James Helsby

LRE #49: Ip Man 2

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Little Red Envelope

In my mailbox this week:
Ip Man 2

Release Year: 2010

Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo

The sequel to, in my opinion, the greatest martial arts movie of all time. I can only hope.

If you read my review of the original Ip Man, then you should not be surprised when I say that it was perhaps the greatest martial arts movie of all time. And yes, I have seen a bunch. But the thing is that most of the others lacked a crucial element… story. All the ones that have come before have primarily been focused on the fight sequences. Even going back so far as the Bruce Lee films, such as Enter the Dragon (perhaps the second best, imho.) The fight sequences have been over played, and unbelievable. I mean, seriously… Tiger Claws?

But Ip Man broke away from tradition, and embraced the story along with the fight. And oh what a story it was. The story of Ip Man, or Master Ip, a Kung Fu Master of the Wing Chun school in the Foshan Provence in China, right at the time of the Japanese occupation. It was an excellent story that told the tale of how one man making a stand, can inspire a country and change the world.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t even bother continuing with this review until you have. You will be doing yourself a service by checking it out on Netflix. Ignoring the quality of the story, it also had some of the greatest fight sequences I have ever seen. To the caliber of Donnie Yen (Master Ip) landing 10 punches a second on his opponents, while still pulling them all from being fatal.

Ip Man 2 continues the story of Master Ip. Having been shot during the anti-climax of Ip Man, Master Ip has been spirited away from Foshan by his friend Chow Ching-chuen to Hong Kong, to escape the occupation, Master Ip is attempting to establish an actual school to teach the art of Wing Chun. But no one comes to his school, until on brash young man challenges the Master to a fight, with the promise that if he looses he will pay his school fees.

When Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming) handily looses the fight, he runs away without paying. Shortly he returns with 3 other friends, who also attempt to defeat the master. As before, they are handily defeated. But Wong has a knack for trouble, and soon lands the school in hot water. It turns out that no school is allowed to exist unless it has been sanctioned by the other Kung Fu masters of Hong Kong. And the leader of the master, is none other than Huang Xiaoming (Sammo Hung, the guy who actually choreography the films fight scenes.)  Master Ip must fight the other masters, and stay in battle until a single stick of incense has burned itself out.

Master Ip’s only true challenger is Huang. But Haung reveals that Master Ip must also pay a monthly fee for the honor of opening a school. That doesn’t sit with Master Ip. Huang is also working the underground, and his connections to the police and the British occupation of Hong Kong. Working to create boxing match to pit Kung Fu against western boxing star ‘Twister’ (Darren Shahlav).

The truth is that Ip Man 2 is just not as good as the original movie. I truly hate saying that, but it is the truth. The sequel, while perhaps having better fight sequences, just didn’t have the same quality of story as the first. Ip seemed more angry, and much more likely to cause serious harm to an opponent, where as in the first he would always hold himself back; sure of his own strength. Perhaps this is an element that just didn’t translate well into the sequel, that Master Ip has lost his reservation, or even his confidence. Regardless, the story was less congealed than the first. Where the first film strongly focused on standing up to oppression, the second was much more about pride.

While pride is a strong enough subject for a film to be based, it seems in contrast to the first. Originally Ip man was not a proud man, he was humble despite is prowess and presence. He lived a life of luxury, until that was taken away from him, but he was always generous with what he had. And while the generosity is still there, Ip Man 2 focuses itself on standing up to name calling, and remaining proud in the face of a different kind of oppression (physical in the first, sociological in the second.)

It just didn’t feel right. Perhaps that is my western sensibility playing into the films subject. But if you can get past the weaker story, the fight sequences are epic. Perhaps too epic, bordering on the ridiculous, but they are still something to behold. The amazing thing in the first, is just how powerful Ip is in comparison to his opponents. Handily defeating 10 men, this time Ip faces 100. Armed with butcher knives. Instead of facing a Japanese master of Karate, IP fights against 5 masters of Kung Fu, plus one master of western boxing.

And it seems odd that a boxer nearly brings the end of Ip. And while the rules are changed mid-battle to favor the boxer, the power vs the speed seemed out of balance.

Donnie Yen brings his A game to the film, and you are left with a real sense of the character of Master Ip. He is a great actor, and playing across the screen from Sammo Hung was, again, epic. If you want to see how well a fight sequence can be coordinated and filmed, this is definitely the film for you. Honestly, this film should be considered a new bar by which martial arts films are compared. The first already established the bar, the sequel just reinforces it. Well, with the exception of the last 30 seconds of the film, where a young Bruce Lee makes a cameo. It was unnecessary, and seemed to just be added to encourage western audiences. It was out of place, and shouldn’t have been included.

So, it may not be AS good as the first, but it holds its own. Originally it was slated that the movie series would be a trilogy, but the director and producer were so happy with the results of this film, that they don’t believe they will be making the third installment. Me, personally, I hope that they do. It’s not that the story needs an ending, but I would love to see a film of this caliber yet again.

How painful was it: Not quite as awesome as the first, but better fight sequences.

Rating: 8/10. If you loved the first, you will love the second. If you haven’t seen the first, wait to see this until you have.

The Wife’s Retort: I agree. Not as good as the first, but pretty darn good.

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