Combustible Celluloid
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With: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam, Huang Xiaoming, Siu-Wong Fan, Kent Cheng, Darren Shahlavi
Written by: Edmond Wong
Directed by: Wilson Yip
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 04/29/2010

Ip Man 2 (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bruce Change

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wilson Yip's Ip Man 2 (subtitled The Legend of the Grandmaster on the Blu-Ray) is frankly one of the very best Hong Kong/martial arts movies I've seen in years. I don't think I would have expected as much from the director Wilson Yip; the only other film I'd seen of his was the well-made, but not exemplary Flash Point (2008). Nor would I have expected as much from Donnie Yen, a charismatic, but low-key martial arts leading man, who takes on this role with an actor's relish, playing the part as well as performing the stunts.

It's of course a sequel, and "Ip Man" is simply the name of the main character, based on a real-life figure (he's not a superhero). I did not see the original, but it's easy enough to get by without. In the first film, he fought against the Japanese, who occupied Hong Kong during the 1940s. In this film, the war is over and he returns to Hong Kong to open a martial arts school. He hopes to teach Wing Chun, which -- according to the movie -- emphasizes simultaneous striking and self-defense. He suffers through some lean times before finally winning several students, led by the hot-headed Leung (Huang Xiaoming).

Unfortunately, it's not easy to start a martial arts school in British-occupied Hong Kong, as Ip Man learns from his new rival, Master Hong Zhen Nan (Sammo Hung). Ip Man learns that he must be accepted into the club -- which, of course, involves a fight -- and then, once accepted, must pay dues. The dues go to the British. Master Hong Zhen Nan believes that his dues buy him peace of mind, but increasingly he discovers that he has made a deal with the devil. The drama increases when a gloating, ruthless British boxer called Twister (Darren Shahlavi) comes to town, and looks for challengers.

Yen is wonderful here, bringing an unusual calm and logic to his performance. He's imperturbable, even in a fight, and his performance works; as his dilemma grows more and more complicated, Yen's fa´┐Żade cracks only a tiny bit. I mentioned earlier that I did not expect this from either Yen or director Yip, but I'd like to say a word about Sammo Hung, who has inarguably his best role, ever, here. Hung trained alongside Jackie Chan and has enjoyed a long and fruitful movie career, both as an actor and as a director, in Hong Kong and in America, but his chubby looks turned him into a buffoon and a sidekick. Here, his Master Hong Zhen Nan has some dignity and some confidence. He's frightening, but also very human and -- eventually -- a tragic and heartbreaking figure. (Indeed, Hung won the Asian Film Award for Best Supporting Actor, the first such honor of his long career.)

Yip's direction here is as good as any recent martial arts film; it's ornate and utilizes 1940s period detail, but it keeps the fights coming and builds the drama effectively. It never lags or gets confusing, and it builds to a fever pitch; Ip Man even goes to his final showdown while his wife is in labor, and we forgive him! The movie ends with a great epilogue, though it's no secret that the real-life Ip Man was Bruce Lee's teacher. Simon Yam -- another well-known Hong Kong actor -- briefly reprises his role from the first film.

Mandarin Films and Wellgo USA Entertainment have released a massive, two-disc Blu-Ray set with nearly three hours of bonus material, including featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers, interviews, and other good stuff. The visual and audio quality of the movie left me with no complaints.

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