If you saw the first Ip Man, chances are you were interested in seeing the sequel. For me, the trailers certainly provided enough evidence of an awesome follow-up, boasting the returns of both director Wilson Yip and action choreographer Sammo Hung, who also gains a starring role this time around. Martial art movie fans alike were thrilled to learn of the return of Sammo and his first on-screen duel with Donnie Yen since 2005’s Sha Po Lang (S.P.L.). After finally getting a chance to catch a viewing of Ip Man 2, I can safely say that while it definitely has an exciting cast and a good amount of fight scenes, it doesn’t quite hold up to either the hype or the original.
— Note: Next 4 Paragraphs contain SPOILERS —
Taking place several years after the first film, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and his family move to Hong Kong in hopes of Ip establishing a Wing Chun school. Times are tough of course–his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) is pregnant and his son needs money for his school tuition. Ip gets help from an old friend, Leung Kan (Pierre Ngo), a newspaper editor who finds a rooftop spot for Ip to teach. Business eventually picks up after meeting his first student, Wong Lueng (Huang Xiao Ming) who doesn’t believe Ip’s hype at first and who then brings more guys to the school after a quick, but thorough ass kicking. We also learn that Chow Ching-chuen (Simon Yam), the man who helped Ip and his family escape the Japanese occupation in the first film, suffered brain damage from a gunshot wound, which left him crazy and unable to remember anyone, even Ip.
Later on, Leung is tacking up posters for Ip’s Wing Chun school when he’s accosted by Cheng Wai-kei (To Yu-Hang) who’s the head student of the Hung Quan school. Although Leung clearly beats Cheng, his gang beat up on Leung and take him captive. Ip is told to pay for Leung’s release, but instead fights with what seems to be most of the town, armed with knives and staffs. Ip makes it to the outside of the market where he meets up with Jin Shanzhao (Fan Sui-wong), the reformed bully from the first Ip Man, who now wants to help Ip. In struts Hung Chun-nam (Sammo) who is the head of the Hung Quan school and the apparent martial arts master in town. After a quick explanation, Hung explains that in order for Ip to be recognized as a Wing Chun master/teacher, he has to meet with all the masters in town for a challenge. Ip, Jin, and Leung are all subsequently arrested when a Chinese police officer named Fatso (Kent Cheng) says they’re causing a ruckus. We also learn that Hung and Fatso are close friends as nothing happens to Hung after the altercation.
Ip shows up at the hall where all the masters are and begins to fight them one at a time on a round table surrounded by stools laid upside down *gasp*. It’s obvious he’s better than everyone there, swiftly Wing Chun-ing everyone in their face. Hung doesn’t appreciate this and finally challenges Ip. After a draw, there seems to be an admiration from both fighters and a show of mutual respect that there is no clear winner (but you, the viewer can obviously see Hung is exhausted and had the fight gone any longer, Ip would’ve prevailed). Hung accepts his Wing Chun but tells him he has to pay for his school’s protection. When Ip refuses to pay the so-called neighborhood association fees, Hung sends his pupils to once again cause trouble, prompting Ip to close the school due to neighborhood complaints.
Ip meets up with Hung at his dojo, and explains that he’s still not going to pay the fees. Hung explains that it’s not just about fees, but for protection and money to the foreigners (aka the British). They scuffle a little before Hung almost kicks his lollipop-holding son in the face–Ip of course averts tragedy and stops right as Hung’s entire family comes in. It’s a key scene where they both come to a mutual understanding about the importance of family, and Hung let’s Ip know that there won’t be any more trouble. Hung then invites Ip and his students to a boxing tournament being held against the British and their champion, Twister (Darren Shahlavi). Of course racial tension builds up and the British ridicule Chinese boxing as inferior, causing Hung to fight Twister in hopes of restoring their honor. But alas, Hung is beaten to death after a couple of rounds and it’s now up to Ip to take down the British Empire…you guessed it, just like with the Japanese in the first film!
End of Spoiler
All right, so the movie wasn’t terrible. The best fight of the movie was easily between Donnie and Sammo, showcasing some vintage Sammo (circa 1985) and Donnie’s ridiculous speed. It was part classic-Sammo fight choreography and part wuxia wire fu, which was a nice blend and a good homage to period films before it. I can’t believe how Donnie seems to be getting quicker in front of the camera since his re-introduction to Hong Kong cinema–movies like SPL, Seven Swords, Dragon Tiger Gate, Flash Point, and Ip Man have really showcased a much more versatile Donnie Yen. I’m thrilled with Donnie’s movies since he stopped being the small, underdeveloped character in American movies–remember Highlander: Endgame? Blade II? Shanghai Knights? Yeah, me neither. As a leading actor in Hong Kong now, I think he’s really found a niche and if Sammo’s career is any indication, I think Donnie’s got a lot of years left to make some excellent martial art films. Sammo was still doing his thing as both actor and action choreographer–his movements were still so sharp and you could tell where he lent his wisdom to the action direction and to the other actors. He brought out a lot of different martial art styles from the period to showcase and it was fun to watch.
Unfortunately, a majority of the problems laid with the English actors and their overall delivery. Superintendent Wallace (Charlie Mayer) was a convincing bad guy, who you love to hate throughout the second half of the film, but his delivery felt too contrived. It’s either the villain who can fight or the one who can’t, and he’s the latter. As for the former, I’m still torn over Darren Shahlavi’s performance as Twister. On the one hand, I was so pumped to see him as the silly villain type he’s famous for (get Bloodmoon on NetFlix if you haven’t seen it!)–he had the cocky demeanor and it was quite clear he showed up in shape to fight. But just like his character in Bloodmoon, his acting and delivery were almost laughable when he’s not throwing a punch. His on-screen fighting is top drawer with Sammo and Donnie, but his overacting is evident when he’s outside of the ring. For a hokey movie, it might have been better received, but this was supposed to be a serious biopic. Knowing I’m never going to see a Bloodmoon sequel, I was okay just watching him duke it out with Sammo and Donnie. I would’ve also liked to see the kickboxing skills, but I knew they had to stay relevant to the history–however, if they’d taken so many liberties with Ip Man’s life, it wouldn’t have been blasphemy to see Shahlavi throw in some Bloodmoon kicks.
Finally we come to the overall tone of the movie. This sequel wanted so desperately to be a story about Ip and teaching Bruce Lee, but there were problems gaining the rights from the Lee family. So instead, they choose to go the hackneyed route and rehash the theme of the first movie where instead of a Japanese occupation in Foshan, the British are now occupying Hong Kong. The first Ip Man did an outstanding job of displaying this sentiment while its predecessor wasn’t as convincing. Ip Man in the movie was also a different man–in the first film, after seeing his fellow Chinese brethren being killed by the Japanese, he unleashes a brutal barrage on ten men at once. Although outlandish, it was one of the finer points in the film and showed a ferocity that made you want more. Here, we see an older, maybe wiser Ip, which maybe isn’t such a bad thing. The final fight in the original was amazing and showcased a spectacular bout between Chinese and Japanese martial arts, but this one left you feeling a little unfulfilled. I’m not saying I wanted Ip to be as brutal to the British as he was to Japanese, but after Hung was killed, I was expecting some of the same intensity from Donnie’s character in the first film.
Overall, it was a pretty entertaining film. You’re going to notice that the second half of the film bares a striking resemblance to a movie like Fearless, but nevertheless, I don’t think it takes anything away from it. At the end of the film, they decide to tease you with the entrance of a young Bruce Lee, who asks Ip for some lessons. It was a cute added scene where they clearly wanted to make room for a third installment about Bruce training with Ip in his teenage years. I’d be interested to see where they go with it, but Donnie has already spoken about the possibly of Ip in a third film by saying that Ip’s story has basically already been told. With that little bit, I doubt we’ll see Donnie in the role again, but I think it’s a good choice because you don’t want to beat a dead horse too many times.
If you haven’t already, check out the first Ip Man that’s due out on blu-ray July 27th. Ip Man 2 website