Beginning in 1950 the film picks up the story of Ip Man as he attempts to open a martial arts club in Hong Kong. Here he is met with opposition from rival club masters and their leader Hung Jan Nam, played by martial arts legend Sammo Hung. Hung is also a go-between for the local businessmen and club owners and the corrupt British police officer who controls the local area. Despite being painted early on as the villain Hung is clearly conflicted by the need to consider what is best for the people who rely on him and what is right. Although it may seem convenient to make Hung such a sympathetic nemesis of Ip Man Sammo plays the character incredibly well and Edmond Wong’s dialogue between these two characters is some of the best in both Ip Man films. Unfortunately one thing that lets the film down in places is the real villains of the piece, the corrupt police officer and the Western Boxing champion who challenges Chinese Boxing and Hung and Ip Man. Far too cartoonish these two villains often weigh the film down with laughable dialogue and hokey acting.
Luckily though there is so much else in the film that makes up for this resulting in a film that is still fantastic but just with one pretty unfortunate flaw. Almost certainly central to the success of the film is the action and in this area Ip Man 2 really doesn’t disappoint. Apart from a couple of overdone wire sequences the action is phenomenal and seeing Yen and Hung fight it out will be a joy for any Kung Fu fan (it was for this one). Wilson Yip knows exactly how to frame the action and the editing is fast but effective in cutting in exactly the right places. Yip gets up close during some of the fight scenes but he also know when to pull back for longer shots when the scenes need it. The fight scenes are filled with overhead shots too that effectively showcase the martial arts on display. These fights all build to the ultimate battles in the boxing ring where Yip again shows that he knows exactly how to shoot the action, which is also expertly choreographed by Sammo Hung.
The story is perhaps a little too similar to the first film but this isn’t too much of of an issue as although it could feel like a simple retread with the Japanese replaced with the British, the film introduces new characters, continues the character arcs of familiar faces from the first film and the shifting physical and cultural landscapes also help keep the story fresh. Ip Man’s wife is also now pregnant and although the husband/wife relationship is not as fully realised as in the first film, the wife is again a little underwritten, the first film has established this family unit well enough that you still feel for the wife and son.
With some genuine tension, helped by bold scriptwriting and exciting direction, Ip Man 2 is another success for Yip and Yen and, despite a couple of minor flaws, a fitting sequel to the also excellent Ip Man.
Despite Yen suggesting he may not return for a third film Yip is supposedly enthusiastic about making another instalment and with the admittedly slightly silly final scene in Ip Man 2 that sets this up it seems likely. Keep your eyes peeled too for Wong Kar Wai’s long promised take on the Ip Man story which is out later this year.