A few months ago (and it seems a lot longer) I did a somewhat glowing review of Ip Man. At the time I said I was looking forward very much to the continuation of the franchise. This was a little bit of a cheat on my part, as I was already in possession of the sequal, but only now have I gotten around to finally watching it.
“Ip Man 2” continues the story from the first film, exploring the early days of Ip Man and his family in Hong Kong (after escaping Japanese occupation in the mainland). There are two broad strokes to the story – firstly his struggles to set up his own Wing Chun martial arts school because of the influence of the existing schools led by overall master Hung Jan Nam (Sammo Hung) and the corrupt British colonial officials, and secondly a series of fights against a rather brutish and boreish British boxing champion which are being staged for somewhat political ends.
This is a very different film from the first. The story is somewhat more strightforward, and possibly lacks some of the emotional depth of the first. Whilst wonderfully filmed, it lacks a certain something when compared to the first, when the occupation segment blew me away. Donnie Yen is again excellent , adding something new to his portayal – this is an Ip Man who if not broken, has been somewhat bruised by his experiences, and is not quite the calm composed character we met in the previous film.
Other characters return also, and at least two have been affected by their previous experiences in quite different ways. Lynn Hung impresses again as his wife, but my nagging overall frustration was that I wished we spent a little more time with Ip Man and his family. There are moments, but they are far too brief.
The film is a lot more colourful than the first, evoking maybe some of the hope imbued in Hong Kong for these refugees. The soundtrack is also a lot noiser – reflecting that this is a much more action-oriented film (I am told there were MORE fights in the first film, but this one seems to place them far more front and centre, and certainly more crucial to the ongoing narrative).
The action is certainly top notch – whether is is the supremely choreographed fights between Ip Man and the masters of the other schools, or the Rocky-style matchup between the Chinese fighters and the Boxer.
But the film has some major issues. The actors and acting by the non-chinese cast is, well rather ropey. Maybe it is because I am English myself, but I winced every time an English actor opened their mouths. I should be used to this in Hong Kong cinema by now, but they do get a lot of screen time, which makes things worse. Believe me, I know that Britain’s colonial past is nothing to be proud of, but the portrayal is somewhat one-dimensional, and this ends up being cartoonish.
It took me a little while to work out exactly what I found so wrong, but it just came to me. The members of the British army seem to be from 1880 – not 1950. Believe me – the attitude and style of the British army in the late 19th century would be far more akin to what we see on screen here – the two World Wars would have certainly changed the psyche a lot.
But of course, I have seen the other side of the coin in far more films with awful portrayals of asian characters in British/American films, so I will just have to accept this. So yes, the film is a little blatant and obvious in flying the Chinese flag, but it isn’t quite as painful as the closing moments of the first film.
The film originally was meant to focus on the relationship between Ip Man and Bruce Lee – but sadly this was put on the back-burner for rights reasons, so we are left with a small but entertaining coda giving us a feeling for what might have been. It is nice – possibly irrelevant – but certainly means you leave the movie with a little more of a smile than you might have done without it.
I knew when I started this review, that it was going to be hard to write. I loved the film, but it is easy to pick on the points I found so frustrating. After some contemplation, I do wish maybe the film had spent more time on the first part of the story (which does seem to be brushed aside maybe too quickly) rather than the more generic (but still exciting) anglo-chinese version of Rocky IV of the second half.
So whilst it might not ever quite reach the heady heights of that first film, as an exciting action film, with quite wonderful set pieces, it would be wrong to be too hard on the film. Therefore, this one comes as Highly Recommended.