There are usually two schools of thought when it comes to judging sequels. One tends to be very harsh on the proceedings expecting it to surpass the original (which it hardly ever does) in all aspects of film-making. The other still expects a good film but realizes that this sort of thing is usually financially driven and just hopes for something that can favorable stand against the original. I happen to be in the later crowd. But, I certainly found myself inching towards the former when I received the blu-ray package to review Ip Man 2, Legend of the Grandmaster. Let’s go inside, shall we?
Ip Man (played Donnie Yen)has escaped from Foshan and has made way with his family to the Hong Kong of the 1950’s. His wife, Cheung Wing-Sing (played by Lynn Hung) is pregnant with her second child. However, the family is barely making ends meet. Cheung can’t work much and Ip Man’s martial arts school isn’t going as well as planned. They can hardly cover rent and school fees for their son, Ip Chun (played by Li Chak).
One day, Ip Man finally gets a visitor for his martial arts school. He comes in the form of Wong Leung (played by Huang Xiaoming) who basically challenges him to a fight. Ip Man soundly defeats him and sends the young man running. Leung runs right into his friends who he brings back up for a second fight in an attempt to ambush the master of Wing Chun. They are again defeated and the group swears allegiance to Ip Man and become his first students to practice in the martial art.
Ip Man does try and collect some fees from his students but they are sparse at best. Later, we see Ip Man run into Chow Kwong-yiu (played by Calvin Cheng) who is taking care of his father Chow Ching-chuen (played by Simon Yam) who was shot in the back of the head during the Japanese war and is now insane. (Chow Ching-chuen was the close friend of Ip from the first film and ran the cotton mill).
Meanwhile, Leung is trying to draw new students to Ip Man’s school by putting up posters for the school. He deliberately puts them over flyers for a future boxing matchup. This raises the ire of a gang of thugs led by Cheng Wai-Kei (played by To Yu-hang) who challenge him to a fight. Leung throughly beats Cheng which leads to the other thugs joining the fight to capture the young student.
Ip Man soon receives the ransom note and is asked to come to the Lee Hung Kee (fish market). The master of Wing Chun comes to the marketplace and meets Cheng Wai-Kei. Unfortunately, Ip Man didn’t bring any money and that starts a huge fight which involves Ip Man against dozens of men. Leung is able to join the fight but doesn’t have the use of his hands for much of the exchanges. This thrilling fight reaches a climatic finish when Jin Shanzhao (played by Fan Siu-Wong)saves the day. (Jin is the bandit and eventual friend of Ip from the first film)
However, this extended fight is stopped when Hung Chun-nam (played by Sammo Hung) enters the streets of the crowded fish market. He is in charge of this area and master of his own form of marital arts. He basically lays down the line that in order to be a master in this area, he has to go through the test of surviving an incense stick fight which means he has to last against other masters of the area until the stick burns out.
At this point, Fatso (played by Kent Cheng) shows up and arrests Ip Man, Wong Leng and Jin Shanzhao for disturbing the peace. They are taken to jail but soon bailed out by their respective families. Ip Man’s mind turns to the fight with the martial art masters which will happen soon. Can Ip Man survive the ordeal and continue to teach his upcoming students? Or perhaps there is an even greater challenge lying awake in the form of the Twister (played by Darren Shahlavi), an English boxing champion who has no concept of respect.
The second movie really does pick up where the first one leaves off giving the greater sense that these two movies could exist together in one masterpiece. Because that is what both of these movies are, a masterpiece of epic proportions. Strong characterization is again present in this film with strong performances by all participants. Returning actors and actresses blend greatly back into the film and provide quality performances that only further extend their roles on screen.
New additions to the cast such as Sammo Hung (he was the action choreographer for the first film) and Darren Shahlavi find their way very quickly into our hearts. Sammo stands out in every scene he plays in and has perhaps the most awesome presence in the film. I also enjoyed the evolution of Lynn Hung as an actress and her continued improvement on screen as a quality Asian actress. There is so much good to be said here and through the sets and rich story, that tale is told.
The only negatives would come in the form of very minor criticisms. Selfishly, I wanted more of a role for Jin Shanzhao and I think that the fish market fight was almost a bit Jackie Chan-ish which took away a bit from the nature of the film. The last fight in particular was a match between Ip Man and Twister, boxing versus martial arts. It felt more like martial arts with a very powerful punch versus martial arts. Twister effectively counter punched most of the fight and showed at least a working knowledge of concepts that are routinely explored in the martial arts. It was still a great fight but I wanted more clash of the styles.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 Widescreen. If those of you who remember my first review, the original had issues with some washing out, almost a black and white movie with a gold overtone. I am happy to report that none of these issues exist in the sequel. Colors are strong and the set work from Shangai is nothing short of amazing. Once again, they have went to a ton of trouble to recreate a Chinese city, this time in the form of Hong Kong during the 1950’s. Even though the intention is to make the surroundings seem downtrodden, it is packed with life.
The audio is presented in original Cantonese and optional Mandarin or English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound. For the purposes of viewing, I went with the original Cantonese and stuck to English subtitles. I say it again, the sequel is certainly pushes the bar in audio. Fight scenes are much more impressive in this version with the incense stick and fish market fights going all out and making sure that the front and the back speakers get plenty of life. One swears that Sammo is going to break the table in one’s own living room when he lands on the one in the movie.
Dialog is also strong here. A lot of times in foreign movies I find myself wanting to switch to an English dub even though I know in my heart that I should listen in the original language. I didn’t find that problem here at all. Dialog is smooth, clear and perfectly conveys the surroundings around the characters. Music is subtle but works perfectly well here to underscore the action. My English subs were also very good and I had no problems understanding the film and the action around it.
- Automatic Trailers: Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen, The Man From Nowhere and Ip Man
- Teaser, Trailer, and International Trailer 1:11/2:16/2:42: Three completely different trailers for the movie. The first is quick, to the point and makes you want to see more. The second is also action based but longer while the third (International) looks more at the family aspect of the 2nd movie and dabbles a little bit into the action. Finally, trailers that don’t all look alike.
- The Making of Ip Man 2 17:37: The basic making of featurette which starts with the director, Wilson Yip who talks about the film and how Ip Man keeps his honor and principles intact even when life is hard. This film focused more on family and the relationship between Ip and his wife. Huang Xiaoming goes into how much he practiced while they go into the extensive choreography done by Sammo Hung. They end the featurette with a bunch of promos to go see the film.
- Behind the Sets 9:53: This feature takes four sets, The Community, Fish Market, Chinese Restaurant, and Big & Small Arena and breaks them down quickly to see what went on for those scenes. They made the sets authentic here with little touches like 1000 boxing pictures and posters on the wall of the club set they used in the final fights. Little things really stand out especially when you go back and look for them.
- Shooting Diary 3:05: Pure promotional fluff. There is no other way to put this. They set up all of the action scenes, put it on speed dial and run it for three minutes. They could have certainly done more here.
- Deleted Scenes 9:06: Three scenes are presented here. Well the annoying film strip from the first blu-ray is gone and we get 3 quality scenes here to enjoy. The second scene involves more interaction between Simon Yam and Donnie Yen while the third gives us a whole another boxing fight to enjoy.
- Interviews 117:46: This is the major chunk of the dvd special features and has interviews from Wilson Yip, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Hung Xiaoming, Darren Shahlavi, Ziong Dai Lin, Simon Yam, Fan Sui-Wong, To Yu-Hang, Kent Cheng, Ashton Chen, and Pierre Ngo.
- The times are variable and range from pretty short (Donnie Yen, Fan Sui-Wong, and Simon Yam) to fairly long (Wilson Yip, Hung Xiaoming, and Darren Shahlavi). All of them follow basically the same script. First they talk about the movie or their character, then they explain how it was to work with Donnie Yen or Sammo or insert other character here. Then they talk about memorable scenes and their expectations for the film. They end the interview with the moderator asking them to promote the movie and make the viewer go watch it. Props go to Sammo for getting into it as usual.
- I really wish they would have spent more time with Fan Sui-Wong and Donnie Yen but unfortunately we do not get that luxury here. It was good however that they let some of the supporting characters get more time and exposure. After spending all this time with the movie, it is unfortunate that the material from these interviews are basically recycled all throughout the other features. The interviews are excellent but it does feel very formulaic.
Originally, the plot for Ip Man 2 was to involve his teaching of Bruce Lee. The character of Bruce Lee is in the ending but it is very short and basically acts as a comedy moment. Wilson Yip, the director does want to make a third film but there are reports that Donnie Yen wants no part of it. As previously suggested, the third film would indeed be Ip Man teaching young pupils including the likes of Bruce Lee. I would like to go on record and say I would be very interested in a third production but only if Donnie Yen returns. He is simply Ip Man, period.
Ip Man 2 is a great sequel and exactly what one would expect from a second movie. There is more action, more emphasis on the family life and everything from the sets to the characters have more depth in them than the previous film. But in that same breath, the original is still a better film but not by great lengths at all. The video and audio have certainly received an uptick in quality. The extras are long but are fairly formulaic. This is an easy recommendation at the end of the day as long as you have watched and enjoyed the first film. GO BUY TICKETS! (or just buy the blu-ray or dvd from our convenient amazon links)