It was almost a year ago that I got my hands on Ip Man. It was a movie I had heard a lot about and was very anxious to see. The film was about Ip Man, one of the first to teach Wing Chun to the masses and one of Bruce Lee’s first masters. That movie focused on the man’s life during the 1930s and early ’40s, when he taught martial arts and struggled to find his way after Japan’s invasion in the early part of the 1940s. This second film picks up Ip Man’s life a few years later, likely the late 1940s or early 1950s when he fled Fo Shan for Hong Kong when the People’s Republic of China was established on the mainland.
Ip Man 2 never seems to be quite as serious as its predecessor and I feel that hurts the movie’s overall impact in the long run, although it doesn’t hurt the immediate enjoyment that can be had while watching it. There is something that is quite old school about Ip Man 2. It features a strong school element along with the usual fights and duels that go along with it. The master must display his even-headedness in the face of adversity before being allowed to progress to the movies main adversary, who is in true kung fu fashion decidedly over the top and wild. There is no question who the bad guy is and what he represents.
As we are reintroduced to Ip Man (once again portrayed by Donnie Yen), we find a proud man, a family man, and a man who is in desperate need of money. He decides to open a school. This leads to trouble with the local martial arts syndicate (led by Sammo Hung) which runs the sport. The even tempered Ip Man must show his worthiness to teach martial arts by facing down challenges from the best masters in town. It is a spectacularly choreographed sequence where Ip man fights challengers while precariously balanced on on a wobbly table surrounded by upturned stools, the first to fall loses.
This leads directly into the bigger conflict, that being a showdown with British Imperialism in the persona of Mr. Twister (Darren Shahlavi), a British boxing champion. It is an exhibition designed by the foreigners to demonstrate their superiority while the local martial artists are fighting for independence and self rule. It is a big issue boiled down to one entertaining fight.
Ip Man 2 shows its titular hero to be a man of honor, discipline, and skill, although far from perfect. He is a fascinating character who probably could have been explored a touch more, such as the first film. The problem is that it may not really be a problem. Yes, this is a story about a real person, but it is also a movie made to be a piece of entertainment and director Wilson Yip and writer Edmond Wong do an admirable job of bringing some balance, a balance that works despite some clear leanings towards the entertaining side of the coin.
Donnie Yen proves to be an interesting presence. I remember seeing earlier films and being blown away by his skills but being a little non-plussed by his screen presence. However, he has steadily gotten better over the years and he is just great as Ip Man. I have no idea how accurate it is, but I love the calm he brings to the role and how the storms swirl around him.
Simply put, if you are a martial arts fans, you will definitely want to get a hold of this one. The original may be a more complete film, but there is no way you want to miss these fights, including Donnie versus Sammo. Plus, they are shot and edited in a fashion that allows you to see what is happening, there is genuine sense of space and how these guys exist within it.