Azn Badger's Blog

What About the Lysine Contingency…?

A Tribute to the Greatness that is Donnie Yen: Part VIII – Donnie Yen In The “Post Yip” Era

Finally startin to look his age...

A long time ago I wrote that I felt that director Wilson Yip was probably the best thing to ever happen to Donnie Yen’s career.

First teaming up in 2005 for the cop drama/action flick SPL, the 2 would end up collaborating on 5 consecutive films.

With the sole exception of the somewhat lackluster Dragon Tiger Gate, all of said films were of stellar quality; easily ranking as some of the best in Mr. Yen’s career.

While Yen’s incredible longevity allowed him to effectively outlast the majority of his contemporaries, namely Jet Li and Jackie Chan; and his innovative fighting performance and choreography skills certainly put him ahead of the pack, this writer would argue that Wilson Yip’s cinematographic skills and eye for detail had just as much to do with his rise to prominence as any of the aforementioned factoids.

Besides, any man that makes shit like Bio Zombie clearly knows what theyre doing. No sarcasm intended.

That being said, it’s now 2011; and while he’s been detached from Wilson Yip ever since the production of Ip Man 2, Donnie Yen is still the reigning king of Hong Kong screen fighters.

So, why am I not happy?

I’m just about as big a Donnie Yen fan as you’ll ever meet, but truth be told; as much as I like the man’s work, like most screen fighters he’s made an alarming number of shitty movies.

In fact, if you don’t count Blade 2; a movie he choreographed by held maybe 5 minutes of screen time in, I don’t think I’ve genuinely liked a non-Wilson Yip Donnie Yen movie since Shanghai Affairs back in ’98, and even that kind of sucked.

Sadly, now that Yen doesn’t seem to have any projects lined up with Wilson Yip in the foreseeable future; I’m left feeling like things are going to go back to the way they were, with Donnie Yen steadily churning out crap movies with decent fights.

...Or in the case of the Twins Effect movies, crappy movies with crappy fights. Thats Jackie Chan on the right by the way.

Despite an astoundingly well cut trailer for it’s U.S. release, make no mistake Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen, Yen’s first film of the “Post Yip Era”; is most assuredly hot garbage.

I own a Hong Kong blu ray of Legend of the Fist, and while Yen’s physical performance was actually pretty amazing, as detailed here; the movie itself was one of the most boring kung fu movies I’ve seen in a long time.

At present, Mr. Yen has a handful of movies on his plate, most notably a mysterious Peter Chan film called Swordsmen, and 2 other films titled The Lost Bladesman and The Monkey King.

I’ve purposely decided to forego any mention of the most recent All’s Well, Ends Well, as while it does in fact include Donnie Yen in it’s cast; no force on Earth could make me see it as a “Donnie Yen film.”

Yeah, not exactly high on my "must see" list...

Anyway, The Lost Bladesman sees Donnie Yen taking on the role of famed Chinese general and folk hero Guan Yu in a wuxia film.

Trailers for this one have been popping up pretty regularly as of late, with most of the footage doing little to light a fire in my pants.

Sure, it has Donnie Yen.

Sure he’s hitting people while sporting a pimp beard and guan dao.

Even so, the production values seem a little below standard, and the cinematography and choreography seem about on par with the mediocrity of Yen’s own 14 Blades.

For those that may be unaware, any film that draws comparisons to 14 Blades has it’s work cut out for it in terms of not sucking.

Pictured: Donnie Yen squaring off against Captain Jack Sparrow.

That leaves 2012’s The Monkey King as the one Yen movie to bear the weight of making up for the past couple of years of “meh.”

While it’s certainly far off in terms of being released, in all honesty; The Monkey King actually seems like it might be worth the wait.

No footage exists as of yet, but given that the story is a retelling of the Journey to the West, essentially the Chinese myth of myths; and given the incredible assortment of talent involved in the production, I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Sure, it’ll probably be CGI’d to shit and make Donnie Yen look like a complete goof ball; but the art style of the poster and Cheang Pou Soi’s involvement as director will likely make up for it.

I don't know about you, but if you ask me that's a pretty awesome fuckin' poster.

Seriously man, if the same Cheang Pou Soi that made Dog Bite Dog and Shamo shows up for this one, we’re in for one helluva’ ride.

Despite all the pessimism of everything mentioned above, let it be known; I remain hopeful for Donnie Yen’s career.

In many ways, I think my “disappointment” in some of his recent projects spawns from my general lack of enthusiasm for mainland China productions as compared to Hong Kong ones.

Wuxia works when it works, but for the most part it’s not what you’d call my favorite genre.

Whatever the future holds for Mr. Yen, I only hope that whatever crappy or mediocre productions he’s involved in continue to be the fault of writers and directors as opposed to Donnie Yen himself…

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Thoughts On Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Donnie Yen’s butt.

That, my friends; is the one element of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen that I can honestly say I’ve never seen elsewhere.

That one goofy and slightly embarrassing little detail aside, Return of Chen Zhen is a bipolar mess of a film that can only be recommended to the most hardcore of Donnie Yen fans, I.E. me.

The basic plot is as follows:

Picking up after the conclusion of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) flees China for the French battlefield of WWI.

How he managed to survive charging headlong into a hail of gunfire after the events of Fist of Fury, is never explained.

During the war, one of Chen Zhen’s friends is shot dead, prompting him to go apeshit and kill a bunch of Germans via the combined techniques of parkour and shank-fu.

*Cue shitty rip-off of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme* What? You think I'm kidding?

Much violence and badassery ensues.

With that, Chen Zhen opts to assume his fallen friend’s identity as he sets off for Shanghai; declaring his homeland his new battlefield in fighting against Chinese oppression.

Why he decides to take out his aggression on the occupying Japanese (embodied by the decidedly flacid antagonist played by Kohata Ryu)  instead of the German forces that were directly responsible for his friend’s death, is not explained.

Once in China, Chen Zhen uses his resources to build himself a network of newsies, students, war vets, and cops to serve as his Shadow-esque eyes and ears.

He also invests in a pencil-thin fake mustache, seemingly just because pencil-thin mustaches are pimp.

"Hello, I'm Donnie Yen, and you sir; have just stumbled upon my secret Pimp Party. Prepare to be kicked in the face... Repeatedly."

How Chen Zhen acquires said resources to put together said network, and purchase said mustache, is never explained.

Now firmly established as a wealthy entrepreneur of sorts in Shanghai, Chen Zhen links up with fellow wealthy socialite and nightclub owner, Li Yutian (Anthony Wong) in order to spread his influence… At least that’s what I got out of it anyway.

Li’s nightclub also happens to play host to a foxy singer named Kiki (Shu Qi) whom Chen Zhen quickly becomes attracted to.

Donnie Yen would hit it, but y'know; supermodel wife...

The wikipedia entry for this movie states that Chen Zhen “is romantically attracted to Kiki,” however this is hardly evident in the film.

I know they’re Chinese, and they’re not good at that whole “love” thing, or y’know; talking to each other, but when 2 characters never so much as hold hands throughout a movie, I find it hard to believe they’re “romantically attracted” to each other.

Not only that, but their most intimate moment is actually when Chen Zhen threatens to kill her.

ROMANCE.

Anyway, in case you couldn’t tell; Kiki really ruined the movie for me.

Usually I kind of like Shu Qi’s bubbly cutesy-ness, as was the case in the delightfully, uh, adequate Jackie Chan flick, Gorgeous; but this time around her role was just plain ugly.

Her character’s arc, much like the flow of the entire film, is predictable; yet somehow all over the place all at the same time.

Not only that, she’s shitfaced for roughly 3 quarters of the film, making her a very difficult character to like.

I’m guessing her character was supposed to be tragic, but in the end; she just brought the whole movie down by needlessly slowing the pace with frequent, and boring dialogue scenes.

Speaking of boring dialogue scenes, Return of Chen Zhen has a fuck ton of ’em!

In most cases I can deal with inane and extraneous dialogue, but in the case of this movie; I actually found myself muttering the words:

“Jesus fuck man, I DON’T CARE.

Well okay, I didn’t exactly “mutter” those words so much as yell them, but you get the point.

Needless to say, Return of Chen Zhen has some writing issues… And pacing issues…  And it smells funny.

Now, when I said Return of Chen Zhen was a “bipolar” movie, I was of course speaking of it’s up and down pacing, specifically the jarring contrast between it’s action sequences, and the rest of the film.

In short:

Return of Chen Zhen has some pretty spankin’ fight sequences.

Heh heh, I like the part when the one dude gets kicked in the face. That was cool...

While nearly all of it is of the classic, Dynasty Warriors/1 man vs. the world style, most of it is well choreographed, and perhaps more importantly; competently shot.

Make no mistake, while the staging of the fights was indeed very good in Return of Chen Zhen, the editor, and perhaps more importantly; the cinematographer deserve a special pat on the back for their contributions.

While not so great a fight, this shot was pretty enough to redeem it.

Donnie Yen served as action choreographer for this one, and if there’s anything Donnie Yen is good at; it’s making himself look good.

While I heard reports that indicated an excessive use of stunt doubles for this film, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice them.

I’m assuming most of the parkour and stunt work was filmed using doubles, but everything that counts in my book, that is; the punching and kicking of people’s faces, was definitely all Yen.

Trust me, nobody throws kicks like Donnie Yen, nobody.

So… Where are his balls during all of this?

Speaking of which, from an action standpoint, Return of Chen Zhen serves as a sort of “best of” for Donnie Yen’s various trademark moves.

From the leaping spinning back kick above, to the cheesy windmill uppercuts of old, to even some of the joint locks and MMA style moves seen in SPL and Flashpoint; pretty much every cool thing Donnie Yen has done to someone throughout his career is featured, and ably performed in this movie at some point, with satisfyingly brutal results.

Though sadly there’s no breakdance fighting ala Mismatched Couples…

Kung Fu B-Boy Donnie Yen!

Getting back to the movie, seeing as most of the fight sequences in Return of Chen Zhen have Mr. Yen clothed in a Kato-esque mask and suit, the movements and strikes incorporated into the choreography bear a satisfying and altogether appropriate “superhero-y” quality to them.

That is to say:

When people get hit in this movie, they fly across the room and then some.

Yeah, that guy's goin' through a wall... Or 2.

Normally I’m not a fan of wirework in my kung fu movies, but their use in this film was largely used for the simple effect of slamming people into bookcases/windows/walls/platypuses, instead of the more fanciful bullshit as in Dragon Tiger Gate and other such films.

In all, Donnie Yen’s physical performance was nothing short of incredible in Return of Chen Zhen.

Given his relatively advanced age for the genre, (47) dreading the day when Donnie Yen suddenly gets old overnight and can’t perform as well he used to, but goddamnit; Father Time must owe him money or something, ’cause if anything he looked better in this movie than he did 2 years ago.

My guess is, the Ip Man movies actually served to smother Mr. Yen’s performances a bit over the past few years.

Wing Chun is a very practical, and straightforward fighting system; and one that is foreign to Donnie Yen’s martial talents.

As I mentioned earlier, Return of Chen Zhen was choreographed by Donnie Yen, for Donnie Yen, and in getting back to the basics, I think Mr. Yen showed us all that he’s still got it.

Anyway, enough cock-sucking.

In closing, I’d just like to point out a few little tidbits I felt needed mentioning:

Yasuaki Kurata and Shawn Yue have cameos in this movie.

They’re brief, and largely pointless; but it was fun seeing them nonetheless.

Would’ve really liked to have seen Kurata do a bit of fighting, seeing as he seemed relatively spry in Master of Thunder a few years ago, but oh well; take what you can get.

If you didn't see it already, then you probably shouldn't...

The vast majority of the sets for Return of Chen Zhen were very obviously recycled from the one used for Bodyguards and Assassins.

While it’s an incredible set, and definitely worth revisiting, there’s no denying that it was framed with a lot more love in Bodyguards and Assassins, and thusly comes across as kind of cheap looking this time around.

Also, if you’ve seen Bodyguards and Assassins, then it’s kind of surreal looking at little things like staircases and windows and remembering them, very clearly; from their use in that movie, which is peculiar being as Bodyguards and Assassins took place in Hong Kong, while Return of Chen Zhen is set in Shanghai.

I suppose it’s worth noting that, yes; the Japanese are the villains of this movie, and yes; they are portrayed as the most vile, baby boiling, dog kicking sons of bitches you’ve ever met.

Xenophobia has always been marketable in Chinese films, and nothing is ever gonna’ change that.

Regardless of how bad they make my people look, as long as Hong Kong keeps pumping out awesome movies about people kicking each other in the brain, I honestly don’t care.

Anyway, the plot sucked, the characters were boring, the dialogue was excessive and dull… but the fighting was pretty good.

If you love to see Donnie Yen do his thing, see it.

If not, then all you’re really missing is Donnie Yen’s butt.

Can you live without seeing Donnie Yen’s butt?

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Thoughts on The Legend is Born: Ip Man

The Legend is Born: Ip Man contains scenes of Ip Man fighting ninjas.

Now, before all the haoles and Narutards in the room hop out of their seats with glee and go buy this movie, one should perhaps note that The Legend is Born is not a good movie.

In fact it’s so very far from “good,” that I’d so far as to say it’s “bad.”

That’s right, I called a kung fu movie bad.

You see, this was bad, but it was GOOD bad.

Trust me folks, if you’re looking for signs of the approaching apocalypse, me hating on a kung fu movie is one of them.

While Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip’s Ip Man films were at times melodramatic, and often predictable; both films did so while wielding style and production values that few pure martial arts movies can match.

That, and they had Donnie Yen leading the cast.

Ip Man, starring Donnie Yen's cock!

He might not be the best actor, but he beats people like no other; and in a martial arts flick sometimes that’s all you need.

Sadly, The Legend is Born has none of these various pluses going for it.

While it has a rather large cast of “name” genre actors, the production fails to utilize them properly by giving them a bland script, placing them amid lifeless and fake-y soundstages, and generally making no attempt to film the fight sequences in an interesting manner.

I ask you, just who the fuck is fighting who in this screenshot?

For those that care to know Sammo Hung is barely in it and truly seems like he’s “between projects,” (most likely he was filming Ip Man 2 simultaneously) Yuen Biao does pretty well given his limited role in the movie, and Fan Siu Wong is his always awesome self.

FUCK YEAH!

Despite the cast, it’s a horrendously mediocre film that fails to impress is any area, and ultimately left me feeling robbed of an hour and a half of my life.

To sum up, (as briefly as possible) the plot is basically a horribly fabricated account of Ip Man’s life from childhood to right up until just before the beginning of the first Wilson Yip Ip Man film in the early 1930’s.

In case you are wondering, the whole “Ip Man fighting ninjas” thing was indeed fabricated, as was the vast majority of the events in this film.

The film’s biggest, and most visible disappointment, comes in the form of the casting of Dennis To as Ip Man.

Wipe that smug look off your face... And get a haircut, hippie...

As I mentioned in my pre-screening thoughts on this movie, To did not strike me as leading man material.

Turns out I was right, as To’s performance, both as an actor and a fighter, is as wooden and vanilla as can be.

With enough training Dennis, someday you'll become a real boy!

As an actor taking on a film that bears the same name as his character, most of the story relies on his performance, to which he brings absolutely no spark of life or zeal.

While his Wing Chun form is quite good, and indeed indicative of his background in the martial art, his posture is extremely rigid and more importantly, his strikes lack any sort of weight or power behind them.

While the speed and accuracy of the close-quarters sparring is actually quite impressive, the lack of power behind the strikes is a problem with most of the choreography, that and the cinematography simply isn’t up to snuff.

Okay, this was perhaps the most needlessly over-the-top moves I've seen in awhile, and I for one thought it was hilarious.

Aside from a decent fight between Dennis To and the real life son of Ip Man, Ip Chun, (which makes heavy use of stunt doubles for Chun) and a lengthy and surprisingly physical brawl between To and Fan Siu Wong, there really aren’t any outstanding fights in The Legend is Born.

Though I’ve seen reviews crediting Sammo Hung as the choreographer for this film, I honestly have trouble believing that.

If he was in fact the choreographer, I’m sorry to say, very little, if any; of the movements and camera angles in The Legend is Born bear Sammo’s mark, and as such, the action simply doesn’t hold up to anything in his filmography.

The basic plot of the film is that of your basic “Japanese threaten Chinese culture and property, martial artist rectifies situation with fists” genre trope, however it does so in a very inorganic and just plain stupid manner.

Well, as inorganic and stupid as a plot involving ninja fights can manage anyway...

I shit you not, nearly all of the dozen or so fights in The Legend is Born (seriously, there’s a lot of them) come about as a result of someone literally walking into a room and yelling:

“Your Wing Chun is good, show me some of it!”

Even for a kung fu movie, that’s just plain lazy.

Pictured: An unedited example of the screenwriting process of The Legend is Born.

Anyway, I was initially planning to do a seriously in-depth review of The Legend is Born, much like I did Ip Man 2 and Undisputed 3: Redemption, however I found that this movie simply wasn’t worth the effort.

If you really wanna’ see mediocre fighting, bland acting, and *sigh…* Ip Man fighting ninjas, then by all means, give The Legend is Born: Ip Man a chance.

I for one, am going to be kicking myself over this purchase for some time, being as I knew this movie was going to suck, but still let my hopes and dreams guide my wallet.

If you can identify with this man, than perhaps you'll enjoy this movie!

 

 

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Even More Ip Man!

Ever since I watched and reviewed Ip Man 2 awhile back, I’ve been left with a distinct lack of martial arts movies in my life.

Sure, The Expendables had some pretty impressive fights in it, but nowhere near the standards of your average high-profile Hong Kong production.

That being said, in addition to Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s Ip Man 2, 2010 saw the release of yet another semi-historical film based around the life of Wing Chun Grandmaster Ip Man, entitled The Legend is Born: Ip Man.

Directed by the decidedly “meh” Herman Yau, the story follows Ip Man in his earlier days, when he was actually learning Wing Chun, yet by stories’ end, we are of course treated to a scene or 2 of Master Ip busting some Japanese heads.

Never get tired of this scene...

Let it be known, the Chinese have never been shy about promoting nationalism via beating the piss out of the foreign devils.

Despite how silly it may seem at times, I’ve always kind of admired that about Chinese films, as such expressions of patriotism are often met with feelings of cynicism here in the states.

Also, I think we can all agree that any excuse that allows the Chinese to make films about people hitting each other is always a good thing.

Can't say the the same for American movies...

Anyway, despite fair to middling reviews, I’m thinking about giving The Legend is Born a shot.

The film has a strong cast including the always brilliant Yuen Biao, as well as an alarming number of actors that were previously featured in Wilson Yip’s own Ip Man franchise.

Said double-dippers would be Sammo Hung, Fan Siu Wong, and oddly enough, Dennis To as Ip Man.

Dennis To: Star in the Making, or Punching Bag to the Stars #2? (#1 is Xing Yu...)

For those that don’t remember, Dennis To just happens to be the same actor that played Kei, Sammo Hung’s Hung Gar protege in Ip Man 2.

Interestingly enough, he also happens to be a real-life practitioner of Wing Chun, making him well-suited, at least physically, to play a young Ip Man.

Makes you wonder though, why was a Wing Chun disciplined screen-fighter cast as a Hung Gar student?…

Regardless, I wasn’t all that impressed with Dennis To’s physical performance in Ip Man 2, however I’m willing to concede that he may have been held back by his character’s fairly weak standing in the cast, as well as the fact that every fight he was in he was required to lose, or worse yet, make pop stars like Huang Xiaoming look good.

Clearly he also has stylists to help out as well...

He also lacked screen presence in Ip Man 2, but once again, that might’ve had more to do with the restrictions of the script than anything else.

I’m sure his acting is shit, but that’s to be expected from all but absolute cream of the crop in terms of screen fighters.

Whatever the case, I was legitimately impressed by the sparring featured in the trailer, and that’s largely the reason for my interest in this film:

I’ll probably be ordering this one in the next few days, hopefully a spirited review is to follow shortly!

Here’s hoping this one doesn’t suck donkey balls.

It's baaaaaaack....

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Movie Review: Ip Man 2

*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…

In 2008, Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip teamed up for the 4th time to give us Ip Man.

Ip Man was of course the heavily fictionalized biographical account of the Wing Chun grandmaster of the same name.

Goofy lookin' little guy, isn't he?

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.

By "comes to odds with," I mean, "beats the piss out of."

The film had an all-star cast including the likes of Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Fan Siu Wong, and up-and-comer Xing Yu.

Xing Yu: Punching Bag For the Stars

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.

Plot Summary:

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.

BORING.

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.

That's right, bow before he wrecks your shit.

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).

The biggest meathead the world's ever seen...

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.

The end.

Acting:

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.

Okay, maybe "genuine" wasn't the right word...

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.

Pallets work pretty good too I guess...

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.

Hah, fat baby...

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.

ACTING.

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.

I'm lookin' at YOU Nicholas Tse...

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.

Kind of like this sack of fuck.

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.

Pants are overrated.

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.

I wouldn't mind wallpaper that looked like this...

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.

Now THAT'S a fuckin' MAN 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.

SOOOOOO FUCKING SLOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!

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.

It makes me laugh because the examples pics are horrible, and both guys have the opposite expressions.

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.”

Action:

*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.

Color Correction: It makes a difference.

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.

So when I say "Master Liao" you have no idea who I'm talking about, but when I say "That one guy that got slapped in the throat a shit ton of times" you instantly know? WTF...

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.

An example of the differences in cinematography.

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.

GIMMICKRY.

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.

DREAM COME-FUCKING TRUE.

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.

Better pack your sleeping bag kiddo...

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.

Example.

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.

That’s not to say he’s an action star in the making, but among the likes of other fighting popstars like Nicholas Tse, Jay Chou, and Shawn Yue, he did alright.

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.

Sammo... How could you let the kid look like such a feeb?

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.

FEEB FIGHT!!!!

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.

Aw man, that is SO fuckin' slow...

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.

You can't really see it, but trust me, it's awesome.

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.

YOU FOOL! How could you let Uncle Cheng back on the wire rig so shortly after his surgery!?

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.

Pictured: The 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.

"Walking the circle"

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.

"And then, without warning, Uncle decided to up and take a shit, right there on the dinner table..."

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.

Well, aside from maybe this.

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.

Pictured: 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.

Pictured: The Finale.

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.

What, you thought I was fuckin' with you?

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.

Unless of course you're Sakio Bika.

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.

*Sigh* Unless of course you're Winky Wright...

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.

C-C-C-COUNTER!!!!

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.

Oh no, he's totally not flexing. Not at all...

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.

Ah wrestling, I can make references to it from just about anything.

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.

Pictured: Why I hate the British.

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.

This would include the likes of Jet Li, Steven Seagal, and in rare cases, Donnie Yen.

You see that little cut on his forehead? That's the only fuckin' hit he took in this entire epic fuckin' fight!

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?

3 times.

*Gasp!* He's got a bloody lip!

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.

Mick Foley on the average Tuesday.

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.

Um, pretty sure he meant to do that. Yeah....

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.

Yeah, pretty sure that's a new angle.

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!”

Oh well, why not....

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.

Filed under: Boxing, Kung Fu, Movies, Uncategorized, Wrestling, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ip Man 2: Pre-Ordered

Thank God for speedy Hong Kong DVD manufacturing.

That’s right folks, Ip Man 2 comes out on DVD on June 25th, and I am truly psyched.

Take another look at the trailer, maybe it’ll help you get as excited about it as I am:

From what I’ve read over at Love HK Film and Twitch, Ip Man 2 is somewhat of a step down from it’s predecessor, with a second-half plot that is essentially the Hong Kong equivalent to Rocky IV, as is clearly evident from the trailer above.

Am I wrong in claiming that this is the coolest thing ever?

Does that bother me?

Not one bit.

Rocky IV may have been retarded, but it was still a kick ass movie that’s fun to rally behind in a “Yo Joe!” sort of way.

As I mentioned in my EPIC Tribute to Donnie Yen, Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen go together like spiders and the bottom of my shoe.

Spider pictures creep me out, so you get a pic of a beat-up Spider-Man instead.

Scratch that.

That’s actually kind of gross.

Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen = Peanut Butter and Jelly.

Though Donnie Yen would have to be the Peanut Butter, ’cause Peanut Butter kicks Jelly’s ass any day…

Hmm, now that I think of it, I don’t even really like Jelly….

*AHEM!* Whatever, the point is: Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen working together is always a good thing.

In my eyes, the pair honestly can’t make a bad movie.

Dragon Tiger Gate was convoluted and bland, but it was no means bad.

Outside of that one misstep, every other movie the two have worked on together has been a winner in my book.

Hell, Wilson Yip has even managed to make awesome movies WITHOUT Donnie Yen.

The archetypal story of the Chinese being bullied by foreigners and being forced to find redemption through beating the piss out of said foreigners is a story that Hong Kong cinema will never abandon.

It’s simply a result of putting a nationalistic spin on the universal “underdog” story that we all know and love.

It’s cliche yeah, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing when it comes to making movies about people frequently engaging in protracted 5 minutes fist fights?

It worked for Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury.

Bruce, donning his "Who cut a muffin?" face.

It worked for Sylvester Stallone in his Rocky movies.

God bless you Sly. Good luck with The Expendables.

It worked for Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid.

I know he's been 40 since like 1980, but even so, DAMN HE GOT OLD!

Hell, it even worked for Leon and the Jamaicans in Cool Runnings.

Say what you will, Cool Runnings was the shit.

So what if I already know the story coming in?

So what if the villain’s acting performance is supposed to be over-the-top to the point of near Ultimate Warrior levels?

There's epic, and then there's ULTIMATE.

Maybe I like that in my kung fu movies!

Ip Man 2 could have the worst acting and the shittiest plot in the history of Hong Kong cinema, but with Donnie Yen on board, and the promise of excellent fights conducted and performed by the man himself, Sammo Hung, there’s almost no way I won’t like it.

DONNIE FUCKING YEN.


SAMMO FUCKING HUNG.


FIGHTING EACH OTHER!!!!!!!!!!


FIGHTING DARREN SHALAVI IN A BOXING MATCH!!!!!!

It doesn’t take much to please me when there’s fighting involved in movies.

I can’t explain it, but for some reason I find it easier to buy into the ceaseless melodrama of Hong Kong films than I do American ones.

Maybe it’s the innate sense of unity and bold-faced patriotism that often permeates most Chinese films that strikes a chord with me, or simply an element of the culture that I appreciate, but either way, when it comes to getting my screen-fighting fix, I know where to look.

Expect a review of the movie in a few weeks.

Here’s to Ip Man 2 being my summer event movie.

Well, until The Expendables comes out anyway.

Filed under: Kung Fu, Movies, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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