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Ip Man 2 (2011, Hong Kong)

09/03/2011

Director: Wilson Yip   Starring: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam

The second installment of Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s collaboration to tell the life story of the legendary Wing Chun master Ip Man is a film ripe with promise. Sadly, it fails to realise its potential, especially when compared to the first installment. This doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad film, it isn’t, but it certainly has more serious issues than its predecessor all of which detract from the experience.

Taking up the tale after Master Ip has moved to a post-war Hong Kong, on his uppers after losing his former wealth and property to the Japanese occupation and dedicating his energies into opening his own Wing Chun school. Slowly he builds a following of pupils but hits a stumbling block in the shape of the cartel of other Hong Kong schools who force him to fight them to prove he is worthy of being part of the Hong Kong martial arts scene. All this rivalry is set to one side though in the face of Western oppressors in the form of the British and so Ip Man has to fight for the cultural pride of the Chinese (again).

The earlier parts of the film are actually rather good. Once he establishes his school Master Ip finds himself challenged by local youths who want to see if he is worthy of being their teacher. These fight scenes, in his rooftop Kwoon (school) are excellent. Similarly, he finds himself having to help his students out of run ins with rival schools which are equally good. It’s when he attracts the attention of the local Masters that things start to go a bit awry.

Rather than the tight, dramatic fighting demonstrated previously this signals a change in style that would feel acceptable in some Kung Fu movies but feels out of place here. The obvious issue is the over-reliance on wire work during the challenges from the other Masters where there’s a bit of Kung Fu flying going on and faintly preposterous feats of acrobatics. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against wire work when employed appropriately (see Once Upon A Time In China, The Legend Of Fong Sai Yuk, House Of Flying Daggers for examples of this) but here it seems utterly inappropriate and damages the credibility of the story. What should be an interesting drama becomes a pantomime and any sense that you are watching a film based on real events is destroyed.

It gets worse with the Chinese tradition versus Western colonialism last act where some hideous overacting, one dimensional characterisation and a somewhat poor fight scene where Ip Man must defeat a champion boxer to prove the racial and cultural superiority of the Chinese comes across as rather infantile propaganda. This is the real drawback of the film as it doesn’t seem relevant to anything else. Personally I would have preferred to see a well thought out drama following Master Ip’s struggle to establish himself with the closed world of Hong Kong martial arts without the tacked on national pride element.

Ultimately it failed to meet my expectations although this is largely due to them being rather high after the first film. Compared to the irksome Ip Man: The Legend Begins (effectively a prequel covering his early years training under Chan Wah Shun) it is a work of genius and historical accuracy but it is still a bit of a let down. It definitely left me yearning for the Wong Kar Wai film of Ip Man’s life which has been languishing in development hell for a long time but looks like it may see the light of day by the beginning of next year. A ten year labour of love by one of Asia’s greatest directors it should be something really special. In the meantime, this will have to do.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. 11/03/2011 02:15

    I just watched this film on DVD. I thought your review was spot on in saying that it’s good but not as good as the first (which was bloody fantastic) and your analysis as to why.

    It’s amazing how, in this globalised day and age, the worst actors in martial arts movies are STILL the westerners.

    • 11/03/2011 09:09

      I came away with it feeling it was less good than it was because of the massive disparity between the second and the first film. My biggest frustration is that they have sacrificied what could have been a really interesting story for a bit of regressive, jingoistic flag waving. Ip Man’s life story should be interesting enough without having to make out he was some kind of ultra-revolutionary patriot (he moved to Hong Kong from China to escape the communist revolution and presumably just this sort of propaganda). If you view it in isolation it’s not too bad, but even then the boxing match scene is painful to watch because it is almost entirely bad in every respect. Given everything you have seen Master Ip do in fights up to this point, to watch him fruitlessly chain-punch some boxing gloves for what feels like forever is illogical and quite frankly stupid.

      • 23/01/2012 19:02

        That’s exactly the problem that I had with it. Your review was spot-on, IMHO.

  2. hater permalink
    15/09/2011 09:43

    I fucking hate your kind of people. That damn critique persona. Uppity little bitch.. I’m talking about you Andy Geddon. I think it was a great review. I just get really, really annoyed when people use flamboyant language to overexaggerate how bad something is. Andy you are so smart and cultured because you say “quite frankly.”

    • 15/09/2011 11:54

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, feedback is always appreciated. 🙂 Sorry you don’t like my writing style, “to each their own” as they say!

  3. Brian permalink
    15/09/2011 12:34

    Yeah, Andy Geddon, you and your “language”!! Makes me sick.

  4. Daryl permalink
    23/01/2012 15:14

    The Chinese have every right to do this kind of “Ultra-patriotic” film. They’ve been oppressed by the west for so long it’s not even funny any more. I mean, Tom Clancy does all that “US wins all wars” bullshit in his books, so why can’t they have their time in the sun?

  5. 23/01/2012 17:55

    Hey Daryl, thanks for the input, it’s always nice to hear another point of view. I’ll try and explain my issues with the boxing sequence a little bit more clearly.

    There’s nothing wrong with patriotism and yes, the Chinese people have been subjected to much oppression throughout their history (not just from the West, Japan and even their own ruling classes carry their own burden of guilt) but it’s the way in which they deal with it in this film that grates with me, not the fact that they do. It’s the lazy characterisation and terrible acting that result in these one note Western characters that lets it down. Why not have a little bit of balance? Even the Japanese officer in the first Ip Man movie was presented with more depth, exhibiting an abiding respect for Master Ip and his martial arts even though he was there to oppress him and his people.

    I wept when I watched Lu Chuan’s City Of Life And Death which is a poignant, brutal and much needed film about particularly savage abuse of the Chinese people at the hands of their Japanese occupiers in the late thirties. It’s a beautifully balanced piece that appreciates the complexity of the situation and the depth of emotion on all sides.

    Here, the boxing sequence is the same tacked on “kung fu is the best” showdown that has been getting churned out of Hong Kong for forty years only without a shred of subtlety and with little or no relevance to the rest of the story. Considering the popularity of Wing Chun in the West, thanks entirely to Ip Man’s rather progressive opening up of the style in his Hong Kong school (and of course his most famous student taking it to Hollywood) I think it seems a little bit out of place to have this sort of jingoistic finale.

    Hope this clarifies things a bit.

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