Saturday June 23, 2018
Movie Review: Ip Man 2 (2010)
“Ip Man 2” has the same basic structure as “Ip Man.” Why not, right? Why mess with success?
For the first hour, the battles for the titular hero (Donnie Yen) are internecine—i.e., among other Chinese. Loudmouths challenge him. Other kung fu schools challenge his. There are hints of corruption among the powerful.
In the second half, the real enemy emerges: a foreigner. In the first movie it was an occupying Japanese general intent on proving the superiority of karate over Chinese kung fu. Here, it’s a huge, brash Brit intent on proving the superiority of western boxing over Chinese kung fu.
The movie also tosses in a bit of “Rocky IV.” You see it coming a mile off. You know exactly how it’s all going to end but it’s still a pleasure getting there.
To be honest, I’ve never really understood the respect Hong Kong movies have given western boxing—as if it were on par with martial arts. Is it grass-is-greener stuff? Is it a century of defeat at the hands of western powers? The size of the combatants? Politeness? I always thought Asian martial arts kicked western boxing’s ass. Maybe that’s my own skewed grass-is-greener perspective. Maybe it’s my wish, as a short man, that something besides brute force wins. Not to mention this: You have a handful of boxing movies in Hollywood but it’s hardly a prospering genre. And in those few boxing movies, you don’t have the hero saving the day outside the ring with their skills. There’s just no comparison.
“2” opens with Ip Man, his young son, and his forever disapproving wife, Wing Sing (Lynn Hung, doomed to be the Adrian in the series), moving from his hometown of Fushun to Hong Kong in 1950. Kan (Ngo Ka-nin), an old Fushun friend, shows him an apartment with a rooftop where he can set up his Martial Arts school. But does anyone want to study? That’s the first dilemma. He draws flyers, puts them up, 没有了. He looks worried. They’re broke. His son asks for student fees but he can’t pay them; when the landlord knocks they pretend not to be home.
Then Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming, Marco from “Women Who Flirt”), a brash kid, arrives and says he’ll study if Ip Man can beat him. Defeated, Leung flees, then returns with three friends, whom Ip Man takes down without breaking a sweat. He beats them while protecting them. And suddenly he has students. Four becomes 12 becomes 20. First dilemma resolved.
But it leads to the second: Rival schools tear down the Wing Chun posters and insult Ip Man. Students fighting amongst themselves lead to Ip Man taking on 30 of the students, which leads to the reveal of the rival school’s master, Master Hung, played by Hong Kong legend, and this movie’s action choreographer, Sammo Hung. Now Ip Man has to meet the other Hong Kong masters. He has to pass a test: Around a sea of upturned chairs—which used to be knives, we’re told—he has to stand on a wide, round table and take on all comers until an incense stick burns itself out. If he’s so much as knocked off the table, he’s out. Master 1 tries, Master 2 tries. Then it’s Master Hung. They battle to a standstill, but when Ip Man is still too honorable to pay into the club, which he sees as a form of brivergy, e remains unprotected. We get more squabbles. Along the way, Hung develops a quiet respect for Ip Man.
Then the real enemy emerges: Twister (Darren Shahlavi), a western boxing champion, who, at an event to honor him, mocks the display of Chinese martial arts as “dance,” and then beats up all rivals. He stands in the ring, roars like an animal, and insults the Chinese, as Ip Man, stunned, watches from the crowd. You can see where this is going.
Except first we get the “Rocky IV” component: Twister takes on Master Hong and kills him in the ring—the way Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed. That’s telegraphed a mile away, too.
I was surprised at how worried Ip Man looked before his match—and how beat up he gets. Another “Rocky” element, I suppose. Halfway through the match, he’s suddenly not allowed to use his legs, which seems a cheat; but then, channeling the spirit of Master Hing, he perseveres, saves the honor of China and Chinese martial arts, and gives a ringside speech about the dignity of all peoples. But first he punches Twister’s stupid face in. Because, c’mon, that’s why we came.
It works. It’s a good sequel to a good movie. Director Wilson Yip gives us sweeping shots of old Hong Kong and the production values are high. Plus we get a tease for the arrival of Ip Man’s greatest student: Bruce Lee.
Plus: What a calm, pleasant hero. He massages his pregnant wife’s legs and helps his neighbor hang her laundry. When Leung asks him if he can defeat 10 men (which he did in the first film), he simply smiles and says, “It’s better not to fight.” When Leung asks, “What if they have weapons?” Ip Man responds: “Run.”
Again, this may be grass-is-greener, but I could use some Hollywood heroes similarly inclined.