Before "Ip Man" was released to theaters in the fall of 2008, a sequel was already announced with Donnie Yen returning to the titular role of Wing Chun master. For those of you arriving to the party late, Ip Man was a master of Wing Chun, whose biggest claim to fame was as the teacher of Bruce Lee. In fact, the second movie was initially planned to revolve around the relationship between a young Bruce Lee and his mentor. However, the producers were unable to come to terms with Lee's estate.
"Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster" takes place in 1949, years after Master Ip's violent confrontation with the Japanese in Foshan. He has since relocated to the British-occupied Hong Kong with his pregnant wife Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) and their son Ip Chun (Li Chak). Ip Man plans to open a martial arts school, a business venture that starts off humbly enough. He practices on the rooftop of his tenement building amidst clotheslines full of laundry hung out by his neighbor. His first student is a brash and cocky young man named Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming), who recruits other students after experiencing Master Ip's skills the hard way. Unfortunately, Ip Man doesn't find the same camaraderie with his fellow masters in Hong Kong that he did in Foshan.
Ip's school is threatened before it even starts when it grabs the attention of the local martial arts association headed up by Master Hung (Sammo Hung). Ip Man must fight the other masters to prove his abilities are worthy. He must also pay protection money to the association in order to remain operational. In turn, the money paid to the association goes to Wallace (Charles Mayer), a corrupt superintendant on the Hong Kong police force. Events build to a one-on-one battle for national pride between Ip Man and Wallace's champion, a professional boxer known as Twister (Darren Shahlavi).
"Ip Man 2" isn't much of a departure from the original film. In fact, it's not much of a departure from many other martial arts films. The sequel follows a familiar formula with the heroic protagonist defending the honor of his fellow Chinese against the hateful foreigners. The storyline is something that's been seen in pictures like "Once Upon a Time in China," Bruce Lee's "The Chinese Connection" and its remake "Fist of Legend." It also seems to borrow liberally from "Rocky IV," so much so that you half expect Twister to scream, "I must break you." Both Twister and Wallace are portrayed in a cartoonish, moustache-twirling manner as uncouth and prejudice.
Despite a weaker story compared to its predecessor, "Ip Man 2" still manages to wow in the action department. Wilson Yip returns as actor and Sammo Hung, in addition to his supporting role, once again takes up duties as fight choreographer. This is extraordinary as Hung underwent heart surgery before principal photography and still showed up to act, perform his own stunts, and put together the action sequences. Hung had previously faced off against Yen in "Sha Po Lang," which saw the big man in a rare turn as a villain. In "Ip Man 2," Hung isn't an outright villain, but a begrudging antagonist. In their rematch, Hung and Yen test each others' kung fu while attempting to balance on top of a teetering table top. Yip allows the action to unfold without breaking it up with unnecessary camera tricks or rapid editing. It's a lesson many Hollywood directors have yet to learn.
Donnie Yen puts on another strong performance as the cultured Ip Man, who imparts wisdom on others when he's not pounding them with piston-like punches. In a welcome return, Fan Siu-wong reprises his role of the boisterous Jin Shanzhao, a former highway robber who reformed after his last encounter with Ip Man. Hong Kong movie vet Kent Cheng, who played sidekick Lam Sai-wing opposite Jet Li in "Once Upon a Time in China," has a brief role as a liaison between the masters and Wallace. As Ip Man's wife, Lynn Hung doesn't have much to do other than look forlorn. However, the actor who is wasted the most is Simon Yam as Ip Man's long-time friend, Chow Ching-chuen. Here, he's been rendered brain damaged and gives a ridiculous performance that Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder" would describe as "full on retard."
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. "Ip Man 2" sticks a natural palette of warm colors and looks more vibrant and natural than the previous picture. The transfer is exceptionally detailed and well textured.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and in three languages. You'll get the original Cantonese, Mandarin, and a terrible English dubbed track. I stuck with the Cantonese track, which was nicely done with sound effects coming in strong.
As they did with the first "Ip Man," Well Go USA has released the sequel in various permutations. "Ip Man 2" is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray in single-disc versions and 2-disc Collector's Editions.
The Blu-Ray includes a Making Of featurette (17:37), which is your standard look at the goings on behind the scenes.
The Collector's Edition includes a second disc on standard DVD. Extras included are:
Behind the Sets is a set of four featurettes about the various sets and locations used in the movie. The four sections are: The Community (2:54), Fish Market (2:18), Chinese Restaurant (2:26), and Big & Small Arena (2:17).
Shooting Diary (3:05) is a montage of footage taken from the film shoot.
Also included are a collection of deleted scenes and interviews with the main cast and crew.
"Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster" isn't quite up to the level of the first film. It replaces the emotional core of the original story with a formulaic plot revolving around jingoism and xenophobia. Still, the sequel is elevated by the performances of Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung as well as its exciting action scenes and slick production values.