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2 reviews, 1 rating

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Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster
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by Jay Seaver

"Some good fights, but a letdown from the first Ip Man film."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: When I reviewed "Ip Man" last year, I was enthusiastic, comparing it to classic Shaw Brothers and "Once Upon a Time in China". As I said then, that's pretty good company for a martial arts epic to be in, and "Ip Man 2" doesn't stray far from it. Indeed, that turns out to be a bit of a weakness this time around; rather than being reminiscent of those great action films, "Ip Man 2" feels more like an imitation of them.

The year is now 1950 (although none of the characters seem to have aged since the first movie, which took place in the mid-thirties). Wing chun master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) has left Fo Shan for Hong Kong, where an old friend allows him to use empty rooftop space for a martial arts school. Students are few and far between, though, until Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming) shows up; impressed by master Ip, he soon brings his friends. The kids run afoul of the students of another master, Hung Jan Nam (Sammo Hung), who also runs the cartel of local martial arts clubs, demanding fees. And while Ip is trying to establish himself in Hong Kong, Hung is working on a deal to provide security and exhibit Chinese boxing alongside an exhibition by the Western champion, "The Twister" (Darren Shahlavi).

Let's start with the good: Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung fight, in a set-piece that Hung choreographs and directs. It's a situation meant to test Ip Man's skills, so kind of artificial, but fun to watch. Huang Xiaoming and the other younger actors in the movie are pretty decent as well. Hung, main director Wilson Yip, and company rely a little more heavily on wire work than the first movie did, especially during the centerpiece duel between Ip and Hung (and all of Hong Kong's other martial arts masters), but almost never to the point of people seeming to defy gravity. The fighting is fun to watch, and though the contrast in styles between Wing Chun and Hung Keut it not quite so obvious as in the first film, we are shown some of how it works - the lack of posturing, the simultaneous attack and defense. Toward the end of the movie, when the action moves from sparring to serious business, we're once again treated to Yen doing some amazingly quick, rapid-fire combinations.

The trouble is, that second half of the movie is nowhere near as compelling as it was in the first Ip Man. The previous film took place during wartime, with Ip Man and company fighting for survival; this is just a fight about wounded pride, one that Ip Man doesn't need to be in. The foreign-devil villains are one-note racist goons, with even that undercut by scenes showing how embarrassed their fellow Englishmen are of the spectacle they're creating. And while the climactic fight between Ip Man and the Twister isn't exactly boring, it's not a fun contrast of styles. Shahlavi is big and not very mobile, and it makes the final fight seem more dominated by brute force than technique. That's especially disappointing, considering that this movie co-stars Sammo Hung, who has spent almost forty years showing us that fights involving big guys don't have to be lumbering affairs.

It's not just in the final fight that the series seems to have lost a little spark in the second go-round. Although Donnie Yen shows some of Master Ip's sly humor toward the start, he and the rest of the cast seem to be going through the motions as the movie continues; in particular, the chemistry between Yen and Lynn Hung as Ip's wife isn't as strong as it was in the first film. Sammo Hung is a nice addition as Hung Jan Nam, playing the character right on the line between "rival" and "villain". Huang Xiaoming is an energetic addition to the cast; he makes a great contrast to the somewhat dour Ip. I'm not sure what Simon Yam and some of the other holdovers from the first film are doing in this one.

Like its predecessor, "Ip Man 2" is a handsomely mounted production, and director Wilson Yip never lets it bog down. It's not a bad movie by any means; it just peaks early and never quite measures up to its predecessor.

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originally posted: 07/02/10 00:24:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2010 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2010 series, click here.

User Comments

9/28/13 KingNeutron I found this more interesting than the 1st film- awesome fighting 4 stars
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Directed by
  Wilson Yip

Written by
  Edmond Wong

  Donnie Yen
  Lynn Hung
  Simon Yam
  Sammo Hung
  Xiaoming Huang
  Siu-Wong Fan

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