Since 2005, director Wilson Yip (叶伟信) has been satisfying audiences with a string of martial arts flicks starring cinema veteran Donnie Yen (甄子丹). His resume includes SPL in 2005, Dragon Tiger Gate in 2006, Flash Point in 2007 and Ip Man in 2008. This year, the director-actor duo returns with a sequel to 2008′s well received Ip Man, titled Ip Man 2 (叶问2).
I believe a good sequel does not penalise the person who have yet to watch the previous films, and to Ip Man 2′s credit, you don’t have to watch the first Ip Man to get into this one. At the beginning of Ip Man 2, we are introduced to the title character and his life. He is a kind hearted family man who teaches martial arts for a living. More specifically, he teaches a brand of Chinese martial arts called “Wing Chun” (咏春). Ip Man learnt his Wing Chun skills from Chan Wah Shun, who in turn got them from Leung Jan. I wonder why there are no movies about THEM?
To my surprise, I really enjoyed the first half of Ip Man 2. The plot kicks off when one of Ip’s students, Wang, gets himself into trouble with the students of a neighbouring martial arts school that teaches “Hung Ga” (洪家). Ip’s efforts to make peace results in a massive fight scene in a wet market, which I easily award “Best Scene of the Movie”.
The action sequences in the first half of the film are easy to follow and fun to watch. Ip’s black suit reminded me of Neo’s floor sweeping get-up in the The Matrix, and it was fun to see Ip whipping all his opposer’s faces with the flat side of a butcher knife. However, I wonder if not for the back story of Ip’s honest life, would we be siding with the mob instead?
Ip accepts a challenge from the coordinator of the various martial arts schools in the village, played by Sammo Hung (洪金宝) (His character is also called Hung). Hung’s fight with Ip on a circular dining table involved some extremely skillful camera movement which I admired greatly. I could tell by the build-up to this fight that the film was trying to create a character whose hand combat matched even those of Ip, which I couldn’t support more because at this point, it was starting to feel strange that no one on Earth was more powerful than Ip.
What I didn’t fancy about this fight scene was that it contained a few Matrix-inspired moves. I bet a good number of the audience were wowed by watching Sammo Hung execute a jump higher than what a normal human could have done. I felt like this kind of things dented the realism that made the film so unique in the first place. Audiences are here to see Yen and Hung perform their own stunts and show off some beautifully choreographed fights choreographed by Hung himself. So why are the filmmakers downgrading their own credibility by including moves that I am starting to question are even part of Chinese martial arts.
Speaking of Chinese martial arts, was there really any difference between Wing Chun and the other types of kung fu? Other than the way they posed before they started to hit each other, I could not see any real distinction between each fighting style. Which then makes you wonder why the different kung fu masters pride their own brand of kung fu so much if they were all the same anyway. Despite these nitpicks, the entire action sequence was highly entertaining and intense, with a good blend of comedy.
I was irritated that the main plot in the first half of the film was never concluded. What became of the tension between Ip’s school and the other schools? I assumed that their rivalry was resolved because Ip is seen enrolling more students at the end of the film. As much as I enjoy a happy ending, I would have liked Ip Man 2 much more if there was a conclusion to the epic atmosphere in the village that was so beautifully set up. I was also puzzled as to what became of the bullies from Hung Ga that ruined Ip’s front lawn. The film seemed to be leading to some sort of showdown between the students of Wing Chun and Hung Ga, but the second half of the movie turned in a whole new direction instead.
The transition to the second half of the film was very awkward. We see Hung interacting with the Western authorities regarding a boxing match that was going to take place soon. I felt that the audience deserved an introduction to what exactly the Westerners were doing in this village, and why they allowed the Chinese to have a kung fu exhibition if they despised the Chinese so much in the first place.
The second half of the film was neither as engaging nor exciting as the first half. Other than the characterisation problems that I have already mentioned, there was also the formulatic revenge storyline that was dragged out longer than it should have been. Sure, the Rocky-esque training scene injected some emotion into the story, but I was expecting a little more creativity than the similar vengeance plot from the first Ip Man. However, I will commend the corruption subplot that gave more meaning to the antagonists.
I don’t think the Ip Man films are as great as some people make them out to be. Maybe younger audiences like them more because they contain actual stuns and fights instead of CGI. The good performances from the main cast (including the under-rated villains) is what makes this film watchable till the end. If you are thinking of watching the special effects heavy Storm Warriors (风云II), or the campy Future X Cops (未来警察), forget it and get Ip Man 2.