I just watched Ip Man 2. Yes, I also saw 1. The first was a Hong Kong movie based loosely on the life of Yip Kai-Man, a legendary martial arts instructor who taught many kung fu fighters including Bruce Lee. But before all that he was a gentrified businessman happily married and living in what I would call a mini palace. Ip Man’s day-to-day involved being a silent business partner to a cotton mill, drinking tea with his wife and practicing his form of kung fu, Wing Chun. But when WW II brought the Japanese, Ip Man was kicked out of his house, forced into hard labor and harangued by a Japanese General to display his fighting skills in epic match at the end of the film.
I always shake my head when I see accomplished fighters needing to be dragged into a confrontation. In the movies they are portrayed as reluctant warriors. In reality, those who spend their days practicing martial arts can’t wait to try it out.
For a time I took the Korean discipline, taekwondo. I can assure you there were some black belts who were aching to test what they had learned. So they would go to bars and place themselves in the path of drunkards. The first rule you are taught in taekwondo is self-defense. But if some loudmouth takes a swing…
Whether Ip Man defeated a Japanese General and brought honor to mainland China maybe legend. What is true is he lost everything in the war and had to start over in British controlled Hong Kong.
At the start of Ip Man 2, our hero is destitute living with his family in a rundown tenement. To pay the rent and feed his family he opens a martial arts studio on the rooftop of a building.
In reality Ip Man’s family remained in mainland China while he ventured to Hong Kong alone. The reason he started teaching Wing Chun was to support his growing opium habit, but you really can’t have a legendary hero smoking heroin throughout a movie. So Ip Man sits on a chair, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes and waiting for students to arrive. When they do he continues smoking and drinking.
To me this is the coolest part of the movie. I wish my taekwondo instructor would have sat in a chair while I attempted knuckle pushups. But Ip Man barking out instructions and smoking would have not made much of a movie. No, there needed to be two major confrontations to drive the plot and give him the opportunity to display his skills.
The first confrontation was with a consortium of martial arts schools that had a problem with Ip Man honing in on their turf. In one scene Ip Man and a new disciple must fight off at least 50 fighters from another school. Then Ip Man must prove his merit by fighting the masters of the other schools.
Even though Ip Man fights well and earns the respect of the other masters, he is far from done for an evil force in the form of a British Boxer is on the horizon.
I have to say when it comes to bad acting you will find no better example than Darren Shahlavi. Except for the muscles, his portrayal of the British Boxer, Twister is astounding (not in a good way). He makes Duane “The Rock” Johnson’s chances of touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company entirely possible. Every bit of dialogue involves Twister shouting at the top of his lungs. Shahlavi’s composition of his character is so bad I was hoping Donnie Yen’s Ip Man would break his jaw at the pre-fight press conference just to shut him up. But Ip Man’s character was much more than blindsiding loudmouths. He would wait to make his statement in the ring. And it was during their bout that surprisingly everything started to feel real.
When Yip Man fought the masters and the hordes of fifty, it looked more like a rough and tumble dance sequence. But when he stepped in front of Twister, there was nowhere to hide. Bad acting and all, Twister and his muscles were coming straight for him.
Just looking at the above picture juxtaposes a middle weight against a side of beef. No matter how talented, Donny Yen is not going to stop Shahlavi from running him over like a delivery truck. Throughout the movie, Ip Man coasted through the scenes with composure and élan. In this scene he is quickly bludgeoned and knocked around the ring. There were bruises on his face and a fuzzy haze inside his head. At that moment it was East vs West and even though I am an American, I found myself cheering for the other side. For while Twister fought for himself and his muscle Ip Man fought for the honor of his discipline and for his country that was occupied by a foreign power. Plus, hands down, the athletic and aerial assault of kung fu, which seeks to defeat but never humiliate is much cooler than the pugilist nature of boxing, which looks to brain the opponent.