Ip Man 2 (2010) Movie Review

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2008’s “Ip Man” is one of the best martial arts movies you’ll see in the last 10 years, a film that all but cemented Donnie Yen’s crown as the new kung fu king of Hong Kong cinema. 2010’s “Ip Man 2” is a get rich quick scheme, and that’s me being very generous. The film’s one big success story is that it actually allows star Donnie Yen to expand on his acting chops. Somewhat. I’m not saying Yen has become Tony Leung or Chow Yun Fat overnight, but he seems to have understood that his character has aged since the first movie, and it shows here. Then again, who the hell watches a Donnie Yen movie for acting? Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of entertaining bits here and there, but overall, the sequel is 110 minutes of rehashed plotlines and wasted opportunity. When Donnie Yen fighting 20 guys in a fish market makes you yawn, something is very wrong.

After the events of the first movie, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) travels to Hong Kong with his family, including young son and pregnant wife (Lynn Hung). Ip, as I like to call him, is intent on opening his school and propagating Wing Chun to the Hong Kong masses. Alas, he faces difficulties, and never you mind that this is the same guy who famously and nearly single-handedly defeated the Japanese Army (if the first movie is to be believed), but no one in Hong Kong even knows who he is. Wha…? You would think his exploits would get around, but apparently not so much. In any case, our hero is stuck in neutral (or as the kids call it, he’s dirt poor), with his pregnant wife henpecking him to, you know, become successful or something. He’s opened a rooftop school, but has no students. It’s so bad, the lady downstairs uses his school to hang her laundry.

Then one day a street punk name Wong Leung (Xiaoming Huang) wanders onto the roof, demanding to spar with Ip. The brash youth loses, of course, and soon Ip’s school has found itself a dozen or so students made up of Leung and his street buddies. Unfortunately being mostly homeless, the boys can’t all pay the tuition, much to the chagrin of Ip’s wife. But students incapable of paying tuition fees are the least of Ip’s problems: Hong Kong is home to a variety of martial arts schools, led by the toughest master of them all, Hung (Sammo Hung, also the film’s action director). These old guys and their students (but mostly just Hung’s students) are making Ip’s life pretty miserable. This all leads to Ip facing all the masters for the right to teach. Meanwhile, there are other problems soon to confront our hero. While the Japanese have been soundly defeated in WWII, Hong Kong is ruled by the crass and bullying British. Can you say, “Wait, isn’t this the entire plot of the first movie?” Why, yes, it is.

Of course, by the time the Evil White Men rear their evil white heads, Ip has resolved his issues with his fellow Chinese masters. Although his fight with Sammo Hung, one of the film’s main selling points, ends in a draw (though come on, we know who really won that one, right, Master Hung?), Ip has moved on with his school and being poor. (In case you were wondering, it sucks to be poor, especially with a pregnant wife.) But that’s only the first hour of “Ip Man 2”, with the film’s final 40 minutes saved for some rah-rah Chinese jingoism as the might of the entire Hong Kong martial arts community (okay, pretty much just Hung and Ip Man) focuses their energies on defeating loudmouth British boxing champ Twister, played by Hong Kong veteran stuntman Darren Shahlavi. It goes without saying that the Brits are simply replacements for the Japanese villains of the first movie, and screenwriter Edmond Wong, who also penned the first “Ip Man”, doesn’t even bother to offer up one sympathetic token white guy, though the screenwriter did take the time to lift scenes from “Rocky IV”. Amusingly, Shahlavi’s character is simply called Twister throughout the movie, kinda like Madonna.

If you’ve already seen the first “Ip Man”, then I won’t have to tell you that the sequel is basically a rehash of the first movie’s major plot points, with Ip Man vs. the various masters in the first half, then Ip Man vs. Bullying Foreigners in the second half. Heck, they even threw in a colluding Chinese character that does the bidding of the Big Bad Brits just to make sure the script was lazy enough. The sequel features other characters from the first movie, including Simon Yam, who is mostly wasted in a throwaway role, though admittedly Simon Yam wolfing down a whole leg of chicken and looking crazy as his character pops up sporadically throughout the movie is pretty funny stuff. More memorable is Siu-Wong Fan, now playing a reformed Good Samaritan who assists Ip Man’s efforts in Hong Kong. In the grand ol tradition of Chinese cinema where the local folk hero must battle on behalf of the entire Chinese populace versus a foreign power, the Third Act where Ip Man takes on the entire British Empire in Hong Kong is played with hilarious earnestness.

Frankly, the lack of ambition or creativity in “Ip Man 2” is downright insulting. With pretty much every component of the first movie back – star, director, and writer – it’s unconscionable that the sequel would be so by-the-numbers and uninspired. Even the much-heralded rematch of Donnie Yen vs. Sammo Hung (they have already tangled once, in more brutal fashion in “Sha Po Lang”, a far superior movie) is not the centerpiece action sequence I had hoped, though it does mark the film’s highlight for me. It’s unfortunate that, by comparison, the whole Twister nonsense goes on for a full 40 minutes, with the Brit pitting his pugilist skills against kung fu. It might have been novel when Jet Li did it in “Fearless”, but by the time “Ip Man 2” gives it the ol college try, it’s just a poor (and lazy) imitation.

The film is not completely without merit, though. I liked the fact that Donnie Yen seems to be making a concerted effort to do more than just pose and go about the film beating everyone to smithereens. This new Ip Man is not all-powerful, and in fact he takes quite a beating. The character spends a lot of time trying to mend fences and resolve things diplomatically before resorting to his fists of fury. It’s too bad that the action that accompanies this growth in character is so lackluster. Much of the first hour is devoted to fights between schools, with a lot of black eyes and broken collarbones, but nothing that comes close to a fatality. There was probably some germ of an idea with Ip Man’s young protégé Wong Leung that could have been further explored, but whatever it was got lost around the hour mark, which is too bad, because Xiaoming Huang brings some much-needed exuberance to the film. And for those of you waiting for it, yes, a young Bruce Lee eventually shows up in “Ip Man 2”, but you’ll have to wait a pretty long time for it.

I would love nothing more than to recommend “Ip Man 2” to you, but I can’t in good conscious do so. The film is so uninspired as to be insulting. The rehashing of the first movie is unforgiveable enough, but the film’s final 40 minutes is just tedious and laughably scripted. When Western characters are written into Hong Kong movies, hilarity and more than a generous amount of bad acting is expected, but damn, the British villains in “Ip Man 2” has really lowered the bar something awful. If you absolutely must watch Donnie Yen punch people really fast in the face, I would recommend just going back and watching “Ip Man” again. Trust me, you’ll leave more satisfied, even if you’ve already seen it a dozen times. Don’t give your hard-earned money to the makers of “Ip Man 2”, lest you convince them to make more shoddy, lazy products in the future.

Wilson Yip (director) / Edmond Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Donnie Yen … Ip Man
Lynn Hung … Yong
Simon Yam … Quan
Sammo Hung … Hung
Xiaoming Huang … Wong Leung
Siu-Wong Fan … Jin
Darren Shahlavi … Twister
Jiang Dai-Yan … Bruce Lee


Buy Ip Man 2 on DVD

Author: Nix

Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.
  • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool aka Jiinx

    Grrrr. razafrazzin, overseas, non region one releasing…
    I still need to see the first one.

  • vineland

    I loved the first one. Damn, I so looked forward to this.

  • xilex

    aw, i was hoping for something epic in ip man 2 like the first one i just saw recently. guess that's why yen decided not to do any more ip man-themed movies again…

  • Erwin

    The only thing I agree with the reviewer is the bad acting by the British actors. If you remove that from the equation, its still one heck of a movie. There is always some degree of exaggeration in movies. That's why we go and watch a movie- to be entertained by something that seems larger than life and appeals to our most basic emotions. While the first movie was a classic, the second one is still better than most martial arts movies to have come out in recent times. Worth collecting, and most importantly, worth watching. 4/5 stars.

  • deejay

    I just finished watching this. It was entertaining and the action scenes where good. It just seemed to get a bit silly when introducing the westerners, it looked as if it was just added on to the movie to give him something to fight for. I was very entertained for the entire movie though.

  • Mikeezz

    As much as Western characters are comical in Chinese movies. One has to remember this movie is made for Asian's. If you look at Asian stereotypical characters in HOLLYWOOD movies. The Asians really are made to look like either evil villans or nerds.

  • David

    First the bullying white guy parts are historically accurate. Second in those pre-internet days, news traveled as fast as the person carrying it, what happened in one part of china would not necessarily have been known in another part of china. Third, people do collude, when they are occupied, look at the French and Benedict Arnold. Finally there are no sympathetic white guys because there were no sympathetic white guys. The movie is quite accurate.

  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Nix

    You're getting hung up on the wrong thing, David. The evil white guy stuff is amusing, to be sure, but has almost no bearing on my review. The point is that the sequel is lackluster in comparison to the first. They basically copied themselves for the bucks.

  • james sunderland

    Don't you mean English, David? vis a vis Benedict Arnold that is. Incidentally I'm toying with a writing project about Benedict Arnold at the moment, not sure if it'll turn out to be novel material…

    I'm Chinese, and I disagree. I thought the British portrayal was ridiculous. The homogenuity is a staple of traditional HK movies, and is to be taken with large doses of salt. In any given culture you're going to get people with vastly differing sympathies and attitudes. You said it yourself, colluders exist. Therefore the occupied nation isn't going to be homogenuous. What makes you suppose the occupying nation is going to be?

    It's risky, to hold the attitude of, for instance, people who swallow the whole opium war story hook line and sinker. All that stuff about the immorality of the British opium weakening the moral fibre of the Chinese, and how the burning of the opium was an awesome expression of Chinese defiance… Even I know that's not the case. If you believe that, you probably also believe the Boston Tea Party was about imposition of high taxes (hint: it wasn't).

  • james sunderland

    Well his official reason is that this movie is going to reach classic status, and he does not want to dilute the legacy, especially with the other Ip Man biopics coming out.

    I respect the hell out of Donnie Yen for his acting chops, and his martial arts chops too come to that, but… the fella has no idea what makes a movie “classic”. lol