By Don Simpson | February 2, 2011
Director: Wilson Yip
Writer(s): Edmond Wond (screenplay)
Starring: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam, Xiaoming Huang
I need to get a couple of things off of my chest before I begin: I am not a fan of martial arts films and I never saw Ip Man. However, I was assured by several friends and acquaintances who consider themselves to be aficionados of martial arts films that I would enjoy the artfulness and choreography of the Ip Man films and that these films are so well produced that they transcend the realm of the standard martial arts film audience. Or something like that… They also informed me that the plot of Ip Man 2 does not require the viewer to have already seen Ip Man. That advice effectively gave me the green light to not do due diligence and rent Ip Man for background; I opted to take the cold plunge and dive right into Ip Man 2…
I will say that Ip Man 2 made a positive impression on me very early on, when the titular Ip (Donnie Yen) explains to a young prospective protégé Wong Leung (Xiaoming Huang) that violence is only to be used as a last resort. (Yes, I know that I am probably the only person on this planet who would find a film starring a pacifist martial arts teacher appealing.) Moments later they are brawling because Wong does not heed Ip’s advice and wants Ip to prove his worth as a martial arts master (which is a recurring theme in Ip Man 2); Ip is glad to oblige and Wong concedes. Actually, Wong only appears to concede; he returns later with three friends to show Ip what’s what. It is not until Ip effortlessly conquers Wong’s friends that the four young ruffians become Ip’s first students.
But who is this man named Ip Man? Well, he is a Wing Chun master who relocated his family to Hong Kong in the early 1950s after escaping from Foshan. When Ip Man 2 begins, Ip opens the first Wing Chun school in Hong Kong. Not only is Ip wanting to spread the gospel of Wing Chun, but his family desperately needs the income to pay for everyday necessities such as rent and school fees.
Since Ip’s is the first Wing Chun school, he not only finds it difficult to enroll students (that is until Wong and his friends come around) but time and time again Ip also finds himself having to prove himself worthy of his status as a master and Wing Chun as a worthy form of martial arts, especially to the local Hung Ga master (Sammo Hung) with whom Ip finds himself toe-to-toe (and fist-to-fist) with a few times. Then, in the grand finale (which unfortunately lives up to its comparisons to Rocky IV and Karate Kid), Ip must prove to the western world that their brutally barbaric sport of boxing is no match for finesse and skill of Eastern martial arts in a near death match with Taylor “The Twister” Milos (Darren Shahlavi). (Non-violence be damned, Ip needs to prove that despite the differences between their races, everyone should respect each other…even if that means pummeling — and getting pummeled by — a Caucasian boxer.)
So, I have to admit that the choreography (designed by Sammo Hung) did amaze me, especially the fish market sequence and the showdown atop the wobbly table and upturned chairs. Ip Man 2, it turns out, is strangely reminiscent of West Side Story, replacing the dancing gangs with fighting martial arts clubs. (Did I go too far with that analogy? Umm…Probably.) Yen is an amazing presence, channeling the peaceful fortitude of Buddha with an amazing martial arts skill set; his facial expressions, so calm and stoic, his body movements, so fluid and graceful.
My primary complaint is that Ip Man 2 lacks a strong plot and character development. I know, I know — this is a martial arts film. But, just because martial arts films are typically lax when it comes to plot and character development that does not mean that film directors cannot try to improve upon that. Ip Man 2 could have easily integrated a meatier plot and more character development into the story while still giving martial arts fans what they want.
The real Ip Man, a.k.a. Yip Man, is considered to be the first martial arts master to teach Wing Chun openly and his most famous student was Bruce Lee. Director Wilson Yip intended for Ip Man 2 to focus on the relationship between Ip Man and Bruce Lee, however, they were unable to finalize the film rights with Lee’s descendants. So then, screenwriter Edmond Wong decided that he wanted to use Ip Man 2 to portray how Chinese people were treated by the British, as well as the Western perceptions towards Chinese martial arts.