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Ip Man 2 (Wilson Yip, 2010)
Director Wilson Yip and martial arts star Donnie Yen team up for their fifth outing together and deliver mixed results in Ip Man 2. The follow-up to 2008ís biopic Ip Man, itís a virtual retread of whatís come before, with the occupying Japanese that served as the villains for the first go-around replaced with the British, as the action shifts to Hong Kong. The plot here is slim, divided into two parts. The first sees Ip Man, legendary innovator of the Wing Chung style, trying to prove himself to the Hong Kong dojo masters as he attempts to turn his fledgling school into a success. The second half of the movie sees the British serve as Ipís opponent, most specifically a championship boxer who insults the integrity of the Chinese martial arts community. While this plot centered around the defense of the martial artsí honor is somewhat in line with the themes established by the first film, there is a key distinction to be made. The first film, and the first half of this one, spend considerable energy explaining that Ipís Wing Chun martial arts style was something of an outsider discipline, and they also strived to show that Master Ip treated violence as a last resort. For him to be beating people up to earn what essentially amounts to bragging rights seems a tad out of character. When combined with the feeling that the story here is a bland retread of the first filmís the enterprise begins to seem a bit soulless.
Whatever its plot deficits, though, the first Ip Man film was a blast whenever Yen was fighting on screen. Here, Yen is a marvel once more, but he takes a back seat to an even bigger legend of the HK action genre. Sammo Hung, who appears in almost as many fight scenes as Yen, is arguably more impressive here than the filmís titular star. An epic fight scene between Yen and Hung, staged almost entirely upon a single tabletop, is a classic of the genre. Several other battle scenes are memorable as well. Thereís a semi-comic sequence where Yen fends off a crew of angry fishmongers, drawn-out battles against a cocksure boxer, and a few training scuffles to perk up the attention. Throughout all of these scenes, Yipís skill as an action filmmaker almost allows him to outweigh his deficiencies as an original storyteller. The battles here feature especially fluid camera work, tracking from limb to limb as they take turns flurrying an opponent, and allowing our appreciation of the actorsí talent to really take hold.
Unfortunately, Ip Man 2 is not merely a series of awesome fight scenes. Its action is wrapped up in a narrative that is flat by any standards, but nearly insulting to those who have seen the first Ip Man movie. Its blatant recycling of the plot structure of its predecessor combined with its complete lack of further development of any of its characters, makes the overall film a tedious sit, no matter how excellent the highlights might be. Fans of marital arts movies will still surely want to check out Ip Man 2, if only to see the bout between Hung and Yen. For anyone else, itís likely that one of the two movies will be more than enough.