Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (2010)

Master, You Really Can Fight Ten Men at Once.

As I come towards the end of my first year of reviews, I came to realize that I had started a few things that I had left unfinished.  The first one I realized was a movie I had reviewed, but had not reviewed the sequel.  And, I coincidentally noticed it because I felt like watching the movie again.  I had reviewed the first movie back in November, and I also raved about it being one of the better martial arts movies in recent history.  Solid storytelling mixed with fantastic fight scenes and some good performances as well.  I had been told about how that one was a great martial arts movie so I decided to give it a watch, but I accidentally watched the lesser prequel instead.  I still liked the prequel so much that I instantly went out and purchased the first movie and today’s movie.  How did that work out for me?  We’ll find out in my review of Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster, written by Edmond Wong, directed by Wilson Yip, and starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Darren Shahlavi, Huang Xiaoming, Lynn Hung, Charles Mayer, Kent Cheng, Fan Siu-wong, To Yu-hang, Ngo Ka-nin, Simon Yam, Calvin Cheng, Lo Mang, Fung Hak-on, and Brian Burrell.

After the events of the first movie, the Wing Chun martial arts master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) moves with his family to Hong Kong to open a school.  At first, it’s slow going, but then a young man named Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming) comes along and becomes his student, and soon more follow.  And with these new students comes trouble when Wong Leung gets held hostage after getting into a fight with members of another martial arts school.  When Ip Man goes to rescue him, he comes into contact with Hung Chun-nam (Sammo Hung), who tells Ip Man that he must fight the other masters before he can teach in Hong Kong.  Also, a western boxer named Taylor “The Twister” Milos (Darren Shahlavi) is coming to Hong Kong for an exhibition, and that’ll probably turn into something as well.

One could argue that Ip Man 2 suffers from roughly the same problems as most martial arts movies, but it also benefits from the same things they do.  The story is pretty basic.  It’s a fantasy version of Yip Man’s actual life, taking things that are told about the man and amping them up so that they’ll make for an interesting martial arts movie, and it accomplishes that very well.  It boils down to two fairly common stories from martial arts movies put together.  It starts off as the regular old “My Martial Arts is Better Than Your Martial Arts” storyline that is the root of so many martial arts movies.  Then it turns into an equally as common “West vs. East” storyline to round out the movie.  All stuff fans of the genre have seen before.  They have a little bit of a personal story going on with Ip Man and his family, and the threats of his poverty, but none of that’s really mined for emotion.  They do spend enough time with each character that we’re supposed to care about, so I guess they can be lauded for that.

What they really deserve to be lauded for is the martial arts.  I love the fight scenes in the Ip Man series.  They’re all spectacular.  I still think the fight with 10 guys from the first movie is the best fight scene in the series, but there are still plenty quality ones to be found in this movie.  The first big fight in the fish market pretty spectacular because of the number of people involved, but the choreography of the 10 man fight still impressed me more.  The same goes for the fight with the various martial arts masters on the table later in the movie.  Pretty cool, interesting idea, but not quite up to the high bar they already set.  A good contender would be the final fight with “The Twister” Milos.  It was the only fight that it seemed that Ip Man could possibly lose.  Granted, you know he’ll win because he’s the hero, but you need a little danger or emotion to really get a fight up to spectacular status.  It’s still always a pleasure to watch Donnie Yen do that machine gun style punching he does as Ip Man.  I could watch a .gif of that all day long.

The performances all do their parts nicely, but it never really requires that much out of them.  Donnie Yen performs his few moments of emotion very well, but who really cares about that?  He punches faces great.  I had the same problem with Lynn Hung as I had in the first movie in that she was always a bummer and a buzzkill, but she wasn’t around that often.  Sammo Hung is always interesting to me.  He just does not look like a guy that should be a martial arts star, but the guy knows what he’s doing.  He’s really good at directing action as well.  I’ve usually liked his work.  Like in Game of Death when he had a similar fight to the one he has in this one where he’s outmatched by the white dude, but this time it actually had significance to the story.  Darren Shahlavi could be knocked for being over the top in his portrayal of the bad guy, Taylor “The Twister” Milos, but it’s kind of what the role calls for.  We have to hate this guy, and we wouldn’t really hate him too badly if he accidentally killed someone in a fair fight that he had not started.  He’s got to be a sociopath that starts all the fights by randomly hating Chinese people, and then he’s got to beat one to death with his hands and try to cheat later on.  Now we can hate you.  They even have a bit in the end of the movie where a little boy shows up as Bruce Lee, who Yip Man actually trained.  The kid goes a little overboard with the Bruce Lee impersonation, but he does look eerily like I imagine Bruce Lee would at that age.

Ip Man 2 is still a really good martial arts movie.  I’d say that the first movie was probably better, but both of them have solid stories, both of them have solid performances, and both of them offer fantastic fight scenes.  I’d say that the first movie proves itself a little bit better in the fight category, but this one does not disappoint.  If you’re a fan of the martial arts genre, this is a movie you should see.  You could do worse than watching it even if you’re not a fan of the genre.  I have this movie on BluRay, and I’ll let you figure out where you can find it if you want to watch it.  Not like Netflix or RedBox are paying me.  Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster gets “No need to tell me all this.  Let’s just fight” out of “Doesn’t matter.  He’s better than you anyway.”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook and Twitter.  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.

Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)

Wait For It!  WAIT FOR IT!

Netflix recommended today’s movie to me.  I’ll count it.  Netflix has had a hard time with me ever since I started sharing my Netflix with my roommate, and even more since I started reviewing movies.  My roommate’s taste in movies tends to vary from my own pretty drastically.  I tend to like to fill my time with big dumb action movies and he likes movies that Jesus saw in theaters.  Add that big of bunch of confusion to the completely random requests I receive as a reviewer and Netflix no longer knows what to do with me.  So sad after spending so many years with a person and you just start to think you’ve got them figured out just to find out they’ve hit their midlife crisis and changed completely.  So, when Netflix recommends something to me nowadays, I must be careful.  Let’s see if Netflix still knows what I like in my review of Bodyguards and Assassins, written by Tin Nam Chun and Guo Junli, directed by Teddy Chan, and starring Zhang Hanyu, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Wang Xueqi, Hu Jun, Donnie Yen, Fan Bingbing, Wang Po-chieh, Nicholas Tse, Leon Lai, Simon Yam, Li Yuchun, Mengke Bateer, Zhou Yun, Eric Tsang, Jacky Cheung, Michelle Reis, and John Shum.

The movie revolves entirely around the revolutionary leader Sun Wen (Zhang Hanyu) making a trip to Hong Kong to set plans to overthrow China’s corrupt Qing Dynasty.  The Empress sends a group of assassins, led by Yan Xiaoguo (Hu Jun), to kill Sun and stop the revolution once and for all.  Chen Shaobai (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and Fang Tian (Simon Yam) lead the group of revolutionaries that intend to keep Sun safe long enough to set the revolution in motion.  But, before they get the chance, Xiaoguo attacks the rebel headquarters, killing Fan Tian and abducting Chen.  Chen’s friend, business man Li Yutang (Wang Xueqi), decides to take the reins of the revolution in Chen’s absence.  He recruits martial arts master-turned-beggar Liu Yubai (Leon Lai), daughter of the dead revolutionary, Fang Hong (Li Yuchun), and an outcast gigantic monk, Wang Fuming (Mengke Bateer).  His mistress (Fan Bingbing) also recruits her ex-husband and the father of her child, Shen Chongyang (Donnie Yen).

I’m so epically torn about this movie.  At first, the movie was so slow-moving and basically uneventful that it actually caused me to look inward and think about what was wrong with me instead of what was wrong with the movie.  I ended up on a conclusion that I’ve reached before: I’m a racist.  I start typing a bunch of unpronounceable names in my reviews and I automatically assume the movie that I’m watching will be a chop-socky martial arts movie.  In my defense, I also assumed based on Donnie Yen’s involvement.  And if this movie is one that fully considered itself a martial arts movie, it would be the biggest “Too much story, not enough action” failure I’ve ever experienced.  What I came to realize while watching it was that it might not be a flat out martial arts movie.  You can get a handle on that because there’s one fight scene in the entire movie before you reach the climax of the film.  But after the clouds of my racism started to clear and I could see the blue skies of open-mindedness, I realized that Asian people have other options when making their films and this might actually be the American concept of “drama” for a good portion.  Of course, I also don’t really care for dramas, especially when I go in expecting a hardcore action movie because of my racism.  So I found the majority of the movie to be boring.  The story was okay, but wasn’t much beyond a plot to assassinate someone and a plan to protect him.  All the planning and buildup to it seemed to do not much beyond getting us connected to the characters.

I thought the movie had cemented a thoroughly negative review for itself as I was coming to the part of the movie when Sun arrived.  There were things that deserved some praise to the movie, but it was just too slow, uneventful, and boring for me to say I liked it.  Then the movie’s climax happened.  And, based strictly on the climax, I now like this movie.  It was heavy on suspense and tension, had moments of extreme drama, and finally gave me the action and martial arts I was waiting for.  They were transporting Sun via rickshaw when all kinds of shit starts going down, and it scarcely lets up until the movie ends.  First archers, then ninja-like guys, then guns, then more warriors, then one really bad warrior.  Just mounting dangers with maybe a minute of down time.  The drama comes from the various characters that sacrifice their lives for the cause, each one getting a memorial message on screen saying, “This person.  Born this year, died 1906.”  I won’t spoil who it is, but one of them you see coming from very early on, just because of how thick the rest of the movie laid it on with him talking about how he was going to get married after the mission.  Someone that has that many plans for what they’ll do after something probably won’t survive it.  And the martial arts displayed in the climax are fantastic!  The first bit is Mengke Bateer as the giant, strong, outcast monk that lays plenty of beatings.  Then Li Yuchun does a pretty solid bit of fighting with a heavy revenge undertone.  Then Donnie Yen does what Donnie Yen does, and it’s spectacular.  His fights were fantastic and even the scene of him running away was spectacular.  His fights also had a great undertone of redemption because he wanted to finally be a part of something bigger than himself for the sake of his daughter.  His sacrifice was a little goofy though.  Then Leon Lai takes on a large gang of enemies all by himself to buy some time, and that was also spectacular.  The very last few fights weren’t particularly spectacular, but there was some good emotion infused in it.

I think all of the characters were performed very well and I have no complaints.  Wang Xueqi did the greater majority of the emotional work, and he did it spectacularly.  I think the thing that kept me from really enjoying the performances was the fact that I wanted more action to be happening, so I was too busy sulking for the majority of it to really enjoy their performances.

Bodyguards and Assassins really threw me off.  I was fully ready to sit down and tear the movie apart for being too slow and boring, and being too much of a drama with far too much planning for me to have wanted to sit through it.  But the climax of the movie was so gundamned spectacular that I kind of fell in love with it.  Not the entire movie, but this is probably one of the best climaxes in a movie I’ve seen in recent memory.  I would say that you should watch this movie, but be fully aware that the time you’re investing in the first three quarters of the movie will all be paying off in the end.  Give it a shot.  Especially since it can be streamed on Netflix right now.  I think it was worth my time, and it’s also worth yours.  Bodyguards and Assassins gets “An investment that pays off in the end” out of “I’m going to do so much after this review!  I’m going to marry the photographer’s daughter and live happily ever after.  Oh wait…”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook (Robert T. Bicket) and Twitter (iSizzle).  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.

Ip Man (2010)

The Ass-Whoopinest Movie I’ve Seen in a While

I was somewhat in a hurry to pick the movie for today’s review because of my work schedule, but I think I’ve picked a good’n, at least if’n you like a good ass-whoopin’.  It is loosely based on the life of a famous grandmaster of Wing Chun martial arts.  And, though he may not be nearly as famous to Americans, I would wager every one of them knows the name of one of his most famous students, Bruce Lee.  This movie is called Ip Man, based on the life of Ip Man, and was written by Edmond Wong, directed by Wilson Yip, and stars Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Simon Yam, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Fan Siu-wong, and Shibuya Tenma.  Good luck pronouncing THOSE names!

In 1930’s Foshan, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) is a master of whoop ass.  He’s the greatest martial artist in a town full of martial artists, and is also very rich so he has no need to train pupils, though he will, on occasion, have a private sparring match with one of the town’s masters.  One day, a bunch of assholes from up North come into town and start challenging all the masters.  The head of the group, Jun Shanzhao (Fan Siu-wong), takes on the masters one by one and beats them handily.  But then he hears about Ip Man and decides that this is the ass he needs to kick to gain enough respect to start a school in Foshan.  Ip Man beats that ass.  We then montage our way through the Japanese invasion of 1937 and Ip Man and his wife, Cheung Wing-sing (Lynn Hung), and their son are now poor and Ip Man is forced to take a manual labor job to keep his family fed.  Japanese General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) has been sending out his people to find martial artists to fight for his enjoyment, and occasionally with him, offering a bag of rice as a prize.  When one of Ip Man’s friends disappears after such a tournament (having been beaten to death by Miura), Ip Man goes to investigate, only to see a fellow master get shot by Miura’s deputy Sato (Shibuya Tenma).  Ip Man whoops up on 10 dudes and leaves.  Miura becomes obsessed with defeating Ip Man, but Ip Man doesn’t want to.  But Miura has ways of making Ip Man change his mind…

To put it plainly, this is one of the most awesome martial arts movies I have seen, and I have seen a great many martial arts movies.  Typically, a martial arts movie will be fairly light on story (or just make it a retelling of some ancient myth), but be driven by it’s fights.  I guess you could say Ip Man is kind of both.  The story is fine (albeit a little typical for a martial arts movie), but I doubt I would be that interested if there weren’t fighting in it.  It’s not uncommon in martial arts movies to have a lone martial artist change the nation with the power of his fist.  It’s also not that uncommon for a movie to have someone rich become poor.  Typically, a martial arts movie’s hero will also be the one who is best at the art of combining foot and ass, and in this movie that person just happens to be Donnie Yen.  It’s said to be based on the life of the real Ip Man, but it’s got very little in common to his actual life from what I’ve read.  Not that I care, though.  I probably wouldn’t have known who Ip Man was were it not for this film, and after it, I think he’s an epic badass.  His real life would probably have been much less badass, and would have made a much less interesting movie, so it’s for the best.  As it stands, it’s admittedly light on story for a movie, though probably a little above average on story for a martial arts movie.  The settings of this movie are mostly gorgeous in the first half and pretty much what you’d expect, and everything gets darker and less colorful as harsh times fall on Foshan.  The movie was filmed very well, making me buy it in BluRay so I wouldn’t lose anything.  But let’s face it, you wouldn’t watch this movie for the story or the cinematography, would you?

Let’s talk about the reason you should see this movie: the utterly epic ass whoopings.  Because Bruce Lee’s style was less Wing Chun and more Jeet Kune Do by the time I became familiar with him, I had never seen Wing Chun in a movie before.  And, if this fighting style is anything remotely like it is in this movie, I wanna learn them shits.  I’m definitely not qualified to try to define the style for you people, but suffice to say my favorite part is the rapid-fire, machine gun-like punches to the face.  I’m going to recommend you see this movie, so I won’t bother trying to describe Wing Chun.  A lot of this movie’s fights are one-on-one fights and there are a couple with weapons such as a sword, a blade on the end of a staff, and the deadliest of all: the feather duster.  Though there are a few fights after it, the pinnacle of the movie (for me) happens around the end of the second act, when Ip Man witnesses his friend and fellow martial arts master get shot in the head for “cheating”.  He demands to get into the tournament area and challenges 10 men to a fight.  The entire movie up to this point had shown Ip Man as a very polite, reserved fellow, even in the worst of times.  People had to sometimes tell him to fight back in his duels because he would prefer to play with the person instead of humiliating them.  But that Ip Man was a little happier.  Putting on his grumpy pants, Ip Man thoroughly thrashes these 10 dudes like nobody’s bidness.  He breaks a bone or two, punches the shit out of some faces, and leaves 10 dudes in rather uncomfortable positions on the floor, having been untouched himself.  Then he walks off without taking his rice, which is Chinese for “Go fuck your grandma, Miura!”  If you don’t want to watch the whole movie (which I think is your mistake to make), do yourself a favor and try to find this scene on YouTube or something.  I love this fight, and all the others.

Generally, I wouldn’t expect very much acting from my martial arts movies, but this one does surprise you on occasion.  Donnie Yen takes a few emotional turns in this movie (as I described in the last paragraph), and even breaks into tears at one point.  Add that to the fact that the man had to learn a whole new fighting style for this movie and executed both his performance and ass whooping very well, and I say this is Donnie Yen’s best movie that I’ve ever seen.  Lynn Hung, as his wife, annoyed me for the greater majority of the movie because she didn’t want her husband to fight people.  Look, I know that fighting people COULD get him hurt, but I don’t think the guy even got touched by an opponent until the last fight in the movie, so maybe stop worrying and let him do his thing.  It is wrong for you to get in the way of someone doing something they are so epically awesome at.  But she also had a few well-performed emotional scenes, so I don’t hate her.  Fan Sui-wong did well as the asshole from the North, but didn’t have to stretch very much with the acting chops here.  Hiroyuki Ikeuchi was an interesting character, but kind of seemed like the writers couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do with him.  He was a bit of an asshole and definitely didn’t have the Chinese’s interests in mind, but he was also pretty respectful of other martial artists.  He scolded his deputy for shooting the martial artist that lead to the 10-man ass whooping, and also wanted a fair fight with Ip Man for the last scene of the movie, but then ruined it by telling his deputy to shoot Ip Man if he were to lose.  But at least he didn’t stab him in the kidney-ribs before the fight like in Gladiator.  I guess I’ll just have to split the difference and call him an honorable asshole.

This movie is currently available to be instantly streamed via Netflix, so I will recommend that anyone with Netflix streaming check this movie out.  It’s a decent story with solid performances, but the ass-kicking is top notch and worth the price of admission.  If you don’t like martial arts movies, this movie may not have a lot for you, but I’m pretty confident that even you wouldn’t hate it.  If you like martial arts movies, how haven’t you seen this shit yet?!  You’ll have to wait for their eventual reviews, but there’s also a sequel and a prequel already available for this movie, and I recall both having pretty awesome fight scenes as well.  Ip Man gets “I wish to fight ten men” out of “Somebody come clean up your ten men.”

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