Ip Man 2 Review

In the closing credits for the woefully forgettable semi-fictional biopic Ip Man, there is a photo of the real person Donnie Yen portrays, posing with his most famous student, Bruce Lee. During the planning stages, this sequel was meant to focus on the relationship between these two kung fu greats, looking deeper into Ip Man's philosophy as a teacher and Bruce Lee's growth from pup to dragon. Complications with Lee's life rights put the kibosh on that plan, but it looks like they didn't change the script much, suspiciously.

Ip Man still bonds with a protege, but this time it’s Wong Leung, the man who would historically become Bruce Lee’s trainer in Ip Man’s Wing Chun Athletic Association. Perhaps it’s a nod to this connection, or perhaps he was a placeholder character in case they get the rights at the last minute, but Huang Xiao-Ming plays Leung as one would Bruce Lee.

He adopts Lee’s cocky body language and unmistakable scoffs—even the same haircut. This would explain why there’s a lame unprovoked coda to the end of the movie where a small boy claiming to be Lee asks to become Ip Man’s student, only for Ip Man to laugh and tell the boy to come back when he’s older. It feels tacked on because it is tacked on; there just to clarify to the audience that the Leung character wasn’t meant to be taken as a Bruce Lee analogue.

Director Wilson Yip wants to do a third Ip Man movie, still hellbent on doing the Bruce Lee story, but should he? Donnie Yen has already expressed that he has zero interest in reprising the title role. Furthermore, surely another teacher-student story would seem derivative of this one? It’s almost better to just ignore the coda and see Wong Leung as Lee. It’s not like these Ip Man movies haven’t stretched historical accuracy to near breaking point already. There's very little truth in how the movies portray his life. One can look past the ignoring of his troubling opium addiction or the invention of an economic struggle, but turning him into some kind of derring-do patriotic hero with the entire nation resting on his one fight is positively absurd. And they did this twice!

The first movie covers old “Chinese people stand up against Japanese imperialists” grounds. As Ip Man 2 starts, we see him moving to Hong Kong not voluntarily, as in real life, because he didn't like how the newly Communist People's Republic of China viewed his personal wealth, but because he defeated a Japanese general in a duel at the end of the first movie and had to go on exile. Though fictional, it was at least consistent with the war climate of the time. No such luck for Ip Man 2, which pits him against an English boxing champ that mocks Chinese kung fu as an inferior form of self defense, with all of Hong Kong counting on Ip Man to teach the bourgeois British colony a lesson. Honor, dignity, etc. There's always a slightly racist vibe in these movies' jingoism, that they apparently realized and tried to temper, because Ip Man closes the fight with a speech about respecting one another despite differing cultures—which is laughable nonsense considering the film spent the preceding hour and a half badly caricaturing white people.

Sammo Hung, who choreographed the fights in the first movie, joins the cast this time as a master of Hung Ga. Kung fu fans might also recognize the actors cast as masters of other schools that form the corrupt organization preventing Ip Man from opening his Wing Chun school: they're all action movie veterans from the Shaw Brothers days. Ip Man 2 is a better movie than its predecessor because watching Ip Man struggle to open a school and deal with students who can't pay school fees is honestly more interesting than watching him shovel coal during the war, but also because the fight scenes push Ip Man's greatness past the realm of possibility, and that's okay; the entertainment value is what ultimately matters. The final fight, taking place in a boxing ring, simultaneously apes the rhythm of a kung fu movie and the drawn-out suspense of a boxing movie, and it gels as well as you'd hope.

With the dramatic parts inert because of the pure saint portrayal of Ip Man—with not even a conflict with his perfect example of a doting wife, who never so much as whines that her husband doesn't know how to feed his children and jumps into deadly situations all the goddamn time—it's clear that these movies are less about showing who Ip Man was and more about promoting his Wing Chun legacy by having Donnie Yen perform its badassery.

Ip Man 2 opens Friday, January 28th at these locations.

"Ip Man 2" opens January 28, 2011 and is rated R. Action, Drama, Martial-Arts. Directed by Wilson Yip. Written by Edmond Wong. Starring Darren Shahlavi, Donnie Yen, Fan Sui Wong, Huang Xiao Ming, Sammo Hung.

Jan
28
2011
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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