Ip Man 2 -- Film Review

A smashing martial arts extravaganza dented by crude nationalism.

UDINE, Italy -- Compared to his stellar hit "Ip Man" — a biopic on the Wing Chun master who tutored Bruce Lee — Wilson Yip’s more lavishly produced sequel "Ip Man 2" is a fistful of hits and misses.

As martial arts choreography goes, one-on-one combat couldn’t get much better than the sheer moxie and prowess displayed by Donnie Yenand Sammo Hung (who co-stars and directs action).

However, those used to Yip’s black humor and his genre-bending quirksmaybe slightly disappointed with the conventional screenplay, which milks people’s nostalgia for ‘70s kung-fu craze without taking thedramatic arc into newer directions. The nationalistic tone,tangled upwith a dated underdog sentiment, is even more strident than the previous edition.

In Ip Man 2, thestage shifts from Japanese-occupied Foshan in China to British-governed Hong Kong. While Part 1 established Ip Man (Yen) as a tolerant, self-effacing martial-arts geek who spends the whole time withstanding taunts to fight, Part 2 focuses on his new calling as a teacher.

After his defeat of Japanese commander Miura in a public match, Ip and his family arrive penniless in Hong Kong. He sets up a makeshift Wing Chun academy on a rooftop, and recruits a posse of working class lads led by cocky but talented Wong Leung (Wang Xiaoming). However, Ip soon discovers that the martial arts scene in Hong Kong is mired in politics and corruption.

To obtain endorsement to teach, he rustles the feathers of a more established teacher Hong Chun-nam (Sammo Hung) and finds himself in the boxing ring against Twister (Darren Shahlavi), a British champion boosted by police superintendent Wallace (Charlie Mayer) to uphold the physical supremacy of white men.

The dinner table has always appeared in Yip’s films as the locus of dramatic tension or character-revelation, as seen inIp Man, Bullets over Summer and Juliet in Love. Here, he takes this auteurist touch to new heights by staging a duel between Ip and Hong in a restaurant, on top of a wobbly round table. Technically, every move is devised and shot with consummate skill. Its entertainment value easily trumps the climactic boxing match, where brute force and hard punches rule.

Not only that, he follows up with a dining scene of very different sentiment – when Ip joins Hong for a family meal, giving the former a chance to see the tender, fatherly side of the latter and the number of mouths he must feed.

There’s no question Yenis at the peak of his career.His prowess is staggering, but it is even more pleasurable to see his improving acting chops and the more sympathetic interplay between him and Hung than their previous appearance inYip’s SPL.

Supporting roles are drawn with a fraction of the feeling and humanity that Yip poured into the original. Consequently, none of them has the commanding presence of their predecessors.  Shahlaviand Mayer compete in ham acting to be Most Obnoxious Racist Colonialist in the kung-fu canon, but one can hardly tell them apart – so alike are their growls and grimaces.

From lingering close-ups of paraphernalia, like Ip’s ashtrays and his wife’s (Lynn Hsiong) biscuit-tin-cum-piggy-bank, ‘50s shop signs and posters, the meticulous art direction  and tastefully saturated image colors provide a trip down memory lane for Hong Kong moviegoers.

Venue: Udine Far East Film Festival
Sales: Mandarin Films Distribution.
Production: Mandarin Films Limited
Cast: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Huang Xiaoming, Lynn Xiong, Kent Cheng, Charlie Mayer, Darren Shahlav, Louis Fan
Director: Wilson Yip
Screenwriter: Edmond Wong
Producer: Raymond Wong
Director of photography: Poon Hang-sang
Production designer: Kenneth Mak
Music: Kenji Kawai
Editor: Cheung Ka-fai
No rating, 108 minutes