Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
It should raise few eyebrows that Ip Man 2 relies on the same, tried-and-tested story formula of a highly skilled Chinese pugilist – and folk hero – using kungfu skills (not karate, if Hollywood's listening) to defend national pride and honour.
Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies have gone down this path, and the same goes for the first Ip Man movie, an unqualified success, and this sequel. The only variation is that a loud-mouthed British boxer has replaced the Japanese officer villain from the original.
Set in 1949 Hong Kong, Ip Man is once again struggling with poverty after fleeing China. He sets up a martial arts school to teach Wing Chun, a branch of martial arts he developed, but fails to attract many followers. When he does, it gains the attention of Master Hung (Sammo Hung), the leader of the martial arts societies that operate in Hong Kong.
Hung makes Ip fight against the leaders of various kungfu schools in order for his school to continue operating, and after Ip proves himself, the two develop a grudging rivalry. Later on, Hung is killed by a braggart British boxer known as the Twister (Darren Shahlavi), and Ip enters the boxing ring to take revenge.
Practically a carbon copy of the first movie, Ip Man 2 threads on a well-paved road. There are hardly any surprises; the main opponent is brash and rude and puts down Chinese customs and martial arts, and Ip fights him not just to avenge Hung but to prove that Chinese martial arts (and Chinese) are able to stand on their own.
The cloying sacrifice of Ip induces eye-rolling, and director Wilson Yip stops short of putting a halo above Donnie Yen's head. Ip even abandons his wife (Lynn Huang) in her last month of pregnancy in order to train for the bout with the Twister.
The best part of the movie are the fight sequences, and there are two standout fight scenes; one at a fish market and the other when Ip has to defeat other martial art masters. However, the two final fight scenes with the Twister are quite brutal, and resemble the fights from the Rocky series.
The showdown between Hung and Yen is the movie's highlight; but the fight scenes where both are involved are cut short. Those hoping for a no-holds-barred showdown by the two kungfu stars will be disappointed.
Yen basically reprises his role from the first movie, and his struggle with poverty and ineptness at running his martial arts school are the only touch of colour in his character.
Sammo Hung’s unchanging expression proves to be a liability, particularly as his character, who is a go-between a corrupt British police officer and the martial arts schools, is the most complex in the film.
Still, the film does have one noticeable redeeming feature in Huang Xiaoming, who plays Wong Leung, Yen’s first student. Huang almost steals the show as a brash, impulsive show-off, and gives the film much needed energy.
A pity, then, that he’s pretty much shelved in the later half of the movie for a contrived, by-the-numbers third act.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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