The filmmakers of Ip Man 2 had meant for this movie to centre around the relationship between him and his famed disciple, Bruce Lee.
However, the filmmakers couldn’t get permission from Lee’s descendants and so could only portray him as a child at the very end of the movie.
Which leaves us with a pivotal character is missing from the other 107 minutes and 30 seconds of the film. The solution adopted by director Wilson Yip and Edmond Wong, both of whom had worked on the first film: take the plot from Ip Man, rename the characters and try to sell it as an entirely new film.
Ip Man 2 follows the titular character (played by Donnie Yen) after he flees to Hong Kong with his family in the wake of angering the Japanese. There, he tries to make ends meet by teaching Wing Chun martial arts, but is stopped by Master Hung (played by veteran actor/director Sammo Hung, who is also the film’s action choreographer). The latter demands that Ip Man pass a test given to him by the other masters in the area before he’ll be allowed to set up a martial arts school of his own.
We all know who wins, of course, but the fight sequence, in which fists are a blur as the masters battle it out on a flimsy table, is spectacular enough to warrant your forgiveness.
While this scene seem new at first, it’s reminiscent of the scene in the first film where Ip Man defeated Jin Shanzhao, the aggressive Northern fighter who thought he could easily best the Wing Chun master, as both scenes seek to prove that no one should underestimate him.
Ip Man gets tickets to a boxing competition from Hung, to watch Twister, a famous boxer from the West, in action. Before the main act, the different schools of martial arts are given a chance to demonstrate their skills.
Things get chaotic when Twister insults and injures the performers. Hung steps up to defend the integrity of the Chinese spirit when the boxer refuses to apologize.
The Hung Fist master ends up getting killed by the Englishman. The character development here is sloppy with Hung, as he shifts from antagonist to protagonist too suddenly for it to be convincing.
It’s here that you start to notice the stark similarities between the first and second movies: the Chinese are getting bullied by a foreign power, Ip Man is reluctant to fight at first, but when one of his friends is killed, he defeats the enemy and restores the dignity of his race.
While the constant declarations of Chinese pride may ensure box-office success in China, it borders on propaganda and risks alienating most of the world. Furthermore, the English characters are two-dimensional, almost like cardboard targets made for Ip Man to take down in a flashy show of his skills. Perhaps this is vengeance on behalf of Bruce Lee, who acted as third fiddle and the same flat characters to his Caucasian co-stars in Western productions, despite his considerable skills.
The fight sequences are still as brilliant, with scenes like Ip Man fighting off 50 men armed with cleavers with a mere pallet while maintaining a mask of serenity.
However, if you don’t know anything about Wing Chun, which just about describes most of the audience, you can easily watch the fight scenes from the first movie and still be equally amazed.
It’s no surprise that Donnie Yen isn’t willing to sign up for any more Ip Man movies, with the shameless repetition that is happening in these films, even the most ardent fan would be tired.