Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster
Directed by Wilson Yip. Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Huang Xiaoming, Lynn Hung, Kent Cheng, Charles Mayer, Simon Yam, Darren Shahlavi. (2011, R, 108 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 28, 2011
If you're searching for pure, unadulterated fisticuffs joy, you could do far worse than Ip Man 2, a model of the martial arts movie form, and also that rarest of things, a sequel that lives up to – and at times surpasses – its predecessor. Commencing some 10 years after the events depicted in Ip Man, Donnie Yen returns as Ip Man, the maestro of detached, cerebral mayhem known as Wing Chun. Penniless and with a baby on the way, Ip Man has set up shop in his new Hong Kong home. Literally. At one point, accompanied by his wife's stern-but-supportive reproach, he leads a gaggle of would-be students through the cramped and dingy confines of his kitchen up to the rooftop where, amid the pigeons and general squalor, he schools overeager youths in the finer points of kicking ass. Hong Kong is under the thumb of sanctimonious British rule and, inevitably, Ip Man's Eastern philosophizing comes into conflict with the decidedly unsporting Western notions of what a good punch-up should look like. Before that can happen, however, Ip Man and his growing student body must confront local martial arts overlord, Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung, every bit the legend and looking as robust as ever). Squabbles and street battles erupt like baby insurgencies throughout and it's one breathtakingly choreographed set-piece after the other until, finally, Morrissey arrives and nearly spoils everything. Well, not the Morrissey, but a clever (if, perhaps, unintentionally humorous) simulacrum, in the form of the Queen's No. 1 hooligan, Twister (Shahlavi). As befits his goofball moniker, Twister is colonial insouciance made flesh, a snarling embarrassment to good manners and fair fighting with a ghastly, veiny physique that falls somewhere between the Incredible Hulk and some sort of deciduous greenery. The final dustup between this lumbering chav and the far more honorable (in every sense) Ip Man is a terrifically edge-of-the-seat affair. As in the first Ip Man, director Wilson Yip stages the mostly bloodless carnage with class and flair. You're never at a loss to figure out who is fighting who, as in so many Western actioners these days, and Yen is the very model of simmering understatement. Unlike the shouty, yowling Brits, Ip Man is cool, calm, and noble in intent and execution. God save the Queen? Not bloody likely.