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Ip Man 2

A Solid Sequal

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

There’s no better word than “formulaic” to describe Ip Man 2, the aptly titled sequel to 2008’s Ip Man, a heavily fictionalized account of Wing Chun master Ip Man’s (best known among casual martial arts fans as Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu instructor in the 1950s and early 1960s) struggles during the Second Sino-Japanese War (a.k.a., World War II).

Directed by Wilson Yip, Ip Man 2 uses practically every familiar genre trope with little variation. That’s not to say, however, that Ip Man 2 doesn’t have its pleasures. Like its predecessor, Ip Man 2 does, thanks to the action/fight choreography by martial arts actor/choreographer Sammo Hung and martial artist-actor Donnie Yen’s performance as the stoic title character.

Ip Man 2 switches locations and time periods, from Foshan, China, in the late 1930s and 1940s to Hong Kong in the early 1950s. The change in setting gives director Wilson Yip and his production team the opportunity to paint Hong Kong as rundown and worn-down (economic renewal was still years away). New to Hong Kong, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) hopes to support his immediately family, a pregnant wife and son, through teaching the lesser known Wing Chun style of Kung Fu. Acquiring students depends on reputation and reputation depends on beating challengers. Man beats the first, Wong Shun Leung (Xiaoming Huang), easily. When Leung returns with several friends, he beats them as well. They quickly fall in line and become his first students.

As Ip Man’s reputation slowly spreads, his martial arts school gains the attention of several other martial arts masters, including Hung Ga Master Hong Zhen Nan (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), unhappy with Ip Man’s lack of deference and unwillingness to obtain approval from them before opening his school. After a scuffle between Leung and Nan’s students forces Ip Man to come to his rescue (leaving both temporarily in prison), Nan offers Ip Man a challenge he can’t refuse: Ip Man must defeat other martial arts masters at a predetermined time and place before he can be accepted as a master himself and continue teaching Wing Chun to his students.

That sets up the second of several highpoints in Ip Man 2. Hung’s choreography uses Yen’s physical talents (e.g., speed, quickness, grace, athleticism) to great effect, culminating in a tabletop battle between their respective characters. As their respective characters become allies, Ip Man 2’s real villains emerge: Westerners (a switch from the Japanese villains of the first film).

Not that moviegoers should have expected anything else, but the Westerners are crude, cartoonish caricatures, epitomized by a corrupt officer in the Hong Kong police, Superintendent Wallace (Charles Mayer), and a vulgar boxer, Twister (Darren Shahlavi), show nothing but contempt and disrespect for Chinese culture, history, and martial arts. That, in turn, predictably leads to a Rocky IV-style third act that pits Ip Man against the hulking, brutish Westerner while tens of thousands, huddled around their radios, cheer Ip Man to victory.

With the second-half plot developments, Ip Man 2 unsurprisingly turns into nationalist propaganda. One character, near-death, refuses to yield a match, sacrificing his life for the abstract greater good of Chinese national pride and martial arts traditions. The abstract collective good is far more important than the family he’s about to leave behind without visible financial means. Ultimately, of course, that gives Ip Man one more motivation, revenge, for the climactic match against the Western boxer.

Troubling theme aside, the final fight gives martial arts fans everything they could have asked for or expected, with Yen using Wing Chun both for the greater good and, more importantly, the crowd-pleasing beatdown of the Western villain.