Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster: Everybody Wing Chun Tonight
dir. Wilson Yip
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster is basically two kung fu movies fused into one. The first half of the film finds recently exiled Wing Chun master Ip Man (Donnie Yen, likably Mister Rogers–ish with his restraint and gentle smile) starting a school of martial arts in Hong Kong. Of course, the other martial arts schools dislike the newcomer and challenge him to a series of ridiculously entertaining battles, climaxing with a terrific fight between Yen and Sammo Hung, who even in the twilight years of his martial arts career still knows how to move like a ballet dancer when he needs to. This first half is a generic-but-appealing movie.
The second half of Ip Man 2 begins when a British boxer named Twister comes to Hong Kong and insults what he calls “Chinese boxing.” He takes on some martial artists and makes short, bloody work of them. Things escalate until finally Ip Man must fight the boxer in the championship bout to end all championship bouts. This half of the movie is the better of the two, simply because Darren Shahlavi’s Twister is an insanely racist caricature you want to see destroyed, an old-fashioned melodramatic villain.
Like the first outing in the series, Ip Man 2 is based on a true story (though an Ip Man fan who went to this movie with me noted that the “gravitas” of the first film failed to make an appearance in the sequel). It’s still full of the usual clichés you’ll find in a martial arts movie—the pregnant wife who goes into labor at the worst possible time, the brain-damaged sidekick who basks in the hero’s glow—but the thing Ip Man 2 has over the traditional biopic’s pitfalls is that when things get too schmaltzy, it launches into a huge set-piece-destroying kung fu battle. I’ll be goddamned if you don’t get your money’s worth out of this one.