Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ip Man 2

I was really looking forward to Ip Man 2, as I enjoyed the first movie a lot (see Zen Throw Down review: Unfortunately Ip Man 2 is a disappointment and a surprisingly weak film. It's a classic case of a martial arts movie getting too slick for its own good while trying to go mainstream. Ip Man 2 lacks the fights needed to appeal to fans of the genre, but it's not strong enough in plot and characterization for mainstream audiences to care.

Ip Man 2 is certainly a well-crafted flick, but I just didn't find any heart or soul in it. The fights contain far too much Matrix-esque wire-fu and some of it is so silly that it makes the film ridiculous. You can't treat it as anything other than a popcorn flick, and yet it's trying to (I think) have some kind of heart. Worse than that, there are tons of fast cuts that prevent the performers from showing off their skills, and this makes you wonder if it's all special effects. Big turn off for a genre fan.

So what about the things mainstream audiences will look for: plot, acting, characterization? Ip Man 2 doesn't deliver any of this. Donnie Yen reprises the role of Ip Man capably enough, but his sincere performance seems lost and out of place in this silly movie. It's almost as though he and his character are beside the point. His student, Lueng, was well-played and interesting, but the character is not developed and goes nowhere. His wife's pregnancy was all front and center but has nothing to do with anything. A close friend of Ip Man is homeless after taking a Japanese bullet in the head and...not sure why that's in the movie as it also goes nowhere. Sammo Hung has great presence, but his character is undefined. First, he's a Hong Kong martial arts mafioso (which is a bit silly all by itself), but then we find he's working for the Brits, but then he changes sides...sort of. Huh??? What's the point of this? The final scene with a young Bruce Lee is dorky and feels tacked on to the end of the film.

The main reason Ip Man 2 will fall flat - for any viewer - is that there is no conflict. Who or what is Ip Man fighting? First we see him trying to open a martial arts school to make ends meet. Then he comes into conflict with Hung, but since Hung's having his chain yanked by the Brits they become allies in short order. Then the rest of the movie is about a boxing match with a British boxer, which Ip Man has to take on and win because...uh, well...I'm not sure why he has to take it on or win. So there can be a big fight at the end of the movie?

I also have to say that this Western fight/match with crooked 'bosses' rigging things was done far, far better in Fearless. In that movie, if Jet Li's character didn't take the match or lost it then his school and people would be shamed. Ip Man 2 tries to mine this vein but lacks the heart and soul to can't make the sparks fly. Ong-Bak worked this angle better, too, and it wasn't even trying to nor were those fights the core of the film (except as awesome displays of skill!). In Ip Man 2, the crooked Brit police chief running the match is too poorly played and laughable to be a real villain. His arrest at the end is corny. The match itself is not very interesting, and I still don't get the 'realization' that inspired Ip Man to open the decisive can of whoop-ass at the end. Lame.

Without much martial arts action and without a central conflict or a reason to care, it's hard to find Ip Man 2 anything but empty and directionless. This undermines the impact of the fight scenes, especially since they aren't being showcased for their own sake. I walked away from the movie feeling as though its only point was to cash in on what I understand is an Ip Man phenomenon in the East. Donnie Yen lost a good deal of credibility with me on this one.

Worth renting if you're a huge Donnie Yen fan or can't live without seeing more of his Ip Man franchise. Even in that case, though, don't expect much.

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