Ip Man 2 (2010)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2011-02-16
Summary: Excellent, not quite a classic
“Ip Man 2” is an exceptionally well done movie, full of action, pathos and profound themes. Donnie Yen continues his low-key nuanced performance in the title role; while the role itself is less emotionally compelling than in “Ip Man”, Yen fully inhabits it and makes it his own. Sammo Hung’s action choreography and its realization are superb.

The first set piece takes place in a fish warehouse where Ip Man goes to get Wong Leung, his hot-headed student, released Hong’s men who have kidnapped him. It is Ip Man against fifty or so thugs armed with clubs, choppers and poles. He not only uses his wing chun skills but also a lot of environmental props/weapons. Wooden pallets are particularly useful. There is a series of one on one battles with the various incumbent masters in which he has to defeat all challengers in order to get permission to open a martial arts school that is just about perfect. The actions directors made excellent use of wire work, stunt doubling and undercranking to allow old pros like Lo Meng and Fung Hak-On compete with Donnie Yen. They were a warm-up for the expected faceoff between Sammo and Donnie which ended in a most satisfying draw, applauded by the assembled masters and their students.

The ultimate and penultimate fights which pitted first Hung Chun-Nam and then Ip Man against the European boxing champion—a complete villain, overacted with enthusiastic élan by Darren Shahlavi—were almost anticlimactic. They had to happen, had to end in a certain way and progress according to a set formula. In the first fight the vicious westerner prevailed over Hung only because of an unexpected weakness of Hung’s. In the second Ip Man had to win but only after being pummeled and knocked almost unconscious a couple of times, seeing visions of his wife and child waiting for him (and wishing him not to die) and rallying from certain defeat more than once.

The movie begins with sepia toned shots from Ip Man that show some of the key points of the story so far ending with the Japanese entry into the city and Chow Ching Chuen shot in the head. The action shifts to Hong Kong after the war; the story is well constructed and perfectly paced in the beginning. Cheung Wing-Sing is pregnant with their second child, their son needs his school feels and they can't answer door to landlord because they don’t have the rent. Ip Man has donated school space but no students. Then Wong Leung shows up, more to take Ip Man's measure than become his student. When Ip Man bests him with almost no effort he comes back with three friends who think they are tough. In each case Ip Man not only defeats (but doesn't injure) them but does it without breaking a sweat. Soon they are on their knees, begging him to be their Sifu.

Everything in “Ip Man 2” flows from this. He has a school but must fight to keep it open; his students are harassed by other schools (although not completely without cause in a few cases) and he must go to their rescue; Chow Ching-Chuen shows up, a broken man, fearful and without memory, and he must not only help him but find his nephew a job. The job turns out to be as an illustrator in a local newspaper that is important in informing the Chinese about the challenge of the European champion to their fighters.

British officials are a racist, loutish lot, convinced of the inferiority of the Chinese. One police official goes out of his way to show contempt for his Chinese counterpart even while taking a bag of money from him. Twister, the European champion, is almost too bad to be true. He ridicules Chinese boxing, starts a riot before his exhibition fight and represents everything detestable about western attitudes toward Asia. His henchmen in racially charged depravity are the senior police officer on the take (Charlie Mayer who makes one want to flatten his very large and pointed nose), a smarmy, underhanded manager who changes the rules of the fight between rounds and a guy in a white suit, the only person not standing and cheering Ip Man after he has beaten Twister.

The challenges and insults by Twister and the inevitable showdown between him and Ip Man drag on for a bit. The episode has a different tone and seems separate from the first part of the movie. It isn’t a disaster by any means but is much more a “by the numbers” set of provocations and punch-fests than one would expect from the tightly written first half.

We return, more or less, to the historical Ip Man in an epilog showing the first meeting between the master and Bruce Lee followed by stylized illustrations of Lee’s early career under Ip Man’s tutelage. Along with the sepia toned flashbacks to the past at the very beginning of the movie this studied depiction of the future are visual and cinematic bookends for the story.

Ip Man 2 is not quite a classic but is a very good film
Reviewer Score: 9