01/03/2011. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
Astoundingly luscious and lyrical, filmmaker Wilson Yip’s mind-bending martial arts actioner Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster is a visually stunning and viscerally charged meditation of the art of fighting…or at least the cultural, political and social aspect of a thought-provoking biopic that delivers a coveted combination of traditional significance and ethnic pride and precision.
Pulsating and provocative, Yip’s graceful narrative is profoundly quieter and more introspective than most of the high-caliber Hollywood-style chopsocky vehicles that are vainly built on exhaustive and over-extended outrageousness meant to predictably stimulate the senses.
Armed with a captivating consciousness, Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster reigns as a cunningly classical take on the historical heyday of kung fu movies and the kinetic motivation that they symbolically provide in the critical mindset of Asian action-packed cinema. In fact, Yip’s combatively rousing art house drama cynically tips its hat to Westernized indifference and surface-rising xenophobia that deems this present-day installment radically insightful. From the eye-popping fight sequences that display the movie’s fluid momentum to the dignified defiance that graces the film’s intense protagonist, it is quite clear why the Ip Man films are so essentially revered in popularity and prominence in Asia’s cinematic heartland.
A decade ago the first Ip Man film was instrumental in energetically introducing to moviegoers the resiliency of Wing Chun kung fu master Ip Man, a chop-and-sock wayward soul taking on martial arts-themed challenges set against the nostalgic nuances of World War II mainland China. The disciplined Ip Man was the pronounced poster boy for soul-searching identity and isolation as a judgmental foreign world threatened to unravel outsider hostility upon an already disillusioned Far East society. Naturally hailed as heralded avenger and keeper of ritual righteousness, the martial arts hero Ip Man is on board to preserve his brand of justice for his periled people and alas…for himself.
The setting is now based in 1950s Hong Kong and Ip Man (Donnie Yen) finds himself in the middle of some on-going transitional static. While earnestly trying to establish a martial arts school in an effort to teach the art of Wing Chun in the town of Fo Shun, Ip Man must contend with the revolving conflicts of battling corruptible forces that range from the local shady and oppressive British authorities and menacing gangbangers to rival martial arts school participants.
As if the personalized strife hasn’t mounted enough for the perplexed Ip Man he must deal with the postwar financial crisis that hovers over him and his pregnant wife Zhang Yong Cheng (Lynn Hung) as the married couple may face eviction if money continues to be absent in their struggling lives. In order to ensure the opening of his cherished martial arts school, Ip Man needs to tangle with the bothersome and bulky Master Hung Quan (Sammo Hung) and his mischievous minions.
It is quite disturbing that Ip Man must confront countless Chinese opponents in hardcore matches but now the stakes are even higher as he faces a big shot British boxing champion known as Taylor “Twister” Milos (Darren Shahlavi). This presents a couple of major problems. First, Ip Man has to gain honor and prestige in the expectation of his fellow Chinese countrymen as this “King of the Ring” scenario is crucial for these tortured people. Secondly, the presence of Twister’s intimidating visit may score well for the arrogant and prejudicial British officials that are comfortably mistreating the Chinese citizens in a “business as usual” arrangement. Plus, the aforementioned pesky Master Hung Quan decides to become a cultural turncoat by siding with the intolerant British police as a nasty measure to ruin Ip Man’s progression.
Enthusiastically, director Yip is masterful when displaying the well-choreographed fight sequences as they go down as smoothly as an ice cube relaxing a dry throat. There is no doubt that the many action-oriented bits are enthralling and imaginative in execution. Some may specifically recall the skillful broken table/chairs balancing act as one of the more brilliantly staged and rhythmic fight scenes that convey just how playful and penetrating this film aspires to be technically and creatively. Yip installs a bombastic bounciness and realm of redemptive forethought triggered in Yen’s/Ip Man’s flourishing fist of fury.
Screenwriter Edmond Wong’s script faithfully follows each plotline and situational showdown adequately but somehow never matches the urgency or consistency of the sophisticated vitriol being perpetuated by adrenaline-induced performances being demonstrated by the athletically jaw-dropping shenanigans of both Yen and the beefy-sized but appreciative movement of ballet-moving Sammo Hung. Wong’s tepid and occasionally contrived touches in the supporting characterizations are curiously transparent especially the so-called inclusion of barren British pugilists that come off as rather mechanical in both personality and purpose. The stilted dialogue isn’t particularly memorable or moving. Thankfully, the rich and robust elements of the Yen-Hung tenacious tangling compensates gleefully for the wooden lapses in the storytelling.
Joyfully, the commitment of Yen’s Ip Man as the fluent fighter grounded in idealism is entertainingly realized. We’re asked to climb on this enterprising cad’s capable calisthenics and the ride is nothing short of thrilling. Sammo Hung, who’s known to most as a long-time staple in Asian martial arts cinema, spices up the proceedings with his uniquely rotund resourcefulness that impishly contradicts his deceptive physicality. Indeed Hung’s expertise as an action star and fight choreographer dutifully juices up this action-adventure period piece with jubilance.
The noteworthy references for Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster are intriguingly digested. The film depicts a hearty pulp of political fortitude and raises the question about the pride and passion of a skilled art of fighting and its traditional people as its connection—something shamefully bypassed in modern-day kinetic-kicking capers that make synthetic noise without really having anything to say in its lifted voice of violence and visuals. Interestingly, some will embrace the roguish Ip Man for another kind of pop cultural consideration—the considerable footnote that exposes this Wing Chun Wonder as the noted instructor/guide/mentor to worldwide celebrated martial arts icon Bruce Lee.
Highly spirited, actively crafted in self-awareness and piercingly exhilarating, Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster will entice one to generate a steady chop to the salient soul.
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (2011) Variance Films
1 hr. 49 mins
Starring: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam, Huang Xiaming, Charles Mayer, Darren Shahlavi
Directed by: Wilson Yip
MPAA Rating: NR
Critic’s Rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
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