Ip Man 2 takes us to Hong Kong following Ip Man’s escape from China. There, we see Ip Man abandon his reluctance to teach in the hopes of spurring a new generation’s ethics and values as well as passing on the vast amount of knowledge he possesses. Ip Man finds Leung, a loyal student committed to his teachings, who slowly brings more students to Ip Man’s doorstep. Teachers in the area, determined to prevent this newcomer from overtaking their territory, do all they can to make Ip Man’s life difficult, especially Master Hung, the most respected among them.
The original Ip Man carried a tone of a well-respected figure beset by the problems of a vast population, a tone not far-reaching but one that does well to create its own niche. Ip Man 2 is a near replicant of The Karate Kid. Ip Man is entering a foreign land (If you recall, Danny LaRusso moves from New Jersey to California in The Karate Kid) and finds a trusted student, whereas in The Karate Kid, LaRusso finds a noble mentor. In both cases, the dominant school of thought feels threatened and the ensuing conflict is the duo of teacher and student strengthening their bonds as friends, growing as people and beating the bad guys, of course.
In most cases, I am not a fan of repeated story arcs. It’s often lazily attempted and haphazardly executed, and while Ip Man 2 is stealing a few tips from director John Avildsen (who also directed Rocky), it feels foreign (Get it? Because it’s a foreign film?) because of sly if not subtle adjustments by director Wilson Yip. Some creative locations help divert our attention and the focus of the film is not afraid to bounce from character to character, from student to padawan. Ip Man, who admitted to feeling useless at one point in the last chapter of this series, has redefined himself while still carrying that same mantle.
And if that was all we had, this bond between master and pupil, the further adventure that is visiting Ip Man’s character and the inclusion of what is still impressive fight choreography, we’d have a pretty good kung fu movie on our hands. You’ll notice the fight choreography goes at the end because of its importance on the totem pole. It is a dessert, not a main course. Can you eat dessert for dinner? Yes. Should you do it often? No. The same applies to movies who make action first and the rest second. If your dessert/action is really good, exceptionally so, you can pull this off. Otherwise, usually not a recipe for success.
Thus far, none of the Ip Man movies have used this recipe, properly organizing its elements in order of true narrative importance. It’s thematic devices are rather straightforward and ultimately succinct, but never to the point of thoughtlessness or the abandonment of personification, just not to the tier of contemplation one would prefer in a movie reliant on a character of this magnitude.
It stays true to its identity throughout its first half, never backing away from putting its tenacity on a platform and showcasing its performers, but some odd anecdotal choices create fissures in the work. Yip is insistent on keeping recurring characters, two of which are there for the pure sake of recollection.
Where Ip Man 2 really sours for me is when the film divulges itself into a culture war. It had a Karate Kid vibe going, a teacher-student bond, etc and it abandons this for this needless flamboyance of Rocky IV. In what is evidently an epiphany, the teachers decide to stop giving Ip Man a hard time and focus on a boxing match sponsored by the British Empire. This pretty much causes an earthquake in the film’s fabric, disturbing all that has been accomplished and pushing it to the side so we can have a match of Rock’em Sock’em Robots at center stage. It’s a very rough transition that Yip does his best to smooth out but he can’t obscure the splicing of two different stories though and that does hurt this film. Two incomplete movies assembled as one does not make one complete movie.
This embattled eastern culture spinoff isn’t bad, either. It’s a little eccentric and predictable, but probably would have sustained itself over the course of a full run time. We’ll never know though because of this rather sporadic diversion from character story to posturing of Chinese martial arts.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has Fallen, The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Great Wall, Robin Hood, Underworld, The Do-Over, X-Men: Apocalypse)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Underworld: Evolution, Batman & Robin, Bloodsport, War, The Ridiculous 6)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to Die, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Crow: City of Angels, Centurion, Planet of the Apes)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Forbidden Dimensions, Cyborg, Outcast, Sabotage)
My score for Ip Man 2: 72.
While befuddled by some of the decision-making, I still find Ip Man 2 warrants a watch both as a continuation of a series and as a film all its own. Donnie Yen and a compelling score are here to assist you in your travels.