Speak Softly and Carry Unbeatable Martial Arts Skills
Originality isn't Ip Man 2's strong suit. This film comes across more like fan fiction than historical biography, even more so than the first movie, which practically portrayed 20th century martial arts teacher Ip Man as a saint. Actually, the sequel ends up feeling quite a bit like Rocky IV, in which Russian and American champs boxed each other for national pride.
As Ip Man 2 begins, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) has relocated to Hong Kong, hoping to recruit students to learn his Wing Chun discipline. His school soon runs afoul of the local martial arts masters, led by Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung, who doubles as the fight choreographer), who demand that he run his school according to local "rules." But all this drama eventually gets pushed aside when a Western boxing exhibition is set and the British champion takes the opportunity to insult the "weak" Chinese boxing style. You can pretty much guess what happens from that point on.
Still, a lot of pleasure comes from watching this character Yen portrays. The combination of ideals he represents -- a man of honor, integrity, and respect who can never be pushed around because he's both smart and physically capable of defending himself -- is one of great appeal, and watching the Ip Man movies is really all about receiving satisfaction from seeing this kind of person (one we would aspire to be) succeed.
That may sound like the basis of a corny formula, but these movies are also about impressive execution. The martial arts displays in Ip Man 2 are every bit as impressive as in the first movie (the highlight is a battle between Yen and Hung atop a round restaurant table), and they're arguably better spaced, thus creating a livelier viewing. Once the Brits show up, the quality drops off a bit, not just because what happens is too predictable but also because the British actors (mainly Darren Shahlavi and Charles Mayer), to put it kindly, seem to fit pretty terribly in the exaggerated Asian style of acting.
In any case, those who would watch Ip Man 2 will focus their enjoyment on watching Yen command his role. The movie is simply an entertaining second chance to see more of this man of character in action.
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.
(Released by Well Go and rated "R" for violence. )