In his fourth screen outing, Rocky Balboa double-fistedly defeated communism by conquering a gigantic Russian super boxer in the name of the U.S. of Fuckin' A. In Ip Man 2, the titular Hong Kong kung fu master—mentor of Bruce Lee and pioneer of a close-combat style called Wing Chung—double-fistedly defeats British colonial rule by pounding on an evil cockney pugilist. Rocky IV has a bloated Italian stereotype romancing a robot. But Ip Man 2 has one thing no Rocky film possessed: amazing fight sequences.
Anyone looking for a realistic historical biopic probably hasn't found 2008's Ip Man, which focused on the gentle martial arts master (an effective Donnie Yen) fighting Japanese tyrants during World War II—usually 10 at a time—and training garment workers to defend themselves against rape-crazy soldiers and marauders. Like American tall tales, Ip Man is based loosely on a real man, but on screen his legend comes alive with rampant hyperbole. Yes, Ip Man really trained garment workers. No, he couldn't hover in the air or move in slow motion.
This time around, Ip starts a martial arts school in 1950s Hong Kong, only to draw the ire of kung fu crook Hong (martial arts legend Sammo Hung, also the film's fight coordinator). Ip, a kindly man who doles out free lessons while his pregnant wife lives in squalor, soon finds himself knee-deep in elaborate fight scenes with rival schools. Barely five minutes pass between melees during the first half, including one pitting Ip against dozens of knife-wielding thugs, and an eye-popper in which Yen and Hung battle atop a small desk.
Eventually, Ip is thrust into an East vs. West boxing match, and unfortunately, the film loses steam in the lead-up. With fight scenes slowing down, it becomes obvious that director Wilson Yip is so dependent on kung fu that he forgot to make us care about anything else. Then Ip beats the shit out of the bad guy and delivers the standard "can't we all just get along" speech to the onlooking Brits, and all is forgiven. Like Rocky 4, Ip Man 2 is a ham-fisted piece of nationalist propaganda with a thin plot and little character development. Unlike Rocky 4, Ip Man 2 is actually kind of fucking awesome despite its bloated goofiness. R.
76 SEE it: Ip Man 2 opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre.