This is certainly no tame squeakquel.
More an exuberant throwback to fan-favourite 1980s Hong Kong martial arts movies, with fight scene stacked upon fight scene, shamelessly caricatured gwailo villains, a breezily achieved period setting, and at times (e.g. the fish market) quite thrilling fight choreography. Flawed, without a doubt. Cheesy, yes. The plot is uninspired, the violence unnecessarily excessive at times (Sammo’s face gets a real work out) and there’s emotionally flat filler like the re-introduction of Simon Yam’s character. But Ip Man 2 is also rather successful at what it aims to be: a thoughtlessly entertaining and
less epic much more self-contained cash grab sequel to Rocky the surprisingly very good film that launched the mini-franchise.
Sammo Hung’s involvement on screen for this follow-up (again he is fight choreographer) adds to the throwback effect. Satisfyingly, director Yip and screenwriter Edmond Wong do not dither around and give us a pretty darn audacious showdown between Sammo and Donnie before half the picture is out. Next time you’re having yum cha imagine two powerful combatants besieging each other with flying fists atop the table you’re sitting at and you’ll have a pretty good image of the show-stopping set-piece concocted for this contest.
Frankly, the fights are what the sequel is all about. It’s actually quite refreshing to have another film like this, which knows everyone wants to see Donnie smash in the heads of disrespectful punks and Brits, and just gets on with it. Donnie’s Ip Man may preach that avoiding a fight in the first place is the wisest road to take, but he doesn’t shirk from throwing down the gauntlet and challenging the laughably (in a good way re: the throwback effect) over-the-top “World Champion” British boxer when the time has come to give the audience a moment of nationalist pride and their fifteen bucks worth.
The non-existent handling of the birth of Ip Man’s second child during the final fight attests to where the story’s tone and focus lie. There’s not even a single emotionally harmonious cut-away to, say, the pained face of his wife in labour when Ip Man himself is battered, face-down on the canvas. Instead, the next time we see mummy later in the day she’s standing outside, an immaculately presented angel with a baby in her arms, waiting for her hero to return home after he’s demonstrated the superiority of his moral righteousness to the colonials. Horribly manipulative, but I’m pretty sure the majority of the audience grooved to story decisions like this one.
Something else to report: I had to wait two weeks to see Ip Man 2 because each time I went to the CBD multiplex it was sold out. Two or three sessions in advance. That was a bit of a new experience. The picture has certainly tapped a ravenous market in downtown areas (in Sydney and Melbourne at least) and that can only be a good thing for the continued longevity of commercial Asian cinema in this country. A final comment about the audience: there were loud cheers and applause for Donnie’s ultimate victory in the ring. Again, not the usual experience and I’d love to know if it’s something other than patriotism driving it.
For all this then, I find myself having to give it up for this unremarkable, almost certain to be forgotten, yet exuberant and comically gratifying diversion.