The two films - Ip Man (2008), and its sequel Ip Man 2 (2010) purport to present the life story of the famous Cantonese born Wing Chun Kuen martial artist known as master Yip Kai-man (1893-1972). However, neither film portrays the true life story of Yip Man (Ip Man), but instead replaces historical accuracy with a cinematic effect which is designed to cater toward Chinese notions of national identity. In the first film, the enemy is the Japanese, in the second film, the enemy is the colonial British authorities, in the form of the Hong Kong Police. Needless to say, neither of these story-lines are factural. The real Yip Man was a member of the Chinese Nationalist Movement known as the Koumingtang and actually served as a police officer in China. He thoroughly opposed the Communist ideology of Mao Zedong. In 1949, along with many others, master Yip fled the Mainland of China and went to live in the relative safety of British controlled Hong Kong.
Whilst in Hong Kong, Yip Man struggled to build-up his Wing Chun School, but eventually he did teach Bruce Lee (1940-1973), and it is through this associationthat Yip Man's lineage has become famous around the world, although it must be stressed that there are other lineages of Wing Chun. However, when China cut itself off from the rest of the world, Yip Man was probably the only Wing Chun practitioner that could be found. Historical inaccuracies aside, the film Ip Man 2 has a natural charm associated with it, as did its prequel Ip Man. The story-line of 'good vs evil' is compelling, if not rather one-dimensional and predictable. The narrative of the film creates in the viewer the urge to 'believe' whatever is presented upon the screen. In the economically hard days immediately following the end of WWII, Hong Kong was not yet the financial capital it would eventually become. With the influx of refugees from Mainland China, jobs were scarce and wages were low. Kung Fu masters had to share a relatively small geographical area and competition for students was very high.
Yip Man and his family no longer live in the opulence of the first film. Many of Yip Man's students can not pay their tuition fees. This sense of grinding poverty leads to conflict amongst the kung fu masters and their students, the anger and aggression of which is finally vented upon the corrupt British autthorities in a bizarre 'Western Boxing Vs Kung Fu' fight, which occurs in a Western boxing ring. The Western actors are so appaling bad that their performance threatens to discredit the movie - unless of course, they had been told to act this way to make the audience hate them. Whatever the case, the British boxer named 'Twister' appears singularly unhinged and perpetually on the edge of some kind of nervous break-down. Furthermore, regardless of creative camera-angles it is obvious that he has virtually no real skill with regard to boxing - and yet is portrayed in the film as a boxing champion. Of course, not only does he beat the Sammo Hung character in the ring, but he also manages to kill him. This sets-up the Donnie Yen depiction of Yip Man for the revenge sequence at the end of the film that sees Yip Man struggle at first, but eventually beat the British boxer. The odd set-up of boxer vs kung fu man in the ring appears to be some kind of ill conceived 'homage' to 'K1', or 'Ultimate Fighting', but in reality, a man using kicks and punches with no padding should routinely over-come a gloved boxer who can only punch. Indeed, half through Yip Man's last heroic scene, it is as if the producers suddenly remember that the kung fu man can kick, and have the British complain about it - so that for the remainder of the fight, Yip Man can only use punches, which he peppers liberally around the British boxer's body and head, eventually knocking him out.
There is a certain feel of 'Rocky IV' about the entire ending sequence. Like Rocky, Yip Man gets into the ring to avenge the death of his friend, and despite a fearsome pasting eventually over-comes the opponent. The analogy does not stop here, however, as Yip Man gives a 'Rockyesque' sugary-sweet speech about how humanity should stop fighting amongst itself and unite in a universal peace and accord. So moving is this speech that even the Europeans present stand-up and applaud Yip Man's eloquence. The boxing ring, the bad acting and the Rocky borrowing makes for a very strange ending indeed. More to the point, the eventual story-line was re-written to more or less omit the presence of Bruce Lee. Originally this film was to explore Yip Man's association with his famous student, but Bruce Lee's family would not reach an agreement with the producers, so the only glimpse of Bruce Lee is right at the end of the movie - when as a young child he turns-up at Yip Man's house demanding to be taught. In reality, Bruce Lee's father personally knew Yip Man and asked him to teach his son. This Yip Man did, but Yip's other students discovered that Bruce Lee's grandmother had been European and refused to train with him. Bruce Lee decided to voluntarily leave Yip Man so that his students would return. Considering the very large dose of fiction that goes into this film, I very much doubt that the true Yip Man - Bruce Lee association would have been presented in any way near to the truth. As it is this is an interesting film that keeps the attention over a 90 minute period.