Nowadays, there seems to be a new movie about Ip Man coming out every year. With Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster and Herman Yau’s Ip Man: The Final Fight, people just can’t seem to get enough of the legend of the iconic wing chun grandmaster who went on to mentor Bruce Lee. Before all of these movies, though, Wilson Yip made Ip Man, which was a huge success with both critics and audiences. Before the first film was even released, a sequel was planned and in 2010 Ip Man 2 was released. While the second doesn’t quite reach the greatness of the first, both of these films will go down as two of the greatest martial arts movies ever made.
First, let’s look at the 2008 film that started it off.
In the city of Foshan during the 1930s, legendary martial arts schools keep the city running and even attracts students and competitors all over China. The man known the most through all of the city, though, isn’t even a teacher, but instead a grandmaster of the wing chun style of martial arts. This man is Ip Man (Donnie Yen), who spends his days practicing and sparring masters of Foshan. As time passes on, the Japanese violently invade China during the Sino-Japanese War, and Ip Man is forced to see his friends and neighbors brutalized and starved by the Japanese. One Japanese general, Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), begins challenging the Chinese martial artists to fight him to prove his Japanese fighting style is far superior. Ip Man bravely rises to the challenge, risking his life to give new breath to the Chinese spirit and respect for their art.
Ip Man is more than just a simple martial arts movie. It’s a movie about the honor and respect of the Chinese. Some of the most powerful scenes of the movie don’t even include action, but more so examples of how to live and treat others with Ip Man being the prime example. While this movie isn’t really historically accurate, it uses the legend of who Ip Man was to get a message across. This never would have worked if Donnie Yen wasn’t completely dedicated to the role. Luckily he’s not only just a fantastic martial artist, he’s also a very talented actor who is able to deeply understand the roles that are given to him.
But let’s be real. One of the reasons people are so into Ip Man are the brilliantly choreographed and executed martial arts action sequences, and there are plenty to really marvel at. What’s great is that Wilson Yip and action choreographer Sammo Hung really emphasize the different techniques utilized in the different fighting styles. Ip Man’s way of fighting is a lot different than Miura’s, which makes the climactic fight all the more exciting. To get away from really analyzing the movie, the action scenes are just really freakin’ cool. The punches seem like they can be heard a mile away and the aftermaths are always shown in vivid detail. It’s a dream come true in terms of martial arts movies.
Ip Man is one of the better martial arts movies I’ve ever seen, but it also works really well as a drama and historical picture. Wilson Yip seamlessly blends these genres together while Donnie Yen completely kills it as Ip Man. It’s just a fantastic movie, even if it is far fetched and historically inaccurate.
In 2010, the sequel to this smash hit was released and received a wider audience than its predecessor. That movie is Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster.
Jumping ahead to the 1950s, Ip Man and his family have relocated to Hong Kong so that Ip Man can teach the wing chun style to any who are willing to learn. At first, business seems to be lacking, but he soon finds students. This angers another master working in the city, Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung), who is part of a guild of masters. Ip Man soon earns his place among the other teachers, but refuses to pay the fee to remain teaching. The fee is actually used to pay the corrupt British police superintendent (Charles Mayer), who is planning on hosting a boxing match featuring Britain’s number one fighter, Twister (Darren Shahlavi). When Twister insults the Chinese people and even goes so far as beating one to death, Ip Man challenges the foreigner to a fight, which may prove to be Ip Man’s most deadliest confrontation yet.
Right off the bat, Ip Man 2 feels a lot different, but also very similar to its predecessor. The Sino-Japanese War is no longer happening, so we don’t really have that drama going on anymore. This one is actually very similar to Rocky IV, where Rocky challenges Ivan Drago, a Soviet, to restore faith to the Americans. Ip Man challenges Twister for almost the same exact reasons. This entry is also a lot heavier on the action than the original, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. Still, the story feels a little off kilter and undirected a points, like Ip Man 2 is a combination of a few different movies. But don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this movie.
What this movie does have that the first one didn’t is a much stronger villain. It’s so easy and fun to hate Twister, and so satisfying when Ip Man finally steps in the ring with him. Much like the first one, Ip Man 2 focuses a lot on the differences between the ways of fighting, in this case the differences between eastern martial arts and western boxing. It’s a cool combination that makes for a very interesting and intense fight. Even the other scenes where Ip Man takes on multiples people with his superior knowledge of wing chun is awesome. Again, every punch can be heard and every breaking bone is highlighted in excruciating detail. It’s almost too much fun.
Ip Man 2 doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness as the first one, but it’s still a superior martial arts movie. Donnie Yen kills it once again as Ip Man, showing his talent both in fighting and acting. A great addition to the cast is Sammo Hung, himself, who also did the choreography for both films. This movie is essential for any fan of the first film, and pretty much just any fan of the martial arts genre.
All in all, these aren’t movies to be missed. I recently saw The Grandmaster, and while it was a really cool movie, it didn’t quite hook me as much as the Ip Man films did. These movies pack a punch in both action and drama, while creating a legendary view of the actual Ip Man. As I said before, these movies aren’t historically accurate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love them for what they are.