Ip Man 2

5 out of 5

Directed by: Wilson Yip

Damn, man, the Rocky of martial arts movies.

The entire core Ip Man team returns – director Wilson Yip, star Donnie Yen, producer Raymond Wong, writer Edmond Wong – to deliver another chapter of Wing Chun master Man’s life, this time more inspired by history – particularly Britain’s 50s colonial rule of Hong Kong – than explicitly trying to tell Ip’s tale (not to suggest the first film wasn’t without its fancy as well, though).  Interestingly, freed up from this narrative structure, Ip 2 becomes a much stronger film, with a more stirring plot and well-rounded characters.  …And hellishly awesome choreography from Sammo Hung (who takes a role as a fellow master in the flick), as well as rich cinematography from Poon-Hang sang and a Rocky-esque stirring theme from returning composer Kenji Kawai.

After beating up Japan and inspiring the entire world as per the first film’s ending, the entire world forgets (as it’s ought to do) and Ip Man moves to Hong Kong, where his dedication to Wing Chun is again a burden on his forever suffering family, now living in squalor and struggling to make the rent.  And yet Yen’s Ip Man is such a gentle, moral character, we can’t hate on him much for pursuing his craft, and those around him seem to realize his gift and encourage it as well.  So, weaving through some Hong Kong-transported characters from the first movie, Man is able to set up a new martial arts school, only to discover that in order to do so, he has to square off against the other local masters, and then pay a monthly “tribute” to hold his position.  The first thing, Ippy of course agrees to do, and takes on said masters in one of the film’s several jaw-dropping sequences that tend to take simple mechanics and choreograph and shoot the shit out them – seriously, Yip has grown in leaps and bounds in terms of visualizing this action – but the second is a breach of his discipline.  In short: hell no.  You think, at this point, the film is going to develop down the lines of Man’s growing rivalry between his club and Hung Chun-nam’s (Sammo) Hung Ga club; we see a movie where adversity is overcome and, once again, Man’s name is celebrated in the streets.  But owing to the fullness allotted to these characters, the movie actually switches gears to another cliche – and I say that noting that cliches are fine when they’re executed well, which they certainly are in Ip Man – when Hung comes around to respecting Ip due to his refusal; the tithes are actually collections for a racket being run by a crooked Brit copper, and Man’s dedication to the spirit of his art stirs a bit of rebellion in Hung.  From here on out the movie plots points to set up its shift in Rocky territory, introducing a ripped Brit boxer, “Twister”, who spits on foreign culture and openly challenges any “Chinese boxer” to try to take him on the ring, so’s he kin kill him.  Ip Man… accepts this challenge.

It’s riveting stuff.  And yes, the Brits speak in stitled American accents, and the evil boxer is wholly evil, and some of the subplot attempts to make everyone else into a good guy – even the local police officer, lovingly nicknamed “Fatso,” who’s helped to arrange the payoffs, gets a few minutes to become a better person – are shoehorned in, as much as that final appearance by a young Bruce Lee, but the movie on a whole is so invigorating, and lacking in a lot of the padding / exposition that similar American biography-type flicks would need, that it easily survives its slight hiccups.  Yen’s restraint on screen is a delight to watch; Hung’s fight sequences are magic.  Combined with two variations on an underdog plot, both satisfyingly paced and presented, Ip Man 2 is undeniably awesome.