Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Ip Man 2" (2010)

Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Huan Xiaoming
Written by Edmond Wong
Directed by Wilson Yip
Rated R - Violence
Running Time: 109 minutes

Ip Man 2 [Blu-ray]Picking up where 2008's "Ip Man" left off, this sequel follows Wing Chun Master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and his family as they escape from Japanese-occupied Foshan and move to Hong Kong.  In 1950, Ip attempts to set up shop teaching Wing Chung in Hong Kong, but has trouble attracting students.  With his wife Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) pregnant and his son Ip Chun (Li Chak) in need of school fees, and the rent coming up due, Ip begins to feel the pressure.

Eventually, however, a young man named Wong Leung (Huan Xiaoming) approaches, interested in learning about Wing Chun.  He challenges Ip to a duel, offering to pay school fees even if he loses.  He does, but runs away instead of paying.  The next day he returns with several friends, who also challenge Ip.  After he defeats them all (quickly) they (quickly) kneel before him and beg to be taught.  Soon, Ip Man's school has grown to include a number of students, which garners the attention of another martial arts master, Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung) who teaches Hung Ga. 

Hung informs Ip that in order to teach martial arts in Hong Kong he must first pass a test by fighting the other local masters.  He does so, and succeeds, but is unwilling to pay into a protection racket run by Hung and a local British police officer named Wallace (Charles Mayer).  Not long after, Ip begins to run into trouble when Hung's students harass his, goading them into fights in the street, and Ip loses the lease on his studio.  But after confronting Hung, Ip does the honorable thing and saves face for him with Hung's wife, and the two begin to form a friendship instead of a rivalry.

"Ip Man 2" feels very different from its predecessor, though that's no surprising as it tackles a very different period in Ip man's life.  As a whole, the tone is much closer to the opening scenes of the first film, when Ip and his wife live a happy life in Foshan before the invasion.  While the rest of that film had a rather desaturated color palette and harsh tone, "Ip Man 2" is much brighter and more colorful, making it rather easier on the eyes.

It's also an easier film to digest in general - Ip Man is not fighting for survival these days, but honor.  That can sort of sap the danger out of the proceedings, as it never really feels like Ip is in any real trouble until his final battle against British boxer Taylor "Twister" Milos (Darren Shahlavi).  That's okay, though, because the drama is still effective thanks to some great performances from the cast.

Donnie Yen has crafted a very warm, very likable presence as Ip Man.  He's humble and kind, and clearly cares for others regardless of what they say or do to him, only resorting to violence when absolutely necessary.  Sammo Hung also does a great job as Hung Chun-nam, a man who really isn't a bad person, but has been forced into doing some less than desirable things to feed his family and protect his students.  Watching his dislike of Ip turn into a friendship, even one that doesn't get much of a chance to mature thanks to the events of the third act, is great.  The two men have good chemistry, thanks to all their behind the scenes work together (Sammo Hung was fight choreographer for both "Ip Man" films).

Unfortunately, this relationship occurs at the expensive of having anything for Ip's family to do in this film.  His wife and child barely appear, and have no real impact on the storyline.  Even his wife going into labor during Ip's battle with Twister seems tacked on and somewhat pointless, except that it's nice to see that Cheung has accepted Ip's behaviors so much that she encourages him to go train and fight instead of spending time with her while she gives birth - a good way to show that the character hasn't regressed since the end of the first film.

Other familiar faces from the first film get the short shrift, as well.  Chow Ching-chuen (Simon Yam), the owner of the cotton mill, has a brief appearance as an insane beggar (thanks to a Japanese bullet to the head).  The bandit Jin Shanzhao (Fan Siu-wong) also reappears, this time reformed into a family man and local worker.  He saves Ip and Leung from Hung's students at the fish market, and also befriends Ip.  Like Ip's friendship with Hung, this is very nice to see - the warmth of the Ip Man character infects those around him and changes their lives.  It's the positive message of both the character and the films that is refreshing and comforting, despite all the violence.

The fights in "Ip Man 2" are just as excellent as those in the first, with a couple of really clever bits like Ip fighting Hung's students all armed with machetes - but Ip manages to hit them all with only the flats of the blades!  The scene in which Ip must fight the city's other martial arts masters is also pretty cool because he must do so while standing on a table; falling off the table means failure. 

"Ip Man 2" is a fine film, pretty much on par with the first.  Good performances and some rockin' fight sequences pick up some of the slack from the script, which is solid but a bit inconsistent.  I really recommend both of these films for anyone who's interested.  Though their historical accuracy is dubious at best, the broad strokes are intriguing.  I'd love to see a documentary about Ip's life, especially past the era of the two films.  "Ip Man 2" ends on a scene so filled with promise as Ip is introduced to a young Bruce Lee.  I hope Donnie Yen changes his mind about not doing a third film, because I'd truly love to see that!

See Also
Ip Man