It is holiday weekend in Hong Kong (Chinese Labour Day on 01 May) and quite a few films are capitalizing on this – debuts include Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3 and Ip Man 2. All sequels mind you. The first one I saw was Ip Man 2 tonight at Cityplaza.
Ip Man 2 葉問 2 is probably one of the most talked about Hong Kong films of the year and rightly so as the first film was indeed quite a thrill to watch. Donnie Yen 甄子丹 reprises his role as the calm Wing Chun 詠春 master and reluctant hero; like the previous film, he is forced into action against the oppressive “rulers”, now corrupt British colonial officers instead of the invading Japanese military. But plot is really beside the point here – we are already way used to the clichéd formula whereby the protagonist first fights with the local lads / masters and then challenges the evil foreigner and teaches him a thing or two about humility. This was basically the plot in Fearless 霍元甲 (Jet Li’s 李連杰 Huo Yuanjia vs the Japanese), True Legend 蘇乞兒 (Vincent Zhao’s 趙文卓 Beggar So vs the Russians), and countless classics including Bruce Lee’s epic Fist of Fury (Lee’s Chen Zhen 陳真 vs the Japanese). This cliché has plague the kung fu movie (particularly those set in the late Qing and 20th century) and is probably offensive to non-Chinese viewers and stale even for Chinese viewers. Ip Man 2 doesn’t really bother to deviate from this.
But then most viewers of the film are probably just looking for awesome fights, which this film does deliver. Key to the films best fight is Sammo Hung 洪金寶 as Hung Jan Nam, master of Hung Kuen 洪拳. There are 3 extended and 2 short action set pieces.
The 3 extended scenes include:
- Ip Man vs Hung’s protégés at the fish market. This is a classic one vs many fight and Ip Man even uses his fish market choppers as well.
- Ip Man vs several kung fu masters including – the highlight of the film for me was the fight here against Sammo Hung’s character although Ip Man does trade with 2 others including one played by Shaw veteran Lo Meng 羅莽. All these fights take place on top of a table thus emphasizing balance, style as well as power. Hung is very impressive and the two exchange some very fast punches. Excellent scene!
- Ip Man vs The Twister, a western boxer. The fight is decent but can’t compete with early fights. Initially Ip Man finds it hard to parry the Twister’s hard punches but eventually prevails of course.
The 2 shorter scenes are:
- Leung (played by rising mainland Chinese star Huang Xiaoming 黃曉明) vs Hung’s protégés. Short scene that shows the Leung character perform some Wing Chun.
- Hung vs The Twister. Hung challenges the Twister and gets his ass kicked as he runs out of gas.
Most of the other actors apart from Yen and Hung really have minor roles and little to no character development. The film takes place in 1950s Hong Kong and while I have no issue with the production quality of the sets and art design, I can’t say it works for me either. The overall look seems to be just another generic Chinese mid-20th century set; take out the Englishmen and it could be early 20th century Canton for all I care.
Overall, I did find Ip Man 2 more entertaining than True Legend while not quite measuring up to the original Ip Man from 2008. I still prefer Donnie Yen’s contemporary actioners Kill Zone and Flash Point as I feel they represent progression in terms of action choreography. Still, Ip Man 2 earns a recommended viewing!