Well Go Usa // 2010 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // April 19th, 2011
"Behind every great martial artist lies a teacher."
The first Ip Man was a thoroughly conventional martial arts flick in the best possible way. Engaging not only in the way it embraced the genre conventions and ran with it, the film was also buoyed by highly ferocious and stylized fight sequences; a perfect dash of slapstick and a subdued but effective performance by Donnie Yen (Hero) as the eponymous hero. The sequel, while sticking mainly to the same recipe for success, does not quite find its footing either in focus or fight scenes which lack the same vividness. Ultimately, Ip Man 2 is a successor that drowns ever so slightly in its own grandeur and ridiculousness.
After the events of the first film, Master Ip Man finds himself in Hong Kong attempting to open his own martial arts school to spread the art of Wing Chun, a pactice based as much on spirituality and philosophy as it is on kicking ass. Because of Ip's caring and reluctant nature (especially within the context of actually collecting student fees), he and his family find themselves barely scraping by. These hardships are made more difficult by Master Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung, Kill Zone) who has cornered the martial arts trade in Hong Kong in no small part because of his association with shady foreign figures. Ip Man must balance his devotion to his family and pupils with the threat of both foreign and domestic foes. What results is a literal East versus West clash, in a manner only the kung fu genre can deliver.
Ip Man 2 possesses many interesting concepts, but chooses to settle on the most generic, turning the whole affair into your typical, nationalist fueled kung fu flick; the big bad British guys against the morally superior Chinese. The problem is the most compelling aspect of the film should be Ip's disciple training and the simmering conflict about to boil over between these two rivaling martial arts schools. The grand historical scale of Ip Man 2 should lend itself beautifully to such a focus, and the film even tricks us into thinking this is the case.
Sadly, Ip Man 2 chooses to throw a second act curve ball and slap Ip Man into a Western boxing ring to defend the honor of all of China. The first film covered this same nationalist ground, which now starts to feel a little ridiculous, as if Ip Man has been involved in every great moment of Chinese historical triumph. Will the third film see Ip Man battling tanks in Tiananmen Square?
Even though the film squanders its early potential on contrived boxing scenes and nationalist hokum, Ip Man 2 finds its footing thanks to Wilson Yip's (Flash Point) skillful direction. Care and detail went into every aspect of this sequel, save for the script. Though the fight scenes can't rival the intimacy and brutality of its predecessor, the sequel ups the ante in scale and style. At times, the heavier fight scene stylization spills over into hokey territory, even by kung fu standards. Sammo Hung is a little too old to be flying around on wires, but on the whole the film delivers the hard hitting fights we crave.
Donnie Yen turns in another great performance as the eponymous martial arts master, playing it mostly subdued and earnest with just enough hints of rage to make the serious ass whooping believable. What makes Ip Man 2 so interesting is Ip Man himself and how he reacts to the situations put before him, and Yen does not disappoint with these complex characterizations. Sammo Hung is equally game, putting in a hard hitting performance as Ip's expected nemesis and eventual friend.
As is often the case with Hong Kong films, any native speaker of English acts as if they were pulled from a community theater adaptation of Steel Magnolias. Darren Shahlavi (billed as "Persian" in 300) chews the scenery as Taylor "The Twister" Milos, and makes a worthy foe for Ip Man, but it's a role we've seen countless times before and nothing new is brought to the table.
While Ip Man 2 may be unable to transcend its own cliches, the high production values, hard hitting fight sequences, and spot on performances from almost the entire cast saves the film from being just another generic martial arts adventure. It certainly won't blow anyone away, but delivers on its promise, and sometimes that's all you can ask for.
In terms of presentation, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous, highlighting the high production of the picture. Ip Man 2 has a warm and earthy color palette with dominating oranges and browns, and the DVD reproduces these perfectly. (One caveat: skin tones can be wildly erratic at times, with Sammo Hung looking more like an Oompa-Loompa than a human being.) From the set design and costuming to gorgeous camerawork, the visuals do not disappoint. On the same note, the 5.1 Dolby Surround track is sumptuous, capturing the vivid, hard hitting nature of these fight scenes. We are given the option of hearing the film in its original Cantonese, Mandarin, or an English dub; all available in either 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo. I'm kind of a purist, so I only listened to the dub track for a few minutes, but it sounds like a regular cheese fest.
As for the bonus features, there are your standard "Making Of" and Behind-The-Scenes featurettes with a couple of deleted scenes, interviews with cast and crew, and a shooting diary. Nothing here stands out in the least; they're your standard, generic special features that repeat themselves more than offering anything of value. And it's a shame because this is billed as a "2-Disc Collector's Edition,," but the second disc is a waste. However, we get a handful of enjoyable trailers for other up and coming kung fu flicks. What is it about these cheesy trailers that's so compelling? One almost begs for more of them.
While Ip Man 2 stumbles over the genre rather than transcending it, it's still a fun picture with some true moments of emotional gravity and more ass kicking than other films of its ilk.
Not guilty, but only because it's just too damn much fun.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go Usa
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Mandarin)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Mandarin)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Shooting Diary