Before I say anything about IP Man 2, you simply must see IP Man first. Why? Because it is a blast that has a lot of heart, even if it takes extreme liberties with the history of Ip Man and the rise of the Wing Chun fighting style. When one of his greatest pupils happens to be the legendary Bruce Lee, you know the fighting style is something to watch. In order to enjoy IP Man 2, you don’t have to see the first, but since you have time between now and the early 2011 theatrical release by Well GO USA, you might as well. The fights in IP Man 2 are some of the best by fight choreographer Sammo Hung, who faces off against Donnie Yen as both choreographer and opponent for the first time. The story’s scale is reined in compared to the first, but the heartfelt drama is yet again a staple, showing that Hong Kong action films are back. Hit the jump to read my full review.
The story picks up where Ip Man left off, as Ip Man (Donnie Yen) and his family travel to the bustling Hong Kong to setup a new martial arts school and teach Wing Chun. However, he is met with hardship after struggling to find students and eventually runs afoul of the martial arts group led by Master Hung Quan (Sammo Hung) that feels no one except who they accept can teach martial arts. When a Western boxing championship fight comes to town, the champion Twister (Darren Shahlavi) creates a threat to the very foundation of the martial arts schools and an epic showdown is set. Will the two masters join forces or will things forever change in Hong Kong?
Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen provide the most exciting fights in Ip Man 2, which are sure to be fan favorites. Their skirmishes, showcasing the excellent fight choreography that Hung provides, are electric and incredible to watch, garnering wild applause from the crowd on hand. Yen shows a mastery of Wing Chun and his speed is lightning quick but Hung is no slouch which means the battles are thrilling examples of two equally matched opponents. However, you would expect their fights to be incredible. The real surprise was the fights involving Twister. Shahlavi isn’t a boxer in real life as his background lies in martial arts, and with the help of Hung, the character of Twister isn’t a lumbering pile of muscles that most Western boxers might appear when matched against kung fu masters.
Shahlavi showcases his athletic prowess and is every bit the equal to anyone put in front of him which turns the finale into an enthralling juxtaposition of two vastly different fight disciplines. As opposed to so many fight scenes in today’s action landscape with the overuse of green screen and CGI, this film’s fluidity and practical fights pay off on the big screen. Everything is in focus and the action is easy to track. Another fun aspect of Ip Man 2 is the variation of the sets in which the fights take place. This helps showcase the location and adds flavor by throwing a number of obstacles in the path of our fighters. Whether it’s being vastly outnumbered in a fish market or fighting one on one on top of a balanced table, every fight poses a new challenges and the great sets lead to each fight feelings fresh.
As with most Hong Kong action films, the fight scenes are usually the bread and butter, but Ip Man 2 also provides more of the heart and soul that made Ip Man so great. Part of this is the return of director Wilson Yip and screenwriter Edmond Wong, which along with Donnie Yen provides the backbone to nearly eclipse their rousing original. In fact, Yen brings such a likeable demeanor to his role as Ip Man that you simply can’t help root for him with all your heart; his ever-present calming smile in the midst of cruelties and insults is downright endearing. Ip Man 2 passes the epic nature of the story from the first film in favor of a smaller scale, but everything combines to make this film far above average. There is no sequel curse here. The film has a story of redemption and respect, which combines well with the lessons of Wing Chun that focus on not just combat, but the improvement of one’s soul. Oh, and it’s a ton of fun to watch these guys beat each other to a bloody pulp.
While Shahlavi’s character is incredibly predictable and lacks depth, he doesn’t have to do a lot of acting to pull it off. He has just a few lines of dialog that equate to him yelling insults and taunts, but he plays it well and becomes someone you really enjoy rooting against. Meanwhile, Hung is full of pride and isn’t one to back down in the face of opposition. He brings a lot of depth as he mulls over decisions that have a large impact on the story and the characters within. Yen is the mainstay of this series and the one who brings everything together. They could stick him in a room full of wooden statues and you might still enjoy watching him play things out, even when you know he will prevail. Siu-Wong Fan makes a return as Jin Shan Zhao from the first film, and he brings a lot of humor and heart to his role. Even though he is a smaller character this time around, he none the less shines.
All in all, Ip Man 2 adds more action but doesn’t forget the heart that made the original film such a unique and entertaining experience. Donnie Yen is already a super star to those who follow martial arts films, but he has mainstream appeal that makes him a pleasure to watch beyond just kicking ass. With a stable of engaging bad guys and allies, and the ever reliable direction for Wilson Yip, Ip Man 2 proves that despite taking extensive liberties with the master of Wing Chun there is a lot of fun left to be had in Hong Kong action films. Ip Man 2 will release in theaters January 28th via Well GO USA.