Mirroring the Master

A thoughtful martial-arts spectacle, the Ip Man sequel is a knockout

The second half of Wilson Yip’s enthralling Ip Man biopic ratchets up its martial arts fight sequences with phenomenal duels that put you on the edge of your seat.

In order to teach his Wing Chun style of martial arts, Ip Man (a sublime Donnie Yen) must first establish himself as one of Hong Kong’s local kung fu masters. Fighting atop an unanchored table amid a sea of upturned stools, Ip Man practices his craft with a calm fierceness and blinding speed. There is a marked shift from the first film’s tone of political oppression toward a more dynamic celebration of Ip Man’s mastery of Wing Chun kung fu. The fusillade of blinding punches that Yen executes sounds like a drum roll when Ip Man slips into overdrive during flashy moments of hand-to-hand combat.

Renowned martial arts choreographer Sammo Hung admirably fulfills the role of the gifted kung fu master, Master Hung.

Ip Man 2 revels in a Chinese nationalist theme when a Western-style boxer who goes by Taylor “the Twister” Milos (Darren Shahlavi) publicly insults Chinese boxing.

With little money and a pregnant wife (Lynn Hung), Ip Man rents a rooftop where he plans to teach martial arts. Naturally, every would-be student is a street punk whom the unassuming master must defeat before they will put any stock in him as their sifu (master). Ip Man’s first student, Leung (Pierre Ngo), invites a band of friends who take their lessons seriously—perhaps too seriously.

As a biopic, Yip’s treatment of Ip Man’s cult of personality is tilted toward a Chinese self-identity that honors humility. Ip Man’s documented troubles with opium addiction are never addressed. His recovery from a gunshot wound he suffered at the end of the first film is given only cursory attention in an opening credit sequence flashback. It’s certain that the screenwriters took innumerable narrative liberties in transposing Ip Man’s life to the big screen.

The Ip Man films stand up better as martial arts spectacle movies than they do as biographical records. Whether or not Ip Man was ever made to test his skills against Hong Kong kung fu masters seems uncertain. It’s even less persuasive that he was ever called upon to publicly represent the identity of Eastern martial arts against Western boxing in such a crass environment as a boxing ring against such a cartoonish circus-styled opponent as “the Twister.” Regardless of their revisionist history brushstrokes, the Ip Man films have merit as thoroughly entertaining martial arts movies. They represent an attention to discipline and humanitarian ethics that should never be forgotten.

Ip Man 2 (R) ★★★★☆

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