Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
Ip Man 2 continues the story of Ip Man, the famous Chinese martial artist who taught Bruce Lee the art of Wing Chun. After fleeing Foshan with his family at the end of the first film, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) takes up residence in Hong Kong in the early 1950s. Ip wants to open a martial arts school, but he can’t seem to attract any students until a cocky young martial artist named Wong Leung (Huang Xiaomang) turns up on his doorstep and challenges him to a fight.
After Ip easily beats Wong, Wong and his friends become Ip’s students and the school begins to prosper. It isn’t long, however, before a rivalry with a Hung Ga school begins to take shape, and following a fight with some Hung Ga students, Wong is taken hostage. Ip confronts the Hung Ga students and frees Wong, and a massive fight in a wet market takes place wherein Ip and Wong are rescued by Jin Shanzao (Fan Siu-Wong), the bandit Northerner from the first film who was one of Ip’s rivals in Foshan. The master of the Hung Ga school, Hung Chun-nam (played by martial arts legend Sammo Hung!), breaks up the fight and informs Ip that if he wants to start a school, he must take part in a ceremony where he will face many of the city’s top martial artists. Ip attends and wins the right to teach Wing Chun in Hong Kong, but refuses to pay the protection fees that Hung collects from all the schools (it is revealed that he is a collector for a corrupt police officer – Superintendent Wallace). This only furthers the rivalry between Ip’s school and Hung’s, and the students get into a brawl shortly thereafter. Ip and Hung confront eachother once again, but when Ip discovers that Hung is just trying to support his family, the two become friends. Hung invites Ip to a British boxing competition, and all is well until the event’s star boxer “The Twister” attacks several of the martial artists in attendence and issues an open challenge to any martial artist who thinks they can beat him. Hung accepts the challenge and although he is fast, Twister beats him to death in the ring. Hung’s death causes scandal, but Twister insists it was an accident, and issues his challenge again. Ip Man accepts.
Ip Man 2 is a very different film from its predecessor, and may in fact be the better of the two, depending on your tastes. The plot has a much more conventional structure, and watching Ip bonding with his students made me feel a lot closer to the character than I did in Ip Man. The story arc is actually very similar to The Karate Kid, with the early introduction of the mentor/student relationship, the refusal to be bullied by a rival dojo, and the fighting tournament of the final act. The historical drama of the first film has also completely disappeared, and the focus is much more centered on the character relationships than the historical events of the time period. This format appealed much more to me, as Ip Man felt more like a real person in this film than he did in the previous one.
The real stand-out change from Ip Man is the inclusion of Sammo Hung in the film’s principal cast! It was such a joy to see Sammo onscreen for the first time in ages that any flaws the film had (and there are a few) were easily overlooked. The fight between Ip and Hung is breathtaking to watch, and you can tell that even though Donnie and Sammo were going through the motions of their choreography, there was some friendly competition going on as well to see who could move faster. The fight in the wet market is another amazing scene, and martial arts fans will eat up both of these sequences with a spoon.
This movie isn’t without its flaws, though, and the biggest one is definitely the fact that there is more reliance on wirework in the fights. Thankfully, the filmmakers don’t lean on it too heavily, and it’s used sparingly compared to a lot of martial arts films, but when a great, realistic fight is taking place and the combatents take a little too long to land after they jump, it really takes me out of the movie. Like I said, it isn’t a major fault, but its inclusion made me feel a bit unimpressed. Of course, the feats they pull off with the wirework would have been impossible to achieve without it, so I guess it balances out a bit.
Before I wrap this up, there’s one thing that definitely merits a mention, because it’s a fun little moment that wraps the film up nicely. In the final scene, Ip Man is introduced to a young kid who wants to learn Wing Chun. That kid is Bruce Lee. It’s a great touch, especially since one of Ip Man’s claims to fame was his instruction of Bruce Lee. The inclusion of this scene really helped cement the fact that in spite of the absence of historical drama and the change of location from Ip Man, the character of Ip is still the same. And hey, it’s cute. Nothing wrong with that.
Ip Man 2 is an unusual kind of sequel in that it can stand on its own as a film without requiring viewers to have seen the movie that preceded it. Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung are both joys to watch, and while the film is a bit formulaic, the arc of the story is much better scripted than in part one. In the end, it’s about as good as Ip Man, but also quite different…except for the mind-blowingly awesome fights. They’re just as awesome and mind-blowing as ever!
3.5 out of 5