Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster

Follow-up to 2008’s Ip Man once again stars Donnie Yen as grandmaster of the martial art, Wing Chun. Our story begins when he and his family move to Hong Kong in the early 1950s after their escape from the city of Foshan. The straightforward plot is divided into two parts.

The first half follows the teacher as he attempts to turn his fledgling Wing Chun school into a success. In the beginning Ip Man struggles and there is drama in his endeavor. This culminates in a scene where Hung Chun-nam, a Hung Ga master, demands that Ip defeat practitioners of all wushu varieties before he can teach in his own school. The conflict leads to a match atop a table where celebrated star Donnie Yen must battle Master Hung himself played by Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung. The hand to hand combat between the enemies justifies the film. It’s an exhilarating display. The second half sees former adversaries become allies as they band together to unite against the British, specifically a championship boxer who insults the integrity of the Chinese martial arts community.

Here’s where it gets silly. Iranian-British actor and martial artist Darren Shahlavi plays British boxing champion, Taylor “The Twister” Milos. To call him a ruthless character would be an understatement, and make no mistake, he is a character. He is the model definition of “the heavy”. He shows no respect, belittling the very culture of the country he’s a guest of. The portrayal is so crude he makes Ivan Drago, the central villain in Rocky IV, seem like a paragon of subtlety and restraint. At this point the plot feels as if it was lifted directly from that mid 80s movie. Chinese nationalism has rarely been this unbridled or obvious. I lost count how many times the British were referred to as “foreign devils” with unabashed contempt.

The 10 minute table fight sequence notwithstanding, there is little that’s distinctive in this sequel. That’s surprising given the legacy of this fascinating leader in martial arts. This was, however, a huge money-maker in China so look for Ip Man 3: The Teaching of Bruce Lee. Yes, that movie title may be a joke, but anyone familiar with Ip Man’s life will appreciate the humor. Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung are of course a marvel in their combat scenes. If that’s all you crave, you will not be disappointed. Their adversarial chemistry is exciting. I only wish the script could have been a bit less predictable.

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