Review: Ip Man 2
The mild-mannered Ip Man is compelled, once more, to defend Chinese honour.
By ELIZABETH TAI
Cast: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Huang Xiao-ming, Lynn Hung, To Yue-hong, Darren Shahlavi, Simon Yam and Fan Sui-wong.
Director: Wilson Yip
IT is 1949, and Wing Chun master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is a nobody in Hong Kong.
He is struggling to make ends meet by teaching Wing Chun at the rooftop of a shop-lot generously provided to him by a friend.
Despite the challenges, he is still calm, cheerful and generous to a fault — to the displeasure of his now pregnant wife. But you know how life just happens.
Ip Man may prefer to stay out of trouble, but trouble always comes looking for him. First, in the form of local thug Cheng Wai Kei (To Yue-hong) who bullies his students. Then Cheng’s teacher, Master Hung (Sammo Hung), insists that he needs to pass a ”test” before he is allowed to teach martial arts.
After that, Mr Twister (Darren Shahlavi), a British boxing champion with the manners of a slimy creature, challenges the kungfu masters to a fight to prove that Western boxing is superior. What’s an upstanding, upright man to do?
Well, if you’ve seen the first movie, you’d know the answer — especially since Ip Man 2 is basically a retread of the first movie, in which Ip Man comes up against bullies in a series of spectacular fights and finally faces a big, bad opponent in a fight to the death to defend Chinese honour.
It’s a simple and classic plot, and it still works in Ip Man 2 — to a point.
But while Ip Man 2 may excel in fist fights, it doesn’t have the same emotional depth as the first movie.
There, we see Ip Man at his most vulnerable, braving the loss of wealth and status, and struggling to feed his family during the brutal years of the Sino-Japanese war while retaining a frail hold on his pride and dignity. In the film’s pivotal and most thrilling sequence, we see his zen-like exterior dissolve when he sees a friend brutally murdered.
He then battles the same Japanese pugilists who killed his friend, dislocating their joints and breaking their bones in silent rage.
This is why the final fight between Ip Man and the Japanese general had so much emotional resonance. It was a fight to reclaim not just his dignity but the honour of the downtrodden Chinese people as well.
Sammo Hung (centre) is awesome as always.
I suppose it is tough to recreate these personal challenges for our hero in a Hong Kong ruled by the relatively benign British. And because the odds against him aren’t as dire, the writers had to improvise by creating villains so nasty it beggars belief. There’s the match-fixing police inspector who treats the Chinese like coolies, and Twister, who spews racist epithets while his Western compadres chuckle along at his side.
While I’m not denying there was discrimination in British-ruled Hong Kong, these characters are such caricatures that it’s hard to take them seriously. It doesn’t help that they were played by lousy actors either.
The Twister vs Ip Man fight at the end felt staged and emotionally empty. The ”defend Chinese honour” aspect of the match felt forced, despite the ”white pugilist vs Chinese kungfu master” fight being a classic trope. Depending on your tolerance for such posturing, the whole thing could sour your enjoyment of the film.
Still, there’s enough left for one to enjoy: Simon Yam and Fan Sui-wong from the first movie make brief appearances; heart-throb Huang Xiao-ming appears as Ip Man’s
The cinematography and sets are beautiful — every detail of 1940s Hong Kong is lovingly recreated.
Furthermore, while the Japanese general was disappointingly easy to defeat in the first movie, Ip Man has a tougher time with Mr Twister. This man is a mean, muscular machine who towers over Ip Man not only in height but in brute strength. The stakes are high in the final match. Blood will splatter.
Sure, Ip Man 2 may have gone overboard with the ”defend Chinese honour” bit, but it is still fun, thrilling and full of kungfu awesomeness.