Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fantasia 2010: Ip Man 2 (2010)

This is the third film review in the coverage of Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival. While the first film, which took place during the Japanese occupation of China during World War II, was a fairly good blockbuster, the expectations for the second film were really high. Unfortunately, despite a few problems, Ip Man 2 has its charms.

After 1949, the Chinese communists take over mainland China. This is why Ip Man, an expert in Wing Chun, leaves the town of Foshan with his family and settles in Hong Kong, which was under British colonial rule. In order to support his family, Ip Man decides to teach Wing Chun. However, despite having a few students, Ip Man is almost unknown in Hong Kong. Furthermore, master Hung Jan Nam, an expert in Hung Ga and the head of an association of martial arts masters, wants Ip Man to pay a monthly protection fee of $100 in order to teach.

Even though he holds his grounds to master Hung, Ip Man still manages to teach against all odds. As we advance through the story, we learn that a part of the martial arts schools' protection fees are reluctantly handed to superintendent Wallace (Charles Mayer), a corrupt officer in the Hong Kong police, by master Hung Jan Nam and Fatso (Kent Cheng), a Chinese police officer. Besides, a fighting match opposing a British boxer (Darren Shahlavi) and master Hung will be organized in order to prove which sport, between Western or "Chinese boxing", is the best. However, after the defeat of master Hung, Ip Man challenges the British boxer in order to save the Chinese's honour.

As you've read it, Ip Man 2 has the same narrative formula that made the success of the first instalment. However, instead of the Japanese army, the British are the bad guys. Without being downright bad, Ip Man 2 has a few problems. First of all, given that the first film has set the tone for the series, we learn nothing new about Ip Man as a person. Indeed, this film just repeats that Ip Man not only wanted to spread Wing Chun but also to promote non-violence. Secondly, while the film superficially deals with Ip Man's financial problems, it depicts the leading character in a rather complacent way. In fact, don't even expect Ip Man 2 to explain that Bruce Lee's teacher needed money to satisfy his addiction to opium, which he bought illegally on the black market.

Nonetheless, Ip Man 2 excels in showing the social and political atmosphere in Hong Kong at the end of the 1940s. For instance, we get to see how Hong Kong's police, at the behest of the British authorities, were entitled to storm into the office of a newspaper in order to control the story that people will read. Furthermore, despite the use of caricatures, the film takes the time to show how many British (and by extensions many Westerners) belittled the Chinese (and non-whites) at that time.

Finally, without being perfect, Ip Man 2 is one of those rare Hong Kong blockbusters that combine great fight scenes and good acting. While Donnie Yen is in good shape as Ip Man, a man with a terrific self-control, the most memorable performance definitely comes from Sammo Hung, as a man who will discover what integrity and pride are all about.

Origin:Hong Kong (2010)
Length:108 minutes
Genre:Biographic drama
Screenplay:Edmond Wong
Director:Wilson Yip
Starring:Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Darren Shahlavi

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