, as of this writing, is scheduled for May 3rd. Additional material will in all likelihood vary.