“Ip Man 2” sees Donnie Yen reprising his role as the Wing Chun master and all round defender of the Chinese nation, continuing the story of the great man’s life as he heads to Hong Kong following the end of the Sino-Japanese War. Director Wilson Yip and producer Raymond Wong also return, as do cast members Lynn Xiong, Fan Siu Wong, and even Simon Yam. Perhaps more excitingly, the legendary Sammo Hung lends his talents to the film, both as action director and in a starring role, offering the chance to see him going head to head with Yen as they did to exhilarating effect in “SPL”. He is joined by a number of other new stars, including Huang Xiao Ming (“The Message”) and veteran character actor Kent Cheng (who also recently featured with Yen in Wilson Yip’s excellent “Flash Point”). Unsurprisingly, the film was a massive box office hit, not only in China but across Asia, ranking as one of the top grossing productions of 2010 to date.
The film takes up where the original left off, with Ip Man and his family leaving Foshan in 1949 for colonial Hong Kong after the hardships that followed the end of the Sino-Japanese War. Trying to make a living and continue his Wing Chun teachings, he opens a small martial arts school and recruits Wong Leung (Huang Xiao Ming) and a number of his friends. Unfortunately, he soon finds out the hard way that in order to teach in Hong Kong, he first has to gain the acceptance of the local masters, in particular the venerable Master Hung (Sammo Hung). Making matters more complicated are the corrupt British police, who seem determined to humiliate the Chinese, organising a deadly tournament featuring a vicious English boxer called Twister (the British Darren Shahlavi, who moved to Hong Kong in the 1990s and featured in Yuen Woo Ping’s “Tai Chi 2”).
A particularly pleasing aspects of “Ip Man 2” is that as a biopic continuation of the life of a fascinating historical figure, it avoids the kind of cheap cash in lazy plotting so often associated with sequels. As such, the film feels natural, and quickly gets back into the swing of things without any needless recaps or covering of familiar ground. One of the reasons why the original worked so well was due to Yen’s immensely likeable lead performance, as well as the film’s depiction of Ip Man as a steadfastly righteous and all round nice guy, and he slips comfortably back into the role, making for a winning protagonist whose story engages throughout. The returning cast members similarly help and add a valuable air of continuity, even though Yam has very little to do in what really only amounts to a cameo appearance. Perhaps the only downside is that the film’s plot is rather familiar, basically focusing on the British attempts to prove the inferiority of Chinese martial arts, with the whole tournament set up having been seen in a number of other recent genre films such as “Fearless” and “True Legend”. Still, the premise is well handled and fun, especially since the English villains are overplayed to a presumably unintentional degree of pantomime hilarity, enough so to dispel any serious notions of anti-western sentiment.
In terms of action the film certainly delivers, with a good number of impressively choreographed sequences. Hung’s fight choreography is tight and exciting, with an old school feel and never falling back too much on the use of obvious computer enhancements. Most of the duels are fast and furious, with Yen getting plenty of chances to show off his incredible acrobatic skills and speed. His duel with Hung is inevitably one of the film’s standout scenes, and for genre fans is probably worth the price of admission on its own. Although somewhat predictable in its “Rocky” like pacing, Yen’s long final battle against the amusingly arrogant and psychotic twister is suitably stirring and bone crunchingly brutal, and its hard not to get a kick out of the fact that the unfailingly noble Ip Man still finds the energy and time to deliver a final sermon on people getting along and respecting each other.
In many ways this scene neatly sums up “Ip Man 2”, a film which manages to balance some intense action and excitement with themes that are well meaning without ever being patronising. Anchored by Yen, Yip and Hung, the film stands as a highly enjoyable and respectable continuation of the original, and is easily one of the best Chinese blockbusters of the year.
Wilson Yip (director) / Edmond Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Donnie Yen … Ip Man
Lynn Hung … Zhang Yong Cheng
Simon Yam … Zhou Qing Quan
Sammo Hung Kam-Bo … Hung Jan Nam
Xiaoming Huang … Wong Leung
Siu-Wong Fan … Jin Shan Zhao
Kent Cheng … Fatso
Darren Shahlavi … Twister