*If all you care to read about is the fighting element of the movie, please scroll down to the heading titled “Action.”*
The Story So Far…
Taking place in the martial arts hotspot of 1930’s Foshan, the film follows Donnie Yen’s Ip Man as he clashes with rival martial artists, and eventually comes to odds with the Japanese occupying forces.
Featuring stunning fight choreography by industry legend Sammo Hung, the film was wildly successful, winning Hong Kong’s best picture and best action director awards.
In all, it was a truly great martial arts film, with intrinsic themes like pride and nationalism figuring heavily into the crowd pleasing nature of the story.
Ip Man 2 takes place in 1950, some years after the closing events of the previous film.
The story opens with Ip Man, having recently moved to Hong Kong with his family, desperately trying to eke out a living by teaching Wing Chun on a rooftop garden.
Despite posting flyers all over the neighborhood, Master Ip’s school remains empty for some time, to the point in which he can’t even pay his apartment rent.
As fate would have it though, one day an energetic young man named Wong Shun Leung (Huang Xiao Ming) approaches Ip Man and challenges him to a fight, seemingly for no other reason than to satisfy his own machismo.
Master Ip handily defeats Leung, eventually converting the would be challenger, to a trusted and loyal pupil.
With Leung’s help, Ip Man’s Wing Chun begins to gain ground in Hong Kong, with many new students showing up every day.
Even so, times are tough for Master Ip and his students, as money is scarce, and many of the pupils are unable to pay their dues from week to week.
Despite this, Leung’s fiery nature gets him into trouble with the local Hung Gar school, resulting in Master Ip having to step in and settle things for him.
With his fists.
Upon meeting the Hung Gar master, Hung Jan Nam, (Sammo Hung) Ip Man is told that the local martial arts union won’t allow his school to remain open unless he agrees participate in an old fashioned martial arts challenge.
Master Ip agrees to the challenge, and manages to pass it.
With his fists.
At some point we are made aware that Hung Jan Nam serves as an ambassador of sorts between the martial arts union and the British officials based in Hong Kong.
The British ask Hung to organize a venue and event for a boxing match involving their champion, Taylor “The Twister” Miller (Darren Shahlavi).
Throughout their dealings however, the British treat Hung, and in fact, all of the Chinese, as secondary citizens, often refusing to pay them or simply not speak with them.
Despite this disrespect, Hung agrees to continue working with the English, as many people’s lives depend on him for income and job security.
The boxing event goes as planned, however at one point, Twister steps into the ring during a Chinese demonstration of martial arts forms, and starts to beat and humiliate the performers.
With his fists.
This of course leads to Master Hung and Master Ip battling Twister in the name of Chinese pride.
Merry mishaps ensue. Roll credits.
As with the first film, Ip Man 2 casts Donnie Yen as it’s main character among an ensemble cast.
While Yen’s acting performance doesn’t really occupy that much of the film’s running time, it really doesn’t need to, as it serves to bolster one of the film’s central themes, namely that of unity.
As in Ip Man 1, Donnie Yen’s performance is calm and reserved for the most part.
In the first film, Ip Man was characterized as being a somewhat eccentric character, an outsider in the eyes of most of his more overbearing peers.
This aspect of Donnie Yen’s performance carries over very nicely from the first film, as the calmness in his performance seems even more genuine given the more energetic atmosphere of the film.
While by no means an amazing performance, Yen does well enough to portray the character as the pillar of strength and certainty that the script demands.
I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it until the day I die, Donnie Yen is not a good actor.
He’s at his best when he has something to hit.
With his fists.
Sammo Hung’s portrayal of Hung Jan Nam is probably the strongest performance in the film.
Even from a purely visual standpoint, the character is bold and striking, with a very distinct wardrobe, a flashy streak of gray going through his slicked back hair, and a physical presence like no other.
In dialogue with Donnie Yen and other actors, Hung exudes a strength and forcefulness that suit his character perfectly.
Hung Jan Nam is supposed to be an overbearing, “my way or the highway” sort of character, and Sammo Hung captures this beautifully.
From the perpetually accusatory tone of his voice, to the way his eyebrows go nuts every time he opens his mouth, Sammo Hungs performance is wholly complete and, sadly, painfully outclasses Donnie Yen’s limited acting ability.
Huang Xiao Ming’s portrayal of Wong Shun Leung is comparable to his fighting ability.
He does alright, given that he lacks experience, but there’s nothing really there that sets him apart from any of the other popstars turned actors.
Despite this, given the sharpness to his features, and the cocky sense of youthfulness that he exudes, it’s hard to say he wasn’t well cast.
For the most part, he does well, however the role is very small, with only the most basic of “kung fu asshole” lines in the script associated with it.
The point is, he didn’t really leave an impression.
Xiong Dai Lin as Ip Man’s wife, is sadly much less of an element of this film as in Ip Man 1.
In the first film, she was Ip Man’s rock, she was his foundation.
In the early scenes she sort of wore the pants in their relationship, an attitude she was able to portray exceedingly well with her physical stature and rigid body language.
In the latter scenes we got to see the 2 of them suffer together under the tyranny of the Japanese, which she also was able to convincingly.
While she wasn’t at all a major element in Ip Man 1, she felt present for most of the important events in the story.
In the sequel she’s just pregnant scenery.
It should be said, that despite having very limited roles, Kent Cheng, Fan Siu Wong, and Simon Yam, all do exceedingly well with what they’re given to work with.
While Kent Cheng and Simon Yam basically play the same cool guys they’ve been playing for years, Fan Siu Wong surprised me yet again with his performance.
The only other movie I’ve seen Wong in was Riki Oh, and while that was fun, it did little to convince me that he had any sort of talent, physical or otherwise.
Then I saw him in Ip Man, as the Northerner Jin Shan Zao, and I was blown away!
Not only could the guy still fight, but his acting was animated and engaging.
In Ip Man 2, Wong is sadly only in a few scenes, none of which contain any fighting, however he leaves an impression with his bold manner of speaking and his wildly expressive face.
One thing worth noting in Ip Man 2, is that the performances for the British characters are downright terrible.
From what I’ve gathered by watching a shit ton of Japanese and Chinese movies over the years, my guess is that actors that speak in English in these films are asked to speak slower than normal so as to allow the theater audience to better understand them or read the subtitles on screen.
Even so, most of the Brits in Ip Man 2, sound both childish and SLOW.
Like, Little Bear slow.
Darren Shahlavi’s acting performance as the villain of the film, Twister, is both embarassing and confusing to watch.
The man seemingly can only speak at one volume, namely shouting at the top of his lungs.
There are times when his character is supposed to be adopting a condescending tone wherein he sounds more like he’s about to cry or throw a tantrum.
Oh yeah, and his resemblance to Hugo Weaving is downright cosmic.
In all, pretty much all of the Brits in Ip Man 2 don’t so much as give performances, as they do fulfill every conceivable ugly stereotype of the “foreign white devil.”
*WARNING, SPOILERS MAY EXIST AHEAD!*
As with the previous film, Ip Man 2 is packed to the hilt with fight scenes of the highest quality.
Unlike the first film however, which took on a darker and more violent tone in it’s second half, thereby causing the choreography to follow suit by making the violence seem more severe, Ip Man 2 remains consistently more vibrant and energetic throughout.
In fact, I would feel comfortable in saying that the fight sequences in Ip Man 2 are, in general; better than in the first film.
Much like in the first film, the fights gradually ascend in quality and dramatic relevance as the film progresses.
The first fight in the film, a friendly sparring session between Donnie Yen and Huang Xiao Ming, closely mirrors that of the the opening spar between Ip Man and Chen Zhi Hui’s Master Liao from the first movie.
Except that the sparring in Ip Man 2 is much faster paced and aggressive in nature.
From the very first fight in Ip Man 2, one can tell that, cinematographically; the choreography is going to be very different from in the first film.
The first Ip Man had a very traditional, “golden age of Hong Kong cinema” kind of style to it.
Most every fight in the film made liberal use of full body establishing shots and sweeping pans to give a sense of reality and depth to the performances and intensify the drama respectively.
It was straightforward, clean, and every movement was distinct and easy to identify.
Ip Man 2 changes things up quite a bit by stepping up the energy level a few notches and introducing some elements of gimmickry into the mix.
By “gimmickry” I’m not referring to wires, as those were used to great effect in both films, but rather the use of tighter, and more selective camera angles that typically emphasize specific focal points in the action as opposed to the entire bodies of the combatants.
As a result, many of the fights consist close-up shots of limbs, or chest-up shots that feel a little claustrophobic at times.
The trade-off though, is that most of the fights consist of less posturing, and more balls-out, arms length exchanges.
This is not a bad thing, however it does make for fights where quick cuts are evident, and educated eyes are sometimes required to follow the choreography from punch to punch.
Speaking of punching, the blindingly fast handwork that was used to such stupendous effect in the first film is back and better than ever.
Honestly, to count the number of times Donnie Yen busts out protracted flurries of buzzsaw punches on people in this movie would be like trying to count grains of sand on the beach.
Despite this, because of the faster and more elaborate choreography, these flurries seem much more organic, legitimately seeming like part of a larger combination of motions as opposed to a show-stopping finishing move.
In general, the choreography seems to favor motion and activity over individual, flashier strikes.
It is impressive to note that Huang Xiao Ming, despite being a popstar with virtually no martial arts background, manages to hold his own under the demands of the choreography.
Despite my praise, Huang exhibits a stiffness that is somewhat unsettling.
Honestly, the man holds his hands up like he’s never done it before, in a mirror or otherwise.
On top of that, his trunk displays little movement, leaving his arms to do all the work for him, causing most of his strikes to seem “hollow” and lacking in power and intent.
He also tends to plant his feet in such a way that it reeks of him being afraid to move and mess up the framing for the cinematographer.
He also seems as times to be trying so hard to remember the steps to the choreography, that he forgets to use his facial expressions to heighten the drama.
He also smells bad.
Nah, I’m just kidding about that last part, I’m sure he smells fine.
Point is, for an untrained screen-fighter, he does just about as well as can be expected, even going so far as to be somewhat impressive during his one-on-one with the Hung Gar student called Kei.
Donnie Yen’s fighting performance in Ip Man 2 is nothing short of spectacular.
In the first film, Donnie Yen seemed, in my opinion, to be somewhat uncomfortable with Wing Chun.
I said before, in my EPIC Tribute to Donnie Yen, that Wing Chun uses motions and principles that are contrary to nearly all of Donnie Yen’s previous performances, and in Ip Man 1, this fact was somewhat apparent.
In Ip Man 1, Mr. Yen seemed stiff at times, with some of his blocks and parries coming across as too rigid, and somewhat robotic.
Not only that, but after watching Ip Man 2, his fast hands just plain didn’t seem as fast.
In Ip Man 2, Donnie Yen’s performance is much more fluid and organic, with his repertoire being somewhat bolstered, as necessitated by the faster-paced choreography, and his fast punches coming out in a much more visually impressive circular loop as opposed to the straight punches from the first film.
Much like in the earlier fights in Ip Man 1, Yen’s movements seem somewhat lax during the first few fights in the film, only to gradually build in momentum until he reaches peak form at the end.
Despite the inherent spectacle involved in watching Donnie Yen fighting 20 men at once in the first half hour of the film, I found his fighting to be in much better form in some of the latter scenes.
The centerpiece of the film is a series of one on one bouts between Donnie Yen, and 3 masters of various martial disciplines, with the last being Sammo Hung.
In addition to this, the fights take place atop a convincingly rickety dinner table surrounded by upturned chairs.
The first of these masters, we’ll call him “Blinks,” utilizes what looks to be some sort of Mantis Style kung fu variant.
His strikes are wild and employ the full force of his body via fancy kicks and aerial maneuvers.
The choreography here is a bit choppy, as Blinks’ movements are a little uncoordinated and not all that convincing when he’s on the wires.
Even so, the fight is bolstered by the use of the table as a prop, as well as a pretty solid piece of music by composer Kenji Kawai backing it.
It should be noted that the soundtrack for Ip Man 2 is spectacular, and really served to dignify the movie despite it’s somewhat silly last half.
The second fight in the table scene is between Donnie Yen and a master that employs what appeared to be some form of Baguazhang.
This particular master’s movements were slicker and more tactile than Blinks’, resulting in a fight conducted at a somewhat slower pace, but with better defined movements.
A highlight of this fight is watching the Bagua fighter show off his limberness and float in and out of stances with an almost otherworldly grace.
Again, the music is great during this scene.
Despite their limited fighting presence in the film, both Blinks and the Bagua fighter come across as extremely animated and well-defined characters that were fun to watch.
“Haha, Sammo Hung gets the big drum.”
That’s what I said the first time Mr. Hung’s music cue sounded and he appeared on screen.
Rest assured, his fighting performance in Ip Man 2 is certainly worthy of the big drum.
Sammo Hung’s first fight is a brief but masterfully choreographed battle with Donnie Yen at the end of the table sequence.
The fight is meant to portray the 2 as being evenly matched, and as such there is no real contact throughout.
The sequence is a prime example of one of my favorite elements of Hong Kong style choreography, namely the complex and fast-paced sparring and handwork.
Nearly every strike launched in this sequence is parried in some way, resulting in intense exchanges within arms reach for nearly entire duration of the fight.
During this sequence, the difference in style between Hung Gar and Wing Chun is evident pretty much from the first punch.
Sammo’s strikes are wider, more circular, and ultimately more form based than the relatively straightforward nature of Donnie’s Wing Chun.
In addition to this, Sammo also assumes a number of stances throughout the fight, most notably a horse stance towards the end.
The whole sequence is a delight to watch, with an intense music score, and a balls-out, almost Dragonball Z-esque finale that had me giggling like a 5 year old.
The fights in the last half of the movie deal exclusively with Darren Shahlavi’s boxer character fighting against Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen, in that order.
Shahlavi’s performance, as a boxer, is not the best I’ve ever seen.
The man has a pretty good resume for fighting roles in movies, especially in the 90’s, however the only one I know of that cast him as a boxer, was I Spy, which had him facing off against Eddie Murphy.
The fights in I Spy were a joke.
Sadly, the film was not.
As a boxer in Ip Man 2, Darren Shahlavi’s movements are a little bit off.
His footwork is atrocious, in the sense that he doesn’t really have any.
More importantly though, I think the real problem isn’t any fault of Shahlavi’s, but rather that of Sammo Hung, the choreographer.
Hong Kong style choreography has a look to it, a method to it, that just doesn’t represent boxing very well at all.
It emphasizes wide and showy motions for the sake of making the movements more visible and theatrical, while boxing does exactly the opposite.
Fast and compact strikes, devoid of wasted motion are the objective in boxing, and as such, it doesn’t translate to choreography very well, Chinese or otherwise.
Not only that, but the parrying and blocking that I love so much in Chinese choreography, is something you just plain don’t see in boxing.
Slipping and ducking are the more common methods of defense in boxing, as opposed to letting your opponent manipulate and displace your hands AKA your only weapons.
Despite his fighting not really having any boxing science to it, Shahlavi’s brawling and overall presence is actually quite impressive.
I felt Shahlavi’s first fight in the film, against Sammo Hung, was actually the better exposition of his skills as a performer.
The fight is shot in such a way as to spotlight Sammo, however Shahlavi makes a decent impression.
His fighting has a wild intensity to it that’s mostly foreign to Hong Kong movies.
His movements are aggressive and pressuring, with a shit ton of scowling, flexing and grunting thrown in for good measure.
His fight with Sammo works, not only because the fighting is good, but mostly because of the drama of the situation.
The idea is that, Sammo does well in the beginning due to his skills, however the inherent physicality of his opponent eventually begins to weigh down on him.
The fight is melodramatic as fuck, but manages to work on a purely visceral level.
The final battle in the film is, of course, a grudge match between Donnie Yen and Darren Shahlavi.
The whole thing is a bloody and melodramatic rollercoaster that leaves you hating the British and loving the fuck out of the Chinese.
It’s great fun.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it to see Donnie Yen get his face punched in for a change.
Some screen fighters have a tendency to not take hits with as much zeal as they probably should.
This is typically evident amongst “baby face” screen fighters that rarely, if ever, play villainous roles.
Ip Man 1 and 2 represented some of the rare instances in which Mr. Yen didn’t really take hits all that well.
Actually, the real problem was the fact that he never really got hit in both movies.
Do you know how many times Hiroyuki Ikeuchi hit Donnie Yen during the end fight in Ip Man 1?
Well, thank God for the end of Ip Man 2, ’cause I tell yah’, Mr. Yen takes a whuppin’.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t take his licks half as good as Sammo Hung.
Then again, nobody does, except for maybe Mick Foley.
The end fight in Ip Man 2 has a very comfortable sense of ebb and flow to it.
Unlike in Undisputed 3, (see review here) where the final fight felt like it adopted the pace it did because it was convenient to do so, Ip Man 2’s fight seems to have been carried out the way it was because it made sense to.
The whole idea behind the fight, I think, is that the physicality of Shahlavi is a constant advantage, while the technical and innovative skills of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man are supposed to be a brief counter to it.
In other words, Ip Man is technically losing the fight throughout, however, whenever he is able to stymie Twister with new angles and techniques, he can briefly turn the tide until Twister figures him out again.
It’s an interesting and artful way to compose a fight that, thankfully, results in something much more than a Rocky IV-esque slugfest.
The final “comeback” sequence of the fight is beautifully edited, and yes, set to a wonderful piece of music.
I won’t spoil the details of it here, but I will say this, it may go on just a second or 2 too long, but it makes a fair amount of sense and is fucking awesome to watch, so it gets a thumbs up from me.
Seriously, if I had been in the theater for the big climax of Ip Man 2, I’d probably be yelling, “FUCK YEAH!”
Ip Man 2 is not as good as it’s predecessor.
What begins as a traditional martial arts film, quickly devolves into a shameless rip-off of Rocky IV.
That’s not to say it’s not an enjoyable film.
I found most of the performances to be very good, and the fights were downright amazing at times.
The difference between the 2 films, is that Ip Man 1 had a great deal of heart, while it’s sequel attempts to artificially manufacture it by toying with our basest of emotions.
Even so, Chinese melodrama and nationalism has a way of pushing just the right buttons for me, and in the case of Ip Man 2, it worked.
It made me giggle in disbelief at how silly some of it’s dialogue and plot points were, but I bought into it nonetheless.
Even if it’s “heart” is fake, I appreciate that Ip Man 2 at least attempts to have some.
Thanks Ip Man 2, for not being Transformers 2.