Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Darren Shahlavi, Simon Yam, Terry Fan, Fung Hark-On, Turbo Law, Xiaoming Huang
Fight Choreography by Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung
Directed by Wilson Yip
Donnie Yen, after years of failure to live up to expectations, finally starting living up to his potential starting with Killzone, and then Flashpoint, which finally led him to what will become his signature film, Ip Man, which was wildly successful. So of course there would be a sequel, but could it live up to what the first film delivered?
The film returns us to the world of Ip Man circa 1949. Ip Man (Yen) had escaped his home in Foushan with his wife and son during the war with Japan. Fast forward some time later finds them living poorly in Hong Kong, nearly as bad off as they were in Foushan, and Ip Man slowly but surely finds students to train, especially one young fool named Leung (Huang). This gets him into trouble with the local martial arts schools, all part of an association run nearly gangster-style by Master Hong Zen Nan (Hung) who in turn help stage fights for the British there, headlined by their champion Twister (Shahlavi), an overconfident boxer who doesn’t respect Chinese boxing. Ip Man first finds himself at war with Master Hong, but the greater threat of Twister emerges, and the legitimacy of Chinese kung fu rests on Ip Man’s shoulders once again…
Ip Man 2 has a far denser story than the original, as we are not only introduced to a slew of new characters, but are reintroduced to some of the other characters who escaped Foushan, and how their lives have changed, such as Jin (Fan) who was one of Ip Man’s enemies from the previous film, but a wife and child have changed him into a decent guy, one who now wants to help Ip Man. Simon Yam also returns as Zhou Quan, who goes from businessman to a homeless thief after a bullet to the head he suffered during his escape from Foushan damages his brain, and now cannot recognize anyone. Now his son does his best to care for him. There is something to the structure of the film that echoes the first, such as the story line changing from Ip Man dealing with a local thug to defending the Chinese martial arts from another occupying force, in this case the British.
Donnie Yen once again plays Ip Man with the same calm grace he did in the original. Yen does more acting with his eyes, as you can see how the events of the last film and this one fray at Ip Man’s soul as he tries to help his fellow Chinese as well as care for his wife, who is expecting a child. Sammo Hung plays Master Hong not as a bad guy, but as a conflicted man who wants to make enough money to take care of his multitude of children but also trying to keep the British police thugs from overrunning Hong Kong. He is a proud man who relents to no one, and Sammo approaches this kind of character as a man who truly believes he has China’s best interests at heart, but realizes too late he may have done more harm than good. Darren Shahlavi is fantastic as Twister, playing him with just the right amounts of confidence and arrogance. There is actually a great moment toward the end of the film after his epic fight with Ip Man, and Shahlavi is able to convey a sense that Twister’s world view had changed, all done with facial expressions and no dialogue. It was also fun to see Turbo Law (Gallants) and Fung Hark-On (Police Story) appear for an actual fight scene. Both men show that despite their age they can still rock the kung-fu!
The one real gripe I had with the story was in regards to Ip Man’s duel with Twister, wherein Ip Man waits until nearly the end of the fight to remind himself of what he had told Master Hong earlier in the film in regards to defeating Twister. Since Ip Man is such a smart man, how could he have conveniently forgotten the way to defeat Twister? It just didn’t ring true from everything already established about the character.
Sammo Hung returns to duty as fight choreographer of this film as well, and does a fantastic job of staging the fights. The fish market fight was fantastic, and what may be the best fight is the duels between Ip Man and the masters, culminating in a Sammo versus Donnie Yen that is simply a fantastic fight as they duel on top of a round table, as is Sammo’s fight versus Shahlavi. I have to admit none of the fights are quite as good as the first films’, except for Donnie Yen’s duel with Sammo.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) The fights are fast paced and brisk, and as inventive as always. Ip Man versus the Masters is probably the most inventive fight sequence in the film, as is Sammo’s fight with Darren Shahlavi. Both men pull if off beautifully. Donnie Yen brings that same fast-paced smoothness to his fights, and is able to be a good counterpoint to Shahlavi’s brutal boxing style.
STUNTWORK(8) The stuntmen did a great job, especially since so many fight scenes were dense with people, and their work in the fish market fight was just great.
STAR POWER: (10) Donnie Yen is at the top of his game, Sammo Hung is as good as ever, Darren Shahlavi is on the rise, and hey, who doesn’t like to see Terry Fan? Toss Turbo Law and Fung Hark-On and you have old school gold!
FINAL GRADE: (9) Ip Man 2 isn’t as good as the original, but is still a very good film about the continuing life of Ip Man as he once again navigates the politics of the streets and deals with yet another occupying force that threatens his way of life. Now onward to Ip Man 3–and his years with Bruce Lee!