Donnie Yen is one of the unheralded stars of this year’s Fantastic Fest. He wasn’t in attendance obviously (aside from in my dreams), but he did have three films playing in which he takes the lead role. Sure one of those flicks was underwhelming (14 Blades), but it’s still three more movies than you or I had play there. And while I haven’t seen Legend Of the Fist yet the word is the movie is entertaining as hell. If Brian Salisbury’s love for that film proves true then it will mean that Yen starred in two of the fest’s best films. Because Ip Man 2 is a giant won-ton of whoop-ass fun.
Director Wilson Yip‘s latest opens a few years after the events from the first film with the family Ip having moved from China to Hong Kong. Ip Man is trying to open his own martial arts training center and secures a location on a beautiful rooftop suitable for drying laundry. After a few scraps with local punks he’s forced to prove himself against the unofficial man in charge of the district, Master Hung Quan (Sammo Hung). Most movies would save the epicness of a Yen/Hung fight for the end, but Ip Man 2 is having none of that… it’s just getting started, and before the end credits roll they’ll be a second (but shorter) fight between Yen and Hung and a battle royale that sees Ip Man fighting for the pride of his country and countrymen. Yeah, kind of like he did at the end of the first film…
Let’s get what doesn’t work out of the way first… Ip Man 2 is nowhere near as dramatic or thematically heavy as part one. The stakes there were nothing short of survival, but the sequel forgoes anything as dire in exchange for battling over the rights to open a gym. And it’s not even a 24-hour gym! He wants the right to open a training center to teach his Wing Chun style-martial arts. That’s his biggest issue here aside from being late with the rent and eventually having to face off against a British boxing champion in a finale that screams “I’m Wilson Yip and I saw Rocky IV!”
But a light-weight Ip Man is still an action-packed Ip Man. And the action is bone crunching, flesh slapping, rapid-fire bouts of humiliation, Ip Man style.
There are no shortage of action scenes here, and Yen takes center stage in almost all of them. We first see him playing with some young punks who think they can take him, but he proceeds to lay the smack down on each and every one of them thus converting them into the students he desperately needs. This is soon followed by a brilliant set piece involving Ip Man fending off tens of smelly fishmongers. With knives. And wooden pallets. This scene gives way to the film’s center piece fight featuring a Yen/Hung face-off fought entirely atop a wobbly table. There’s some wire work here, regrettably, but it only lowers the entertainment slightly as seeing these two masters go hand to hand is a giddy delight for those of us who enjoy watching Asians beat the shit out of each other with grace and style.
And where most movies would stop Ip Man 2 keeps going… a few more scraps are tossed in including a Yen-less bout between Hung and the hulking Brit, but soon all is right with the world once again as Yen steps into the ring and gives the imperialists a royal what-for. And while Yen is no Jackie Chan when it comes to emoting he is getting visibly better. If the power of his well-earned smile doesn’t melt your heart and/or warm your cockles than you sir are a racist. But seriously, he’s a joy to watch move. Whether it be a machine-gun burst of punches or a hit that stops just shy of his opponents face in an effort to show them who’s boss, Yen is the current king of martial arts cinema and proves it again here. Incredible and often blisteringly-paced action combine with some unexpected humor and heart to make this a stellar sequel.