“Ip Man 2”: China’s Anti-Western Kung Fu Phenomenon

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, January 28, 2011

Chinese action star Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip breathed prodigious new life into the martial-arts genre with their quasi-biographical 2008 film “Ip Man,” a huge hit on multiple continents. {snip}

Yip and screenwriter Edmond Wong stick closely to the winning blend of nationalist agitprop, colorful melodrama and epic fight choreography (again by the great Sammo Hung) from the first film, and despite its flat and trite portrayals of Western characters–referred to repeatedly as “foreign devils”–“Ip Man 2” is nearly as enjoyable as the original. Its not-so-secret weapon is the poised, calm performance of Yen, who somehow manages to play Ip as both character and archetype. He kicks ass in all directions, taking on street thugs, rival Hong Kong masters and an arrogant English boxer, all while embodying Confucian-Buddhist ideals of modesty, balance, honor and selflessness.

{snip}

It’s tempting to read “Ip Man 2” in the context of contemporary East-West relations, in fact. Wong’s screenplay uniformly depicts British characters (portrayed, as usual, by an erratic assortment of multinational white people) as vain, cruel, arrogant and bigoted, at least until the last minute or so of the movie, when Ip’s final plea for cooperation and tolerance is greeted by a standing ovation from Europeans. (All of this, arguably, is pretty minor payback for Hollywood’s treatment of Asians over the years.) {snip}

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