Loosely based on the life of Wing Chun Grandmaster, Ip Man (the man who taught Bruce Lee), the eponymously titled 2008 hit movie was both a mind-blowing martial arts extravaganza as well as a gorgeously photographed and wonderfully crafted period piece. Featuring the brilliant Donnie Yen, arguably one of the best martial artists working in film today, the living legend that is Sammo Hung, who oversaw the fight choreography, and the seasoned eye of director, Wilson Yip, Ip Man raised the bar for martial arts cinema, smashed box-office records in its native Hong Kong, and went on to become a worldwide phenomenon. Of course, this being the motion picture industry, such successes can only lead to one thing; a sequel! Which is fine seeing as how the producers claim that Ip Man's story was meant to be presented as a trilogy all along!
So, with Ip Man 2, the second chapter in the grandmaster's saga, we follow Ip Man's move to Hong Kong in the 1950’s, where he opens a school to help support his family. At first, Ip Man (Yen) has trouble finding students but, when a local street tough named Wong Leung (Huang Xiaoming) challenges Ip Man to a fight and summarily gets his ass handed to him, he returns with his gang for revenge, where they all meet the same fate. A humbled Wong Leung and his cohorts become Ip Man’s first students, but, when a rival school gets wind of this, Wong Leung is kidnapped and held for ransom.
Ip Man, with a little help from a surprising source, rescue Wong Leung and wins the respect of the competing school’s instructor, Hung Chun-Nam (Sammo Hung) who informs Ip Man that, in Hong Kong, it is tradition for a new instructor to take part in a competition against other masters in order to prove his skills as a teacher. Ip Man agrees to fight, and, ultimately, wins a bout against Hung, himself, which gives him the right to continue running the school. There’s only one catch: to keep the Wing Chun school open, Ip Man must pay a “protection fee” to the corrupt Hong Kong police Superintendent Wallace (Charles Mayer), for whom Hung is a collector. Ip Man refuses to pay, so Wallace has Hung send his students to stand outside the school harass anyone who attempts to enter.
Realizing that the harassment won’t stop until he gives in to Wallace’s demands, Ip Man chooses to close the school in the city and move it closer to his home. Ip Man has one more run-in with Hung but, ultimately, the two develop a mutual respect, and bond over their commitment to their chosen art and culture. When a British boxer named Twister (Darren Shahlavi) turns an exhibition fight into an all-out brawl in which he openly mocks said culture, however, Ip Man finds himself forced to step up and defend both his friend’s honor and the pride of his country against the toughest competitor he’s ever faced.
While I’d heard a lot of advance praise for Ip Man 2, I couldn’t see how it could possibly top the first film, both in terms of martial arts badassery and sheer epic scope, but it does both quite handily, with even more impressive fight choreography, and a depth of character not revealed in its predecessor. Seeing Yen and Hung, two masters of their craft, go at it here, well, that’s just the essence of cool, and the rousing, crowd-pleasing final fight (followed up by a goosebump-inducing dénouement) will have both martial arts fans and casual viewers lured in by the film’s gorgeous cinematography pumped for the next (final?) installment of the trilogy.
Well Go USA brings Ip Man 2 to Blu-ray in a positively scrumptious 2.39:1 HD transfer that surpassed my expectations. This image pops! It’s a vibrant, exceptionally sharp transfer brimming with fine detail, and wonderfully balanced colors. From the golden hues of the fight arena to the cool blues of Ip Man’s modest home, colors are rich and vibrant, with deep, velvety blacks lending the image an almost tangible sense of depth and dimension. The accompanying 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track compliments the image with robust bass and crisp dialogue (in the original Cantonese, as well as Mandarin or English Dub) and an immersive surround mix.
This Collector’s Edition sports two discs; the Blu-ray with the feature film, trailers (HD), and a short making-of featurette (in HD), as well as a DVD loaded with additional bonus content, including over an hour’s worth of interviews with cast and crew, four behind-the-scenes segments, assorted deleted scenes, shooting diary, and more!
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster is an action-packed and expertly crafted martial arts epic, and I can’t wait to see where the Yip, Yen, and Hung take the series with the third installment. Well Go USA’s fantastic Blu-ray release makes this a must-own for fans of fisticuffs action, but even casual viewers will find plenty here to entertain. Very Highly Recommended!