Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (2010)
Director: Wilson Yip
Cast: Donnie Yen, Huang Xiaoming, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Plot: Centering on Ip Man's migration to Hong Kong in 1949 as he attempts to propagate his discipline of Wing Chun martial arts.
Genre: Action / Biography
Rating: PG13 for violence.
“Master, you really can fight ten men at once.”
The recent spate of 'Ip Man' movies serves to illuminate one thing - that films can easily propagate and sustain the popularity of something that was previously unknown. Ask yourself, how many moviegoers would have heard of a Wing Chun martial arts exponent named Yip Man ten years ago? Today, that landscape has changed considerably.
The 'Ip Man' movies reached its commercial peak with the two Wilson Yip-directed action biographies, considered by most to be the definitive filmed works about the famed master of screen icon Bruce Lee. Other filmmakers followed suit, including Wong Kar Wai, whose The Grandmasters (2013) may have lacked popular appeal, but remains to be an artistic triumph nonetheless.
Donnie Yen, the energetic and charismatic action actor, embodies the reverent qualities of Yip Man. Like Jet Li in the late eighties, Yen is a trained martial artist whose affinity with and execution of action choreography can be a joy to behold.
In Ip Man 2, Sammo Hung serves as action director, combining Yen's versatility and his own experience as a respected Hong Kong martial arts star to deliver some quite breathtaking fight set-pieces, including friendly duels on an elevated round table and elaborate scenes at a fish market. However, the film’s major action set-piece is set in a boxing ring, pitting Yen and a brutish British boxer named Twister in a showdown between Chinese martial arts and Western boxing.
Ip Man 2 is beautifully shot, going for a polished look, rather than the usual gritty and raw cinematography reserved for triad pictures. The production design feels staged though, unlike that of The Grandmasters, which is an evocation of the past rather than just merely a recreation of it. However, director Yip keeps his sequel focus on Yip Man as a symbol of unity for Chinese martial arts in the face of British oppression.
The colonialist angle can be played too overbearingly with racist overtones that can be uncomfortable viewing. This bogs the film down, resulting in an experience less enjoyable than it should be. Still, Yen’s embodiment of humility, respect and an Orientalist pacifist ideal gives us hope that we can be better human beings if we want to.
GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)
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