Ip Man 2: Collectors Edition (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes to the ring with Donnie Yen for more Wing Chun brand fisticuffs...
Director Wilson Yip and star Donnie Yen struck gold with their 2008 film adaptation of the early life of Wing Chun godfather Ip Man. The first film’s story only covered the grandmaster’s struggles during the Japanese occupation of China during WWII, and the sequel, which was apparently planned before Ip Man even hit theaters, was meant to cover Ip’s experiences mentoring a young Bruce Lee. This, of course, sounded very interesting. Unfortunately, no deal was made with Lee’s estate, and the production was forced to loosely base the second movie on a period where Ip (once again played by Yen) attempts to establish his Wing Chun school in the city of Hong Kong. Ip first faces challenges from Hung Ga students, and their master Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung), who collects money from competing schools for a corrupt Hong Kong police superintendent. Overcoming this corruption involves a whole lot of kick ass Wing Chun, eventually leading to an all or nothing battle with a champion British boxer Taylor "The Twister" Milos (Darren Shahlavi).
The first Ip Man told its story with a little too much leisure at times, so it’s a nice change of pace that Ip Man 2 clips along without stopping for much. It’s also good that Yip and company assume we’ve seen the first film and don’t need a primer on the characters, etcetera, but Ip Man 2 feels more like a greatest hits package than a narrative driven story (even though there is a more exacting framing device this time around). This is a mostly acceptable trade off, however, since this is the way most legends are passed from generation to generation. It’s also acceptable because the Ip Man series are really kung fu movies first, history lessons second. The story basically exists to move us to the next fight scene, which occasionally in turn moves the story along. In the end it’s pretty clear that the Bruce Lee story would’ve been the ideal choice for this sequel, and this second option feels like a big hunk of filler.
The stakes aren’t nearly as high this time around, which hurts the film overall. In Ip Man the title character is forced to fight Japanese soldiers for food, and to defend friends who will die if he doesn’t win in the ring. Here, Ip Man and his colleagues are defending honour and such, which is a common theme but certainly less immediate than impending death (death is still present, but not to the terrifying degree it was in the first film). To make up for the lack of terror the villains are ratcheted up to 11 on the ham-o-meter, creating goofy, two dimensional fodder for our relatively well rounded protagonists. I’m also forced to once again draw comparisons to Ronny Yu and Jet Li’s similar and generally superior Fearless, which covers similar subject matter with less overweight actor hands. From the martial arts point of view Yip runs into the problem of believability (could a traditional Western style boxer really stand up against hand, foot and throw kung fu, even in this supernatural environment?), and unfortunate comparisons to the first film’s utter brutality. Yip still manages to achieve a commendable level of emotional intrigue (it’s hard not to root for the good guy, even when things are this obviously emotionally manipulative), and kinetic energy, but there isn’t a lot of suspense.
It all amounts to some pretty thick melodramatic hogwash, but Ip Man 2 does have one thing Ip Man did not – Sammo motherf#@ing Hung. It’s incredible that at this late point in his career Hung has continued to be just as vital a part of the Wushu cinema as he was three decades ago. Sammo acted as fight choreographer on Ip Man, but never appeared on screen, and his massive presence (no, that’s not a fat joke), and his chemistry with Donny Yen mostly makes up for the English speaking cast’s lack of subtlety. Really, he’s playing a less ruthless version of his Sha Po Lang character (another film directed by Yip and co-staring Yen, but one where Yen acted as choreographer), but it’s a character he’s mastered in his old age (a sort of irony considering his early career), and one it still hasn’t grown stale. The one major Hung/Yen face-off is clearly the film’s highlight moment, and the closest this flawed sequel gets to real Wushu theatrical greatness.
Well Go USA’s original Ip Man release had more than a fair share of video issues, mostly consisting of halo effects, and mushy back grounds and wide shots. This release is much more consistent, partially because the look itself is more consistent. Director Wilson Yip and cinematographer Poon Hang-sang don’t bother with quite as many photographical gimmicks, but also ensure this film looks like a continuation of the first one. Ip Man 2 is a warmer movie than its predecessor, which was practically black and white during long stretches of film. This warmth isn’t the most subtle visual choice either, pretty much everything is baked in yellows and golds, while set dressing, production design and wardrobe usually fall into a handful of palette categories including jade, brown, burgundy, black and white. There isn’t a high frequency of colour, but these choice hues are solid, consistent, and sharply separated. Contrast levels are impressive, featuring deep blacks and clean whites set against each other without the thick edge-enhancement featured on the previous release. There is certainly grain on the print, but nothing oppressive, and digital artefacts aren’t much of an issue either. I did notice a few instances of what appeared to be missing or skipping frames (mostly during slow motion shots), but this may have been a stylistic choice.
Once again we are met with a collection of three DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 choices, including English and Mandarin dubs, and the original Cantonese. I’ve opted for Cantonese since that’s what the vast majority of the cast appears to be speaking. This track is clean, warm, and features some effective LFE punch, but isn’t particularly impressive in terms of stereo or surround presence. The most outstanding directional effects are surprisingly mundane, like doors closing in the stereo channels, or someone speaking from a rear channel. The really big fight sequences do feature stuff like crowd noise, and some flying fists that swish through the stereo speakers, but most of the otherwise well mixed mayhem is pretty centric. Kenji Kawai’s score continues to sound synthesized as all hell, and his themes mostly fail to achieve much beyond pointing our emotions towards the incredibly obvious, but the warmth and LFE presence of the track is quite effective, and the volume levels make sense on the track.
Disc one starts with a making-of featurette very similar to the one that graced the previous Ip Man Blu-ray (17:40, SD). Here director Wilson Yip, and actors Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Fan Sui-wong, Kent Cheng, Ziong Dai Lin, and Huang Xiaoming discuss their work against behind the scenes footage, and are bookmarked with footage from the film. This disc is completed with a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer and the international trailer, along with trailers for other Well Go USA releases. The second disc of this collector’s edition, which is a standard DVD, starts with ‘Behind the Sets’, which itself is broken up into ‘The Community’ (2:50, SD), ‘Fish Market’ (2:20, SD), ‘Chinese Restaurant’ (2:30, SD) and ‘Big and Small Arena’ (2:20, SD). These brief featurettes feature much of the same footage already found in the making-of EPK, but with more focus on specific sets, including discussion with various crew members who get all technical. The shooting diary is more of the same (3:00, SD), utilizing much of the same footage. From here things are brought to a close with a selection of deleted and extended scenes (9:00, SD), and a collection of extended interviews including Wilson Yip (31:00, SD), Donny Yen (3:40, SD), Sammo Hung (6:40, SD), Huang Xiaoming (17:00, SD), Darren Shahlavi (14:10, SD), Ziong Dai Lin (5:50, SD), Simon Yam (4:50, SD), Fan Sui-wong (3:30, SD), To Yue-hong (13:30, SD), Kent Cheng (5:40, SD), Ashton Chen (5:50, SD) and Pierre Ngo (6:00, SD).
Based on Ip Man 2’s box office returns I’m going to assume an Ip Man 3 is somewhere on the horizon. I’m also guessing that producer Raymond Wong will get permission from Bruce Lee’s estate to include more exciting and interesting aspects of Ip Man’s later life next time around. If that is the case, we can look back on Ip Man 2 as a decent stopgap with a handful of great Wushu sequences, and a strong performance from Sammo Hung. Otherwise, I’m going to have to consider this one a disappointment. The A/V is clear of the first release’s problems for the most part, but the second disc is a bit of a waste, so I recommend completest fans save a little money on the single disc Blu-ray release.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 19th April 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Cantonese, Mandarin and English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Cantonese, Mandarin and English
Extras: Making Of, Behind the Sets, Deleted Scenes, Shooting Dairy, Interviews, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Wilson Yip
Cast: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Darren Shahlavi, Simon Yam
Length: 108 minutes
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