Uncle Jasper reviews: Ip Man 2 (2010)

Ip Man 2 [葉問2:宗師傳奇] (2010)

Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Lynn Hung, Huang Xiao-Ming, Fan Siu-Wong, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Darren Shahlavi, Kent Cheng, Lo Meng

Directed By Wilson Yip


The original Ip Man was a bona fide classic, and a successful attempt at elevating the famous teacher of Wing Chun kung fu to folk hero status. Now he can join the ranks of Wong Fei-Hung, Fong Sai-Yuk, and Hung Si-Kwan by having endless films and cash in attempts made that peddle bogus, fictionalized accounts of his life and rape his good name for some of that good ol’ box office cheddar. I guess those are the perks that are in store for folk hero cardholders. And what better place to begin the shameless plundering than in the original’s much-inferior sequel, Ip Man 2. Ip Man 2 was a little better back when it was known as Rocky IV, and even then it wasn’t that great. We have Donnie Yen returning as Rocky Balboa, Sammo Hung as the aging martyr Apollo Creed, and overacting meathead Darren Shahlavi as the murderous boxer Ivan Drago.

Remember how classy Simon Yam was in the original Ip Man? Looking all Howard Hughes and shit in his fancy dinner jacket and business suits? He even played a big part in saving the Ip family from death by smuggling them into Hong Kong. Well in Ip Man 2, he’s been reduced to a jabbering retard with a voracious appetite for roast duck. In fact, Ip Man 2 is rather good at taking the carefully developed characters of the original and either reducing them to bit parts or tossing them to the wayside all together with brief appearances that are instantly forgotten. I would have preferred to not see them at all this time around if it meant preserving the integrity of the original.

The film begins where the original leaves off. Ip Man is in Hong Kong now, struggling to make a living by teaching a few rowdy, hot-headed teenage kids kung fu. There are a few unwritten rules in Hong Kong though. In order to teach, you must prove your worthiness to stand among the upper echelon of the local martial arts schools. This means of course, that you must fight on a wobbly tabletop against a bunch of aging kung fu masters. The fight itself, which features some pretty fantastic action via Lo Meng and Sammo Hung, lapses into full-blown cartoon mode as the subtle wire-work of the first film is tossed aside for more pronounced acrobatics. It’s not bad at all, but it definitely takes you one step further away from the intimacy of the original film.

With the Japanese out of the picture, the occupying British serve as the foreign bad guys this time around. In the proud tradition of white guys in Hong Kong movies, that means we are treated to some of the most obnoxiously hammed-up overacting known to man. Forget about the equipment in Ip Man’s kung fu school, these guys are the real wooden dummies. I don’t know who is in charge of English language casting in Hong Kong, but why do they always seem to pick the guys who feverishly contort their faces while reading their lines about 80 decibels higher than everybody else? Maybe it’s a necessity in order to bridge the language gap, but it instantly makes me cringe when I see a whitey up in my Hong Kong movies. On second thought, if the goal was to find actors who are the best in their field at presenting white people as loudmouthed, arrogant, and overtly racist assholes, then they have succeeded admirably.

When chronically asthmatic Sammo gets beat to death in a Chinese boxing vs. Western boxing match against musclebound douchebag “The Twister”, Ip Man decides to once again stand up to the foreign bullies and become the courageous face of the Chinese people… Wait, haven’t we done this all before?

Herein lies the most blatant issue with Ip Man 2. When it’s not pilfering moments out of Rocky IV, it’s shamelessly looting its own prequel for plot points and characters. Everything, from the ultra-evil foreign fighter to the sellout Chinese interpreter is a rehash of what we already saw in the first film. Not only that, but the original handled everything with much more tact and finesse than the second-hand offerings here. I can see why Donnie Yen has ruled out any chance of appearing in a possible Ip Man 3. He must have gotten some pretty bad vibes off of the brazen profiteering going on here. At least the actor portraying Ip Man seems to have a shred of respect for the man.

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to make a comment on the series as a whole. I have no problem with the rampant jingoism and Chinese nationalism going on here. As a longtime fan of Hong Kong films, this is just a part of the entire package, and it has never really bothered me. But I can’t help but think how Ip Man himself would have reacted to these incredibly fictionalized accounts of his life being passed off as legitimate biographies. Maybe he wouldn’t have minded being used as an icon for Chinese pride. Maybe he would have just laughed at the whole thing. Still, it’s an interesting thought.

With Hong Kong now caught knee-deep in the throes of an Ip Man frenzy, we have Wong Kar-Wai’s version of the Wing Chun master’s story to look forward to next in the coming months. Now that should be very interesting, to say the least.

7 comments to Uncle Jasper reviews: Ip Man 2 (2010)

  • Another beautifully written review from you.

    Oh dear… I really enjoyed the first Ip Man – I thought it was a superlative film, and I was looking forward to seeing this sequel.

    I laughed out loud when I read your paragraph about western actors in these films. Where DO they find them? WHY are they always so very apalling? And the people who do the dubbing of Hong Kong films? Where do they find such retarded sounding people?

    • Uncle Jasper

      There is fun to be had in Ip Man 2, don’t get me wrong. But taken as a whole, there are simply too many glaring flaws to even compare it to the first.

      Yeah! What’s up with western actors in HK film? I think the first time I really noticed it was in Drunken Master 2 or maybe in the Once Upon a Time in China series. It almost as if they purposely go out of their way to deliver lines in only the most obnoxiously overblown manner.

      Thank you so much for the comments and your continued support of the blog!

      • You’re welcome! I look forward to reading more of your reviews.

        “obnoxiously overblown manner” – yep, spot on. Same with Westerners dubbing chopsockies. In my more paranoid moments I wonder if this dreadful acting isn’t a manifestation of an attitude that lots of westerners have that kung fu films are sort of ‘failed’ Holloywood film (instead of being a seperate genre with its own aesthetic values and creative agendas), and that therefore the films are, by default, only of value as exercises in camp viewing.

        What’s the matter with me rambling like this? It’s only 9:40am and I haven’t had any red wine yet!

        • Uncle Jasper

          So true. I guess part of the reason I choose to review the films I do is to give everything a fair shake. People seem to have preconceived notions of what can and can’t be called art. Who’s to say that a Shaw Bros classic like The Water Margin or Challenge of the Masters can’t stand alongside The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries? Yeah, I make fun of Ingmar Bergman’s films a lot as a joke, but also to make a point. He was a great filmmaker, but no more so than Chang Cheh, Lloyd Kaufman, or Arthur Marks.

          You don’t have to wow me with jaw-dropping camerawork, beautiful cinematography, or moving imagery to convince me that a film is worthwhile. Those things are always nice, but I’ve seen movies that look like they were shot by a freebasing orangutan that I value more than a film like Lawrence of Arabia.

          I realize that this is not a popular opinion to have in the world of film criticism. But film criticism itself is kind of silly if you think about it. It ends up carrying so much weight, when in theory it really should carry none. It’s just another example of popular opinion determining what is and what isn’t worth your time.

        • Your observation that a lot of westerners only view these as “failed” Hollywood films is so right on. I always get frustrated when kung fu is lumped into “bad movie” conversations as so many of them are truly amazing films, made with more heart and dedication than most Hollywood pictures.

  • Man you are dead on with the Rocky 4 comparison. It’s a shame they didn’t go the high route again with this, but it does still entertain. I enjoyed seeing Sammo Hung again, if nothing else.

    Totally agree with you on the Westerners in HK films. And I think you’re onto something when you ask if they are purposefully portraying Westerners in such a manner.

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