Since its release last year, the immensely successful Ip Man (葉問) has elevated its eponymous grandmaster of the wing chun (詠春) martial arts school to an icon of Chinese kung fu and propelled action star Donnie Yen (甄子丹) to superstardom.
The highly anticipated sequel, Ip Man 2 (葉問2), closely follows the format that made its predecessor a blockbuster hit. But this time the Chinese hero-versus-foreign invaders narrative is fleshed out without wire fu or CGI-enhanced martial arts moves.
Yen is joined by action director Sammo Hung (洪金寶), who plays
a supporting but important role in
the follow-up that won’t disappoint fans, though it doesn’t offer many surprises.
The story begins with Ip Man (Yen) fleeing to Hong Kong having defeated the Japanese general in Foshan. To support his family, Ip Man sets up a wing chun academy. But as a newcomer to the British colony, the unassuming kung fu master soon catches the attention of master Hung of the powerful Hung Ga school. Respected by various martial arts schools, Hung insists that, in order to earn his right to teach wing chun in Hong Kong, Ip Man must win duels against local masters.
The challenge leads to a masterfully choreographed fight between Ip Man and Hung that dazzles with its sheer intensity and virtuosity, a scene that deserves to be considered one of the most memorable fighting sequences in kung fu cinema.
The duel ends in a draw, and despite the combatants’ differences, the two come to respect each other’s skills and integrity.
As with the first installment, the second half of the film follows the martial arts hero rising up against foreign oppressors. Only this time, it is not the villainous Japanese our Chinese hero does battle with, but an evil white man in the form of boxing champion Twister (Darren Shahlavi), who brutally beats master Hung to death in what was supposed to be a friendly match.
Ip Man 2
Wilson Yip (葉偉信)
Donnie Yen (甄子丹) as Ip Man,
Samm o Hung (洪金寶) as Hung
Chun-nam, Huang Xiaoming (黃
曉明) as Wong Leung, Ly nn Dailin
Xiong (熊黛林) as Zhang Yong
In Cantonese and English with
English and Chinese subtitles
Outraged, Ip Man challenges the vicious pugilist to a final battle in front of a cheering crowd.
Veteran martial arts star Hung once again creates the adrenaline-pumping, close-range combat sequences that show Yen fighting his way through a fish market melee, tabletop duel and ringside battle.
Director Wilson Yip (葉偉信) and scriptwriter Edmond Wong (黃子桓) neatly tie these action sequences closely to the plot.
One thing that this old-school kung fu fare has gone too far with, however, is its overly caricatured portrait of foreign villains. Though in the first Ip Man movie, the Japanese general, played by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, seems to have a shred of humanity left within him, the white men in the follow-up are comically wicked and corrupt, prompting the contemporary viewer to wonder why the villains are still as embarrassingly witless and one-dimensional as they were in Bruce Lee’s (李小龍) heyday.
Despite its plot holes, the Ip Man series has potential and recalls the 1990s’ Once Upon a Time in China (黃飛鴻) franchise starring Jet Li (李連杰). The brief appearance toward the end of the film of a young Bruce Lee, Ip Man’s famous disciple, hints at the possibility of another sequel, though Yen has reportedly said he won’t be in another Ip Man movie.
What is certain is that competing Ip Man projects will soon hit the silver screen, including Wong Kar-wai’s (王家衛) The Grand Master (一代宗師), currently in development, and Herman Yau’s (邱禮濤) prequel The Legend is Born — Ip Man (葉問前傳), slated for commercial release in July.