By Nathanael Griffis
Ip Man is the name of the somewhat legendary (I say somewhat because he’s a real historical figure and most of his exploits are true, hence they don’t carry any of the falsity or exaggeration of legend) trainer of Bruce Lee. He’s been the subject of numerous movies as of late, which is starting to bother me, but that’s another rant for another day.
We discussed the first Ip Man on the podcast. It was our first podcast after changing our name from The Incidental Dog Movie Podcast to Buried Cinema. I had a weird watching experience in that I had to watch it dubbed instead of subtitled, which does hurt the natural performances. Also, there were no subtitles or dubbing for the significant parts of the film that are in Japanese, so not knowing Japanese, I was somewhat confused. Still, it had good enough action and interesting enough characters that I was drawn to the sequel.
I believe I was apologetic of Ip Man because my viewing experience was so bizzare, but upon watching Ip Man 2, I saw a lot of the same flaws, and wonder if I shouldn’t have been more honest about the way I felt. I had a suspicion that the movie was good, but not great. That at its heart it was propagandist. No, that’s not the word because this film is merely patriotic towards China, not that different from, say, Act of Valor. It is a crowd-pleaser, a blockbuster, a safe film, an entertaining film. The bad guys are stereotypes, the good guys have motivations that change at the whim of the script.
Despite this there are a few saving graces. Donnie Yen as Ip Man shows off his acting chops. He carries an air of modesty with great power, which is a respected aspect of martial arts. He fights because it’s what he knows. He isn’t consumed by greed or power. Revenge is only undertaken as an act of justice and national pride. He is the consummate teacher, father, and husband, a person you want to model yourself after. His wife, played by Lynn Hung, is a little more absent in this film, which is too bad, because she was a welcome presence in the first film, which made it unique like Shinobu Nakayama in Fist of Legend.
The first film is an interesting look at a marital arts master whose way of life is destroyed by war. It becomes a stirring biopic about a father caring for his family and giving up his dream. It is more a character study. With strong female characters that are so often lacking in kung fu films, it was a pleasant surprise. There was a focus on hand-to-hand combat and minimal wire work, again like Fist of Legend. Still, something bothered me.
The supporting characters are weak. They tend to have over-exasperated faces that almost encourage an exaggerated dubbing. Kung fu naturally solves every political, social, and economic problem ever, unlike say Fearless or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where the martial arts epic sweep is kept, but the thematic focus is changed. There are not-so-stirring speeches made, and unfortunately in Ip Man 2 there is a lot more wire work and Sammo Hung. He’s not a bad martial artist, but he doesn’t impress.
The sad thing is that Ip Man 2 is merely a sequel. It takes what producers think made the film beloved and repeat more of that. There are constant fight scenes; the first Ip Man had maybe four total, which gave each one more significance. There also just isn’t a sense of scope. It can’t decide if it wants to tell the story of Ip Man’s struggle to start a school in post-war Hong Kong, or the abuses of the foreign influence, which gets washed away at the end anyway when we learn a devious police chief was working alone.
It’s not a horrible movie. It’s a good martial arts flick, and I have to say I’m coming around to Donnie Yen. He won’t replace Jet Li, but he’s a nice transition to the next person at this moment.
About the author:
Nate was once a silent film star whose song-and-dance skills helped him make an effective transition to talkies. Now he won’t shut up, and frequently breaks into song on our podcast. Nate is self-described as a personally professional person. He loves meditative films and is crossing his fingers for Nature Scene Screen Saver: The Movie. (One could argue that Terrence Malick already made this film, and called it The Tree of Life.) Nate’s favorite films include A History of Violence, A Beautiful Mind, Wall-E, The Graduate, and 127 Hours.