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After a series of flashbacks to refresh our memories about the goings-on in 2008ís Ip Man, Ip Man 2 opens with our hero elegantly assaulting a Wooden Man, one of the primary pieces of Wing Chun practice equipment.  Differing from its sire, more time is spent in Ip Man 2 on the movements and tenets behind the martial arts technique mastered by Ip, adding a depth to what by all rights should have been a far lesser sequel.  While not terribly inferior, Ip Man 2 does suffer when it goes off this fascinating path and treads into routine kung fu flick territory, by focusing the filmís entire second half on a showdown between the diminutive Chinese guy and an arrogant, disrespectful foreigner.

In the years since the Japanese lost World War Two and were routed from their occupation of China, the devastation of their invasion remains.  The Ip family has lost it all; their wealth, their beautiful mansion and even their hometown of Foshan.  Attempting to start a new life in Hong Kong, Ip Man tries to use his skills as a master of Wing Chun to organise a school of paying students, but finds it harder than he thought.  Ip is not one for the hard sell; neither will his upbringing as a gentleman allow him to press his poor students into paying money they owe for their lessons.  So instead, the Ips, huddled in a one-room flat, must avoid the landlady and hope for the best as they await the birth of their second child.  Ip mustíve prayed to Saint Jude, the deity known for substituting one obstacle for another, to bring Leung, a brash young tough to his door.  Leung announces that he is willing to become Ipís student only if Ip can beat him.  Leung must not have seen the first movie.  After picking his bum off the floor, Leung becomes Ipís most devoted disciple and ardent promoter, if only heíd learn something about self-control.  Leung manages to pick fights with students from the biggest martial arts schools in Hong Kong, whose masters then force Ip to prove himself as a sifu and pay for the privilege of teaching on their turf.  While all this drama is in motion, another outside force dominates Hong Kong; the British have taken an interest in the fighting and decide to pit a ďChinese boxerĒ against one of their own, following the Marquess of Queensbury rules Ö more or less.  The fatal disrespect the foreigners have dealt to their hosts and their traditions is too much for Ip to take, so for the honour of the Chinese people and true martial arts, Ip takes to the ring.

Itís actually all fine and good until it turns into a mashup of Rocky IV {1985} and Jet Liís film, Fearless {2006}, complete with obnoxious white fighter taking on much smaller, humble kung fu guy.  But even this dťjŗ-vu-all-over-again scenario is made richer by the enthralling fight choreography of the Biggest Big Brother himself, Sammo Hung (- who designed Ip 1ís fights, as well) and enacted by the excellent Donnie Yen, returning in the title role.  As expected of any martial arts film worth its yan, there are tons of riveting fight sequences.  The highlight of these would be Ipís challenge by the other martial arts teachers (- Along with Sammo, they are played by kung fu cinema vets like Lo Mang, the Toad of 1978ís classic Five Deadly Venoms.).  The fight takes place on a circular tabletop over a sea of upturned chair legs with the winner being the man who keeps his feet and the table underneath him.  As in the epic kung fu crime drama, Sha Po Lang {2005}, Donnie Yen and Sammo battle each other with explosive results.  Show me a whole movie made of nothing but these two amazing action stars sparring and Iíll show you LMD paying for repeat viewings.  The script isnít as gripping as Ip 1 where the narrative of Ipís story was written with a fullness and a sense of its history that simply isnít in this sequel.  This could be any fictional character in any action film and its finale being as close to the aforementioned Fearless further cheapens it and makes the viewer feel thereís no way this could have really happened.  What helps suspend any impatience with the plot is Ip Man 2ís great cast made mostly of returnees from the first film.  Donnie Yenís naturally sad countenance suits the unassuming, downtrodden teacher and conveys Ipís noble serenity even in the face of poverty, humiliation and loss.  Lynn Hung returns as Mrs. Ip, no less charming even in the padded belly sheís got to lug around through nearly all the film.  Itís a pity they didnít give her any good scenes; the relationship between the couple was one of the most charming things about the previous movie.  Simon Yam chews up scenery -- and a purloined duck -- as Ipís factory owner friend from the first film who was brain damaged by a Japanese bullet.  Yamís few moments onscreen are memorable, funny and touching.  New to the cast is Sammo, playing the proud head of the coalition of sheisty martial arts teachers.  It being Sammo, he instantly becomes the center of attention every moment heís onscreen.  The movie also maintains its beautiful production values; drenched in muted lights and sepia tones, the dilapidation due to the Japanese invasion is evident as are small signs of recovery all around.  The interiors inside the fighting school and the markets look fully rendered and authentic.  One might consider hanging on for a second just after the main storyline is over for a cute moment when Master Ip is introduced to a potential new student whose cocky swagger despite his tender years seems very familiar.

Ip Man 2 doesnít quite touch the laurels of its predecessor, but donít hold that against it. When one considers what a high point of modern kung fu cinema Ip Man was, it would be nothing short of a miracle for lighting to strike twice.  The weaker storyline and lack of originality is easily forgiven in light of how entertaining Ip Man 2 is and credit must be given for maintaining that excellent standard of martial arts action that made a classic of the original.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

January 28th, 2011

 

Click here for our Review of 2008's Ip Man

Click here for our Exclusive 2010 Interview with Sammo Hung

Click here for our Exclusive 2010 Interview with Simon Yam

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Well Go USA/Variance Films)

 

 

 

 

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