The Long Goodbye (1973)

“It’s okay with me.”

I am amazed that Elliott Gould is still alive at seventy-one after the amount of smoking he does in The Long Goodbye.  He sparks up a cigarette in nearly every scene in which he appears, even if he was already smoking in the scene previous.  It’s an interesting satire of the health-conscious 1970’s California, and goes hand-in-hand with the other jabs at Hollywood that pepper this engaging private-eye film.

I’d rate Gould at the top of the list of actors who have portrayed Philip Marlowe.  Bogie and Mitchum and the others do a fine job in their respective films involving the character, but Gould really seems comfortable in Marlowe’s shoes: he’s relaxed and funny enough to be a nondescript neighbor, yet he gets serious when he needs to.  Maybe they should do another film with Gould in the lead, since I’m not sure there’s really been one since 1973.

The story involves Marlowe’s best friend, Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) running away to Tijuana saying he had a fight with his wife.  Marlowe is arrested the next morning, being told by police that Lennox and his wife are both dead.  The gumshoe decides to plumb the mystery, meeting a variety of colorful characters including Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and her Earnest Hemingway look-alike husband, played by an aging Sterling Hayden.  When you see this character’s ultimate fate in the film, it’s hard to deny that he’s a satire of Hemingway, but regardless, he’s one of the more appealing and interesting entities the film has to offer.  Marlowe’s quest also leads him to the bad side of a gangster called Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) and his motley crew of thugs, including the hilarious Harry (David Arkin) and a wordless, mustached gorilla of a man played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his second film role ever.

Most interesting to me are the scenes involving Marlowe’s domestic life.  He cares deeply for his cat, yet can’t make nice with him.  His neighbors are a congregation of women who meditate and do nude yoga outside (Harry: “I think they’re a coupla lesbians!”), and occasionally ask Marlowe to pick up groceries for them.  The women seem to fawn over Marlowe, but he never obliges them or even hangs around to say much to them, even when he’s got nothing better to do (his excuses include, upon being asked if he wants a brownie, “No, they hurt my teeth”).  One of my favorite scenes occurs when Marlowe is shopping for cat food and asks a grocery worker if they have a certain brand.  “Man, all this shit is the same,” the worker says.  Marlowe then asks if the worker has a cat.  “What I need a cat for?  I got a girl.”  When Marlowe is dragged into jail, the worker is there, too.

Some of the other humor, which seems clever only at face value now, was new and progressive in the seventies.  The best example is when two cops attempt to shake Marlowe down, and he says, “Oh, is this the part where I’m supposed to say, ‘What’s this all about?’ and then you say, ‘Shut up; I’m the one asking the questions?” satirizing the norms of storytelling whilst living in a story riddled with conventional devices.

Take a look.

The film is a great re-imagining of Chandler’s novel and surely one of the highlights of Gould’s career.  The way he deals with other characters (as seen above), especially the motley assortment he encounters in this story, make me wonder whether he wouldn’t be at home in a Jonathan Lethem novel – read Gun, With Occasional Music if you’re interested in an Orwellian twist on the gumshoe genre.  It involves a private-eye living in a future where the very act of asking questions is illegal.  Marlowe’s predicament in The Long Goodbye is at least internally analogous, and both protagonists discover what they’re capable of in the end (which, in both cases, shocks the audience, too).

P.S. “Nothing says goodbye like a bullet” is never spoken in the film.  I don’t even know what the hell that’s supposed to mean.

The Long Goodbye (1973); written by Leigh Brackett (based on the novel by Raymond Chandler); directed by Robert Altman; starring Elliott Gould, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell and Nina van Pallandt.


E3 2010

All your trade conventions are belong to us

G4 has a history of covering the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which makes it convenient for those of us who have actual lives.  This year was as spectacular as ever, with each developer giving decent (if very dry) press conferences, the highlight of which was Ubisoft, who managed to make it entertaining by enlisting Community actor Joel McHale to host.  I’m not the only one who has noticed, either.  Google it.  Would anyone have even remembered Ubisoft’s announcements without him?

As far as games, Nintendo really pulled something out of the red cap this year.  However, if you feel no nostalgia when you hear the phrases “Kid Icarus,” “Mario Party” or “Game Boy,” then it was probably nothing special for you.  If nothing else, Shigeru Miyamoto was amusing, strutting around stage with sword and shield as per his expected schtick.

Now, the coverage itself.  If G4 is completely dropping the lighthearted antics and charming characters in favor of a more didactic angle, they could focus on more than the five or six press conference blue-chippers.  I was expecting to see even brief segments on The King of Fighters XIII and Warriors: Legends of Troy (games that were featured at E3 but not covered by G4).  I mean, how many demos of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood did we need?  How many times did we need to see the new trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, which A) has nothing to do with the game it represents, and B) everyone DVR’d or downloaded anyway?  

This takes nothing away from the correspondents, who had a tough week and did a nice job of keeping everything in order (other than Olivia Munn, who still can’t seem to read a Teleprompter yet can’t function without one).  The Feedback sessions were especially entertaining, wherein the fatigue was all too present, evidenced by Morgan Webb’s changes in clothes, Adam Sessler’s exasperated tone and tangents about baldness and sleeping.  Televised snafus were none-too-sparse either, with Alison Haislip being snatched around the neck by a booth-worker dressed as a zombie, who was very swiftly dealt with by security.  Bravo, Alison, for not breaking character.  

Without further ado, here’s a shortlist of the biggest games mentioned, and my reactions to each in five words or less.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword– Maybe.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – First time for everything.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Leave Star Wars alone.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2– I’ll play it, but grudgingly.

Classic Nintendo lineup– Excellent, but what next?

Playstation Move– Kitschy, inspired, fun. 

Microsoft Kinect- I have a Wii.

Medal of Honor– Flogging a dead horse.

Call of Duty: Black Ops– Obligatory cash cow, worth nothing. 

Ghost Recon– McHale’s comments funny, game lame.  

Dead Space 2 – Action Departure?  Worth a shot.

Killzone 3– /snore/

Bulletstorm– Only appealing shooter I’ve seen.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow– I like the medieval thing.

Final Fantasy XIV– If I liked MMO’s, maybe.

Gran Turismo 5– I own a real car.

Shaun White Skateboarding– Cool concept/spokesman, but novelty.

Metal Gear Solid: Rising– Faith in Hideo, but Raiden?

Sonic the Hedgehog mix– Good fun for the newcomers.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned– Bad title, potentially fun.

Tron Evolution– Movie game with some potential.

Nintendo 3DS– Amazing technology, incredible achievement.

Rock Band 3– Won’t teach you to really play.

Gears of War 3– Giant ugly women now? C’mon.

The King of Fighters XIII- May be the best yet!

Goldeneye 007– Leave well enough alone.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge– A favorite series; can’t wait.

Lucha Libre– Finally, AAA gets a game.

Fable III– Hopefully cooler than Peter Molyneux.

Sims 3: Nice trailer, but reality’s better.

Olivia Munn– You choked on a mint.

E3 Nostalgia: Johnny Xtreme

Unlocka-balls!

Before AOOW’s E3 2010 rundown, which I’ll plaster all over the walls of this blog early tomorrow morning, I’d like to share a little piece of nostalgia for those of you who understand the phrase “When G4 was good.”  This term often indicates the station’s exploits during the first half of the 2000’s, during which they aired mainly video game and technology-related programming (as opposed to the Spike-TV-style cop shows and dating schlock that now pads the stuff we really want to watch).  Not only was the programming better, but X-Play featured amusing characters played by producers and writers who worked on the show.  Notable characters included a depressed version of Link from The Legend of Zelda, “Drunk Girl” (played by renowned comic nerd Blair Butler), and Johnny Xtreme, a parody of the adolescent obsession with extreme sports, played by X-Play co-producer Jason Cheung.  The latter’s most infamous appearance was a little visit to E3 in 2005, during which X-Play turned him loose on the show floor to pitch a potential game (starring himself) to unsuspecting developers and booth-watchers.  Enjoy.

Get Him to the Greek

When the world slips you a Jeffrey, stroke the furry wall

Comedy lost its footing a bit when the “frat pack” movies became the norm.  Anchorman, Zoolander, Talladega Nights and so on – not that they weren’t funny and didn’t have their place, but there was a certain immaturity and high-school level intelligence about them that made me groan whenever a trailer came on.  With recent efforts such as The Hangover, Date Night and Get Him to the Greek, well-written films with both hilarity and heart, the comedy planets may be aligned again.

Get Him to the Greek is a thoughtful story disguised as a gross-out comedy.  The difference with films like this in comparison to the frat pack movies is that there’s a nice diversity and freshness to the cast.  In Anchorman, you had Will Ferrell and Steve Carell and Paul Rudd and Ben Stiller messing around.  In Talladega Nights, you had the same group of buddies doing something else.  These actors have all moved on to better and more mature projects, stepping aside for those of us who are ready for wittier comedies in a day and age where we get almost daily reminders about how the American public’s intellect and patience are devolving.

This film features comedian Russell Brand reprising his brief role from Forgetting Sarah Marshall: the druggie rockstar Aldous Snow.  He is deepened this time around, dealing with his personal rehabilitation and family problems, as well as his ex-girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) who happens to be dating Metallica’s Lars Ulrich.  Ulrich appears as himself and receives the butt-end of some nice self-deprecating jokes, the best of which is Brand’s line, “Go sue Napster, you little Danish twat.”  The main action of the film follows Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) as he attempts to please his controlling girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss).  After suggesting to his totalitarian boss, Sergio Roma (Sean Combs), that the best course of action for the music industry is to bring attention back to “real music,” Aaron is tasked with delivering Snow to a reunion show at the Greek Theater in LA.  Tension is high since Snow’s last album, released ten years prior, was an incredibly racist and insensitive ballad about Africa, though I’m not sure which would be more harmful to young music-television viewers in the real world; “African Child” or Jackie Q’s “Ring ‘Round,” which as she says in the film, is about her…well, just go see the film.  The well-produced music video interludes and news stories, which often feature annoying real-life celebrities acknowledging that they’re annoying, is worth the price of admission.

It’s a nice premise with good, not-so-incredibly-blockbuster-level-famous-celebrity actors in the lead roles.  Brand and Hill are still low enough on the Hollywood food chain that they have to actually act to convince an audience, and these performances are genuine.  The plot gives plenty of room for serious interaction between the two, as well as the great appearance of Colm Meaney in a supporting role as Snow’s money-grubbing father.  Sean Combs, the gratingly obnoxious hip-hop mogul (apparently turned actor), more or less plays himself in this film.  Needless to say, he’s right at home playing a loud, abusive, uncaring, over-the-top boss, and the role is limited enough that his appearances are refreshing and funny.  

It’s worth noting that Brand actually performs the songs in the film, and when it comes time for him to sing, he sings.  In fact, the producers were so confident in Brand’s vocal prowess that the entire soundtrack features purely original tracks from the film (including Jackie Q’s thinly-veiled innuendo anthems).  It’s an inspired decision because Brand’s rockstar character is not a novelty act; he’s portrayed as a serious artist with serious problems, and the fact that this actor is the frontman of a band is not the joke (whereas Will Ferrell’s comedies – the previously mentioned ones as well as Semi-Pro and the upcoming The Other Guys function on the novelty of Ferrell himself holding position X).  

A film hilarious enough to brighten a rainy day or entertain a high-school teen, but heartfelt and thoughtful enough to please the filmgoer who wants real characters and a good story, this one is worth getting to the theater to see We have a strict “no cliche” rule here; sorry.  Suffice it to say that if you’re only going to see one summer-opening comedy, you should make it this one.

 Get Him to the Greek (2010); written and directed by Nicholas Stoller; starring Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrn and Elisabeth Moss

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Mahmoud Ahma-Gyllenhaal-ejad

This is what I’m talking about: a game-based film with reputable actors, engaging action, decent dialogue, good-looking CG (if any), and Uwe Boll nowhere near it.  Thanks to Mike Newell and Jerry Bruckheimer, the next filmmakers who adapt a game to film may try a little bit harder.

I’ve never been one for game-to-film (nor book-to-film, for that matter) adaptations.  I believe that games are games for a reason, and as a writer, that books are written text for a reason.  But since nothing I say will stop these money-magnet films from being made, no matter the quality, I keep going out to see the ones that pique my interest (I’m looking at you, The King of Fighters).  Jake Gyllenhaal mentioned in an interview earlier this year that Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time would change the way people looked at game-to-film movies, i.e. they would now be looked at as real films instead of kitschy novelty acts.  This film does that, albeit still giving you what you’d expect from a film of the genre: lots of battles, CG-assisted parkour, muscly heroes, etc.

The cast is a good place to start.  I realized this film was going to be something different when an early scene featured Ben Kingsley, Jake Gyllenhaal and Toby Kebbell in the same room.  Kingsley, a veteran, gives the rest of the (much younger) cast plenty of breathing space until his pivotal scenes (which start about halfway through the movie).  Gyllenhaal plays Prince Dastan (yup, he’s got a name now) as a likable Aladdin-like troublemaker who is always undermining his family but manages to stay on the side of the audience.  Kebbell, best-known as druggie rockstar Johnny Quid in Guy Ritchie’s excellent RocknRolla, has his first meaty role in a while here, playing Dastan’s older brother and head of the Persian army, Garsiv.  The film also features the lovely Gemma Arteron, who is really coming into her own as an actress but also making a habit of being in blockbuster fantasy reimaginings (see Clash of the Titans – or better yet, don’t – she plays a good role in that film but her screen time is stomped out by Sam Worthington’s “boring hero” act).  Arteron plays Princess Tamina, a ruler with some knowledge of pagan magic.  Alfred Molina also appears in an amusing role as an oddball who races ostriches (“every tuesday and thursday”).

The film is a surprisingly fair (and fictional) portrayal of the people who are now Iranians (unlike the embarrassing 300, a myspace/macho man film which depicts the Persians as deformed creatures of pure malice).  I can’t ignore the fact that the Persians are all played by white actors with English accents, but I’ll take what I can get from Hollywood these days.  The film could have used more ethnic characters in Persian roles, but it’s nearly enough that the Persian government isn’t portrayed as morally corrupt or otherwise reprehensible.  The search for Alamut’s “secret weapons” and the absence thereof is largely an allegory to U.S.’s search for “weapons of mass destruction,” which we won by simply having them not exist…I digress.  Thankfully, in the film, not too much focus is spent on this.

The on-location sets are great and the art direction is excellent, despite the fact that the costumes are made more from the standpoint of “cool art direction” and not from real-life source material.

The story is your standard popcorn fare: orphan gets mixed up in something big, ends up in a battle, touches a magical macguffin, gets framed for something and goes on the run with a beauty who can’t stand him.  The actors, however, make this plot very easy to swallow despite how many times you’ve seen it, and the plot takes interesting turns especially near the end.  If you haven’t seen the trailers and promos, it’s not immediately obvious that Kingsley will turn out to be the villain (although he wouldn’t be in a film without a large role), and there are even some other interesting bad guys in the form of the Hassansins (or Hashshashins- from which the word “assassin” is thought to originate), based on the historical group of Muslims who split from the Fatimid Empire.  Their use of throwing darts and poisons is only myth, but it serves the nature of this film well, and helps take the responsibility of action scenes that will impress teenagers away from the 66-year-old Kingsley.

As far as the source material, the film isn’t based on a specific story from one of the games, but it takes reference material from each of the biggest titles and throws them in for fun (and you don’t have to be familiar with it at all to get the full enjoyment).  The parkour and climbing scenes mimic what we love best about the Prince series; the swordfight with a guy who looks peculiarly like the guy you fight at the end of the original game; the Sands of Time themselves; and the relationship dynamics of Dastan/Tamina echo the newer game (the Xbox 360 version, not the movie tie-in).

 

In closing, this is a fun film if you just want action and stock dialogue, but is also engaging enough for the film buff (or if you don’t like that term, which I’m starting not to as much because I’m realizing I don’t know all of its contexts, we’ll say “serious filmgoer” or “cinema veteran”).  The acting is solid, the actors seem like they want to be there (unlike many films of this type), the use of “magic” has appropriate focus and doesn’t ruin everything, and even the vaguely-explained plot twist at the end (which almost cheats, but you can judge) provides a satisfying experience.  Perhaps if they make a sequel, we’ll get actual ethnic characters?  Oy, let’s not get too progressive now.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010); written Boaz Makin and Doug Miro; directed by Mike Newell; starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arteron, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

You and your mind control thinga-ma-jigomy

Can anyone other than Terry Gilliam make a film that manages to be colorful, imaginative, gritty, funny, and ironic all at the same time?  Well, yes, there are others, but Gilliam has a unique touch, seen in several of his great and wild films including Brazil, The Brothers Grimm, and his latest, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, a mesmerizing journey through (what appears to be) the imagination.

The story involves a traveling performance troupe led by the 1,000 year-old Doctor Parnassus (played by the immortal Christopher Plummer) and which includes Anton (Andrew Garfield), Percy (Verne Troyer), and Parnassus’ daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole).  Since his days as a monk, Parnassus has made several wagers with Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), a personification of the Devil, and in exchange for eternal life he must relinquish his own daughter (unbeknownst to her) on her sixteenth birthday.  While traveling, the troupe finds a stranger named Tony (Heath Ledger) hanging by his neck from Blackfriars Bridge.  Claiming to have amnesia, Tony joins the troupe as a barker, and Mr. Nick soon returns with a new wager for Parnassus: if Parnassus can convert five souls to good before Mr. Nick can make them give in to greed or petty desires, he can have his daughter back. Valentina, of course, while being wild and independent, is the bargaining chip, the subject/object to be bought, sold, traded, and possessed.

The film contains the last footage of Ledger’s acting career, and it’s a strong enough film that if he had to have a final film at such a young age, I’m glad it was this one.  Three other actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell), all good friends of Ledger, take on the role of Tony as he passes through the mirror into the Imaginarium, and Gilliam shoots them in such a way that Tony’s transformations seem like an organic part of the story and not a production issue.  The three have to do very little to look like Ledger, and they do the character justice.  Using Depp as the first was a wise directing decision: in the words of Gilliam himself, “I just thought if it works with the transition to Johnny and if the audience goes for it, they’ll follow the next two. And that’s exactly how it works.”  It does.

Christopher Plummer surpasses nearly everything he’s done, and he even gets a sequence in which he’s reverted to his youth and we’re treated to The Sound of Music Plummer for just a moment.  Lily Cole’s Valentina is a character we can all believe both Tony and Anton would be crazy about – confident, strong-willed, and mysterious in that male fantasy sort of way (which lends itself well to a fantasy film, but is problematic in the usual ways, not least of which is the ratio of women to men in the cast).

As mellowing as the ending is, it’s the only ending, and it’s the only farewell we’ll ever have from Ledger.  Thankfully, it’s Gilliam’s most solid work since Brazil, and although the loss of Ledger is devastating, maybe there’s some solace in the fact that we’re leaving him in a place so full of magic.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009); written and directed by Terry Gilliam; starring Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Tom Waits, and Lily Cole.

Ip Man and Ip Man 2

Rush upon loss of contact

For those not in the know, Wing Chun is the deadliest Chinese killing art, said to be created by Ng Mui, one of the Five Elders (the only survivors of the Shaolin Temple’s destruction by the Qing Dynasty).  Popularized by grandmaster Yip Man (Ip Man), the first to teach it openly, Wing Chun is currently the most globally widespread form of Southern Kung Fu.  One of the most famous recent practitioners was Bruce Lee, and although he didn’t learn the entire system, he credited Wing Chun for many of his greatest accomplishments.

Ip Man is a biopic loosely based on the life of the title character, and while taking several liberties with historical accuracy, it’s an excellent film that captures the spirit of Wing Chun and gives spinal shivers to anyone passionate about martial arts, camaraderie, and family.  The atmosphere goes from peaceful to gritty as the Japanese begin to occupy China, and the family mentality of the Foshan Chinese is a heartfelt, tear-inducing spectacle – call it “nationalism” if you must, but it’s more than that, something much more raw.

The story of the film concerns Ip Man’s rise to popularity as the folks of Foshan beg him to teach them Wing Chun.  He politely refuses, choosing to focus instead on his wife, Wing-sing (Lynn Hung) and his toddler son Ip Chun (Li Chak), and only displays his abilities in friendly, private exhibitions with friends.  When a Mongolian practitioner of Northern Fist, played by the famous Fan Siu-wong, enters Foshan with a group of bandits and roundly defeats the masters (Sifu) of Tai Chi Chuan, White Crane and several others, Ip is forced to step in and defeat him to uphold the dignity of Foshan.  Following this bout, during which Police Inspector Li (Lam Ka-tung) and most of the town’s people listen in, Ip’s fame becomes unprecedented.  Japanese occupation begins shortly after, and Ip is forced to get a job as a coolie at a coal mine while the local Japanese general, Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) and his sidekick Colonel Sato (Shibuya Tenma) use Ip’s own mansion as a place to hold martial arts exhibitions.  When two of his friends are needlessly killed during these fights, Ip decides to take a stand.

One of my favorite things about this film is the privilege of seeing many unique styles of Foshan kung fu that are now all but extinct: Northern Fist, Kwon Dao, White Crane, and so on.  The music is gripping, and the direction of Wilson Yip makes every scene (even the occasional flat dialogue) vibrate with passion.  Donnie Yen’s performance as the legendary grandmaster is absolute, and I believed him from the start.  Yen, a popular Chinese actor who has studied many forms of martial arts in his time, was instructed by the real-life Ip Chun (the son of Ip Man) in Wing Chun, and has solidified his place as not only a dedicated actor but a true martial artist in order to play this role.

Areas of improvement have been cited by Ip Chun, including the appearance of the mansion (apparently quite different from real life) and the fact that while the film takes place in Foshan, it was not shot on location.  I’d argue, however, that Yip’s re-imagining of Foshan is inspired and effective, and every time I see this film I feel like I’m walking through those streets in the time that it was a quaint martial-arts prefecture and not its current state (which isn’t much different in appearance from Los Angeles when you look at it from above).

One of the most impressive scenes is the one in which Ip Man bests ten karate black belts at once.  Less-educated critics have criticized the scene, saying it took them out of reality, but having a brother who practices Wing Chun and having visited a Kwon myself, I argue the other side.  Battling several people at once is an enormous part of what Wing Chun is for, and practitioners/students do learn those rapid punches you see Donnie Yen obliterating several hopefully-well-paid actors and stuntmen with.

The second film, definitively titled Ip Man 2, focuses on British colonization in China, during which time Ip Man had begun taking on students.  Originally intended to focus on the relationship between Sifu Ip and Bruce Lee, fate intervened and an agreement could not be reached with Lee’s descendants.  This film can be divided into two halves as far as the narrative focus is concerned: 1) Ip Man begins taking on students and forms a rivalry with a nearby Hung Ga school; 2) the British make their presence known and Ip must once again make a stand for his culture.  The first half is stronger as we are once again treated to different forms of martial arts rarely used in the present world, including Hung Ga, Mantis, and others, and the direction really focuses on what Wing Chun is: a family.  The later third of the film is more or less a carbon copy of Rocky IV, with our hero dueling a seemingly-invincible foreign guy and then giving a speech about how he wishes our respective cultures could be at peace with one another.

This film treats us to many great new characters in addition to the ones returning from the first film.  The new characters include Sifu Hung, played by renowned choreographer and international action star Sammo Hung (who also choreographed both films in this series); Twister (Darren Shahlavi), the inexplicably sociopathic British boxing champion who considers Chinese boxing to be rubbish; and Fatso (Kent Cheng), a police officer and good friend of Hung.  The film also features Huang Xiaoming in a terrific performance as Wong Shun Leung, one of Ip Man’s first real-life students and eventual trainer of Bruce Lee.  Xiaoming plays the role with near-unrivaled coolness and has a strut comparable to Lee himself in Enter the Dragon.  Siu-wong’s character even returns, this time as an ally of Ip Man.

Ip Man 2 is, overall, very well-done.  While the first film was about survival, this one is about living.  Lives have gone on, some for the better and some not so much, and Yip’s decision to include some very human moments in addition to the fights (which are more frequent in this second installment) is refreshing and keeps the film from wandering too far from what it’s really about.  For example, Simon Yam’s character returns after being shot in the head and forgetting everyone he knows.  Ip’s devastation at not being remembered by his friend is incredibly touching, even (and perhaps especially) in scenes where no dialogue is even spoken.  Despite the cartoonishly awful and over-the-top performances of the British characters, western attitudes towards the Chinese are captured very well, almost to the point that we westerners wonder whether we’ve ever looked that stupid when talking about another culture.

I’ve heard complaints about the final fight scene from actual Wing Chun practitioners, which I agree with: if Ip was able to strike, Twister would not have been absorbing half of those blows.  However, by the same token, this is a film, and the bad guy needed to be more imposing and put up more of a fight than General Miura did.  That said, the fight is well-choreographed, although it’s damn near impossible for me to find a boxer engaging to watch (a whole lot of random swinging and unnecessary noise if you ask me).  Hasn’t been done since Rocky 3.  Luckily, Donnie Yen’s moves, coupled with the fact that we know he’s eventually going to break this redwood of a man down, save the fight from being a bore.

These films are an excellent, chest-wrenching journey through time, the evolution of martial arts, and the importance of family in all cultures.  Check them out as soon as you can.

Ip Man and Ip Man 2 will be available on official DVDs in the U.S. next month (July).

Ip Man (2008); written by Edmond Wong; directed by Wilson Yip; starring Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi.

Ip Man 2 (2010); written by Edmond Wong; directed by Wilson Yip; starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, and Huang Xiaoming.