Bruce Lee. Jacky Chan. Jet Li. Each one of those names marks an era in martial arts film legend. As a supreme grandmaster of martial arts film geekdom, I’ve watched every kung fu film I could get my hands on, from the really awesome to the awesomely bad. Jacky Chan and Jet Li alone have made over forty films each, so you can roughly estimate how many hours of my life have been spent (not wasted) watching kung fu movies. Not to mention, I re-watch my favorites again and again and again…
Donnie Yen has been one of those awesome martial artists that have always had a solid presence in the martial arts film world, but with Jacky Chan and Jet Li always headlining, I’ve noticed it’s pretty easy for the casual American viewer to pass him by, even though he’s been the star of many films in his own right and has crossed fists with every kung fu film star out there. When I watched Blade II in 2002, for example, I cried out in disbelief when Yen was quickly and easily killed by mutant vampires. Apparently one of the only ones in the theater affronted by a such an easy Donnie Yen kill, I’m surprised I wasn’t booed to silence as promptly I spent a good fifteen minutes complaining about it in my theater seat. At least he had a pretty sweet fight scene opposite Jet Li in the film Hero that same year.
Ip Man 2, starring Donnie Yen, may be the flare signal to a new age of kung fu film awesomeness with Donnie Yen at the forefront. This action-punch-packed flick opened in U.S. theaters this past weekend, and like a true martial arts nerd (or M.A.N.), I quickly scurried my way over to the closest theater to watch the gorgeous fight scenes on the big screen. I was not disappointed. Thank you Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, and all the rest of the cool kung fu crew for an awesome new martial arts film!
This film is basically a story loosely based on the life of Bruce Lee’s teacher, Ip-Kai Man, from Fo Shan in Guangdong, China. The story integrates historical contexts with classic kung fu story and plenty of crowd-pleasing fight scenes. The first Ip Man film starts on in Fo Shan where he leads a prosperous and comfortable life that is soon disrupted by war with the Japanese. This second film installment is based in Hong Kong with the British occupation.
Interestingly enough, Donnie Yen was in the last notable martial arts film focusing on the wing chun style, called Wing Chun, which was a somewhat comedic corny but still kung fu cool film about the origins of the wing chun style starring Michelle Yeoh.
At the risk of giving away a spoiler (turn away spoiler-averse readers), the plot of Ip Man 2 is practically identical to that of Rocky 4. Not a bad thing. However, there was one part where I found myself exclaiming “No! Not Apollo! I mean Sammo!”
ABOUT TINA: Tina Tsai, Ph.D. is a writer, teacher, and founder of The Literacy Guild LLC. She and her students write and publish their work. Her debut teen kung fu romance novel The Legend of Phoenix Mountain is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.