Most Hollywood biopics try to give the audience the essence of someone’s life in the space of one film, but Hong Kong filmmakers have consistently displayed an eagerness to depict the life of their subject over the course of a series. Sure, they make more than a little use of poetic license, but it’s all in the spirit of portraying the folk heroes of China in the larger-than-life terms they rightfully deserve.
Wong Fei-hung and Fong Sai-yuk have certainly seen their share of cinematic incarnations, and now, Hong Kong’s newest reigning king of martial arts heroes, Ip Man, sees the same reverence with Ip Man 2, the second film to feature Donnie Yen portraying the famed Grandmaster of Wing Chun (along with the second film of the modern Ip Man craze!).
Returning to his now signature role as the wise and serene chain-punching machine, Ip Man is Donnie Yen. As in the previous film, Yen embodies a harmonious tranquility with every person he encounters that stands at odds with the more macho hyper-masculinity his many challengers seek to embody. Just as in his previous portrayal, Yen’s adeptness in Wing Chun is arguably the most impressive and precise treatment the art has received on film, to date.
Sammo Hung, who served as action director for the first film, returns in that capacity for the sequel, along with portraying the formidable Hung Gar exponent, Master Hung. Initially in an antagonistic relationship with Ip Man, Hung grows to strongly respect the Wing Chun master, and proves himself one of the few opponents Ip Man has faced capable of holding his own against him. Huang Xiaoming steps into the film in the role of Wong Leung, a character modelled upon one of Ip Man’s most famed students (after THE most famed of his students), Wong Shun-leung, while Fan Siu-wong returns in the role of Jin Shanzhao, a nemesis of Ip Man’s from the previous film – who becomes an ally of his early on.
Handling the role of the film’s villain is Darren Shahlavi in the role of Taylor “The Twister” Milos, a British boxer whose desire to pummel the local Chinese people borders on psychotic and who proves the most challenging adversary Ip Man has ever faced.
Following his defeat of the nefarious General Miura in an open match in Foshan, Ip Man flees with his wife and son to Hong Kong. Soon thereafter, Ip Man establishes a Wing Chun school, but is initially largely overlooked by the citizens of Hong Kong. That is, until a local fighter named Wong Leung arrives to challenge Ip Man, only to be easily defeated by the grandmaster’s powerful Wing Chun skills. Wong leaves distraught by his defeat, only to return with several friends of his whom Ip Man dispatches with equal ease. Seeing both the great skill Ip Man displays, as well as the efficacy of Wing Chun, Wong and his friends quickly become Ip Man’s first students in Hong Kong.
Ip Man’s arrival and the growing popularity of his Wing Chun school eventually leads to a conflict between Wong and other students of Ip Man’s and some local Hung Gar students. Upon learning of the altercation, Ip Man intervenes, unexpectedly aided by Jin Shanzhao, his reformed rival from the first film, and later by the Hung Gar students own teacher, Master Hung. Ip Man then learns that in order to establish a martial arts school in Hong Kong , he must first prove his skills in a match with the local masters.
After defeating two of his opponents, Ip Man and Master Hung fight to a stalemate, with Ip Man finally earning the approval to operate his school. Ip Man disapproves of the membership fees to be a part of the association of kung fu masters in Hong Kong, and declines, later learning that this is actually a protection racket that the local masters have been coerced into by the corrupt Superintendent Wallace of the Hong Kong police force. Sometime later, Master Hung, with a newly instilled respect for Ip Man, invites him to a match he’s set up with British boxer, Taylor “The Twister” Milos, who possesses a demented zeal for trouncing Chinese opponents.
As in the previous film, the action in “Ip Man 2” is a finely tuned ballet of combat. What’s really heightened in the sequel is the contrast of Wing Chun to various other martial arts. While numerous styles of kung fu along with several Japanese fighting styles were presented alongside Wing Chun in the original, there’s a stronger emphasis in the sequel on demonstrating the techniques, postures, and combat methodology of the various martial arts presented alongside Wing Chun in the film. The area of the film where this stands out the most prominently is in Ip Man’s match with the master of Hong Kong’s martial arts association. With his three successive opponents, Ip Man’s Wing Chun is pitted against masters of Monkey Fist, Baqua Zhang, and Hung Gar, each duel taking place atop a round table.
Like a classic old school martial arts film from the 70’s or 80’s, this scene really affords the viewer a chance to see various and divergent styles of kung fu in combat with one another. Aside from that, the main drawing factor of this section of the film is the on-screen rematch between Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, following their first cinematic battle in “Sha Po Lang” (Kill Zone). Master Hung proves to be the rare opponent who can match Ip Man’s skills; one section of their duel, lasting about ten seconds, sees the two combatants trading a blisteringly fast series of punches that number somewhere in the triple digits! Their fight also adds some valuable weight to the respect that Hung holds for Ip Man later in the film which Ip Man reciprocates, and both the fight itself and the bond they develop feel stronger and more impactful for it.
When Twister enters the picture, that contrast of styles shifts towards Western boxing, and the film as a whole starts to feel like a martial arts version of “Rocky IV”. Like Michael Jai White in “Undisputed 2”, Darren Shahlavi is a world-class martial arts expert faced with the challenge to demonstrate the full extent of his massive combat prowess with his fists alone (anyone who’s seen “Bloodmoon” knows that Darren can kick with the best of them!). But, like Jai White, Shahlavi rises to the occasion and embodies a powerful adversary, though the credit for that goes as much to his acting as to his fighting. In many ways, Twister embodies the ultimate bully – an arrogant, vicious, bloodthirsty behemoth who lives entirely to inflict pain upon anyone smaller or weaker than him. And in his eyes, any person with Chinese blood coursing through their veins is both.
Both Hung and Yen get to face off against Twister, and both are not only among the best duels in any “Ip Man” film, but both are also decidedly the most brutal, with Yen’s by far the most emotional. Like Master Hung, Twister is more than capable of holding his own against Ip Man, and the revered Grandmaster of Wing Chun absorbs more punishment than ever before. It’s one final fight you most certainly do not want to miss!
Donnie Yen is two-for-two in doing the world’s most famed master of Wing Chun justice. The role of Ip Man fits him like a glove, and without a single doubt, he remains the best of all the cinematic Ip Man’s to date. Though he has wavered on whether or not to return to the character for a third time, the film’s final scene certainly suggests that Ip Man’s story will continue. And on that note, since the modern Ip Man movie craze shows no signs of letting up, can we PLEASE finally see Ip Man training the teenaged Bruce Lee?
- A lifelong fan of Hong Kong martial arts films, Darren Shahlavi attended a film-fighting seminar in London with Donnie Yen himself roughly twenty years before appearing in this film.
- As with its predecessor, Sammo Hung served as action director for “Ip Man 2” and has a fight scene against Ip Man in the film itself. Back in 1973, he appeared in the opening scene of Enter the Dragon in a fight scene against Ip Man’s most famous disciple, Bruce Lee!
- Sammo Hung had undergone cardiac surgery prior to his work on this film. During his fight scene with Darren Shahlavi, he was struck in the face, but continued working for several hours before going to hospital where he received four stitches.
Film rating: 9/10
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