Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Master Returns: Ip Man 2

Ip Man is a peaceful warrior, but for some reason, people keep making him kick their butts. Not a good idea. After all, the Wing Chun master knows what he is doing. Even if you have not heard of Ip Man, everyone recognizes his most famous disciple: Bruce Lee. Immediately following the events of the previous film, the second chapter of Master Ip’s story finds him in Hong Kong, where he would eventually meet his destined pupil (but that will have to wait for a future film, should the Lee estate ever allow it). First though, he will have to battle the entrenched local martial arts guild as well as some thoroughly ugly Brits in Wilson Yip’s Ip Man 2 (trailer here), with fight scenes directed by the legendary Sammo Hung, which opens this Friday in New York, as it was meant to be seen, uncut and undubbed.

Nobody enjoys sparring more than Master Ip, but he will do his best to avoid actual street brawling. Of course, he could deal with any challenge, but with great power comes great responsibility. Indeed, he is as much attuned to the spiritual aspects of his discipline as its more awe-inspiring physical feats. Having successfully defending the honor of the Fushan martial arts community during the Japanese occupation, Master Ip and his family have relocated to Hong Kong. Times are tough though.

The Master tries to eke out a living teaching Wing Chun to disciples, but the local teachers demand he respect their authority, which includes facing all challengers during an initiation rite. Master Ip hardly breaks a sweat on the first two comers, but then things get serious when Master Hung (played by Master Hung) steps into the ring. However, the rival masters will unite when a British boxer starts disrespecting their art in a series of supposed good will exhibition matches. A sneering monster, The Twister has no regard for tradition or human life. Obviously, Master Ip will have to teach him a good, hard lesson in Wing Chun.

Since his family tightly controls the use of Bruce Lee’s name and image, the HK movie industry green-lit competing Ip Man films as the next best thing to a Lee bio-pic. Yip’s Ip was first out of the gate and sets a high standard for future competitors (including a forthcoming take from art-house auteur Wong Kar-wai). While its period details are first-rate, it is Donnie Yen who really makes the series work as Master Ip. He is able to be charismatic and compelling, while faithfully maintaining the master’s quietly serene demeanor. He can certainly handle a fight scene too. Yet, his Master Ip is not a superman, showing signs of age and human fallibility in the second installment.

Yip’s Ips are essentially HK Rocky movies, with each concluding in a climatic bout against a savage foreigner. However, Lynn Hung is way, way more attractive than Talia Shire as Ip’s wife, Zhang Yong Cheng. Unfortunately, she is not given much to do in 2 besides looking pregnant and concerned. Still, the addition of Sammo Hung really adds gravitas and verve to the proceedings.

Intended as an uplifting crowd-pleaser, Ip Man 2 delivers the goods, in large measure thanks to its winning cast, particularly including Yen and the two Hungs. Produced with a glossy sheen and featuring some very cool fight sequences choreographed martial arts legend Hung, Ip 2 is a worthy sequel in a top flight Asian action franchise. Recommended even beyond fanboy circles, it opens Friday (1/28) in New York at the Village East.