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It’s practically a rule now that every year or two an Asian-made film meets with amazing word of mouth, excited critical reactions, and features incredibly exciting trailers, but doesn’t see an official Western (let alone American) release for a frustratingly long period of time. Films like Hero, Oldboy, Save the Green Planet, Ringu, and more recently Red Cliff, do find their Western audiences, but only after years of languishing in distribution limbo. Wilson Yip’s Ip Man is the latest entry on the list, and finally sees an official region A release nearly two years after its original Chinese release, and a year after its UK release.

 Ip Man: Collector's Edition
In the year 1935 the Chinese city of Foshan in Guangdong province is home to a number of competing martial arts schools, all seeking to prove the superiority of their specific brand kung fu. The area's undisputed champion, Wing Chun master Ip Man (Donnie Yen), an independently wealthy gentleman, refuses to participate in such shenanigans, and doesn’t teach his style. Ip prefers to conduct his fights behind closed doors in order to protect his opponents' honour when they inevitably lose. The only problem in Ip’s life is his strained relationship with his wife and child, who resent his aggressive training. In 1937 Japan invades China, and Foshan is hostilely occupied by Japanese military forces. Evicted from his home, a hungry, desperate Ip takes a job working at the local coal plant, where he is reunited with many of his fellow martial artists. Ip soon learns of Karate master Colonel Miura’s (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) training dojo, where Chinese martial artists can earn a bag of rice for every Japanese opponent they defeat.

Ip Man shares some basic elements with Ronny Yu’s semi-recent Jet Li vehicle Fearless in terms of themes, and general narrative. Both films follow the proud HK filmmaking tradition of stylistically covering important sections in the lives of historical martial arts icons, and are built largely around a series of supposedly legendary martial arts matches, which have likely been largely blown out of proportion after decades of second hand storytelling. Ip Man is a less daunting task, running an efficient one hundred and eight minutes (though there is a sequel…). In terms of thoughtful commitment Ip Man sits somewhere between Yu’s film and Jet Li’s earlier period setting work ( Fun Sai Yuk or Once Upon a Time in China). There’s plenty of melodramatic pathos and beautiful photography, but the emphasis here is placed more on entertainment value. Occasionally the characters suffer over-simplification (the Japanese villains are practically WWII era propaganda cartoons, and Ip’s wife is often reduced to a snivelling mess), and the pace runs over a more interesting plot points, but I mean no offense when I say Ip Man is a relatively breezy piece of Wu Xia entertainment.

 Ip Man: Collector's Edition
Director Wilson Yip’s more recently developed floating, multi-camera style actually suits the period very well, which is surprising to me since I really haven’t liked most of his films all that much (though Bio Zombie remains a huge personal favourite). The colour choices do remind me a lot of Fearless, but are not the usual Yip blue, so I’m satisfied. Donny Yen also impresses, proving that he may be China’s most underrated dramatic actor. He doesn’t have the range of Chow Yun Fat or Tony Leung, but Yen can play warm-hearted stoicism better than Jet Li (who I love, but the guy has some big limits). There’s balance in this performance, including sorrow, happiness, and genuinely frightening rage, all capped tight enough that Yen never betrays the character’s sobriety. The action won’t be as wall to wall as some viewers would prefer, but choreographer extraordinaire Sammo Hung, who is probably the penultimate man in the field (just behind Yuen Woo-Ping), doesn’t disappoint, and Yen’s physical abilities remain incredible. The wire work is subtle, and the contrast between Ip’s sparing and more intentional maiming is appropriately brutal. For his part Yip captures the action more clearly than he did in the overrated Sha Po Long, and adds the proper sense of pomp and circumstance to the proceedings.

 Ip Man: Collector's Edition

Video


Ip Man comes to US Blu-ray following an apparently disappointing UK release. Though I don’t have the means to really compare (only Chris Gould’s screen caps), I’m thinking this overall decent transfer is a perhaps a slight upgrade from that disc, but most likely a straight dupe. The big complaints I’ve read concerning the UK release were relating to edge-enhancement. This disc does feature its share of white lines around dark objects, but these are mostly reserved to really wide shots, which do look a bit like up-converted DVD images. Other problems include shaking backgrounds during big camera movements (similar to NTSC to PAL conversion), and some not so rich black levels (though this changes throughout the transfer depending on the colours). Overall I was impressed with the transfer’s detail levels, but there are inconsistencies from scene to scene, and once again, those wide shots do feature some noticeable edge-enhancement. There is quite a bit of train throughout the film, and the grain changes with the colour palette, but never becomes what I’d call overbearing. Yip’s use of de-saturated colour (Ip’s home life is warm and brown, where almost anything involving the film’s villains is almost monochromatic) means hue purity is rarely an issue, and neither are popping primary elements. The transfer’s problems are most noticeable during the scenes in the Japanese Dojo. Here grain is heavy, colours are de-saturated to almost straight black and white levels, the blacks are most greyed, and there the extra special added issue of ghosting effects.

 Ip Man: Collector's Edition

Audio


This Blu-ray comes fitted with three DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, each of which is all very comparable in terms of sound quality. I personally recommend the Cantonese track, since most of the actors are clearly speaking that, and not Mandarin (the disc defaults to the English dubbed track, by the way). The Mandarin track features louder dialogue overall. There isn’t much in the way of surround or stereo interaction in the mix, save basic ambience, and a few gun shots. The most obvious directional element, that of a single piece of dialogue coming from the rear left channel, is actually jarring considering the rest of the track’s relative surround silence. The fight scenes feature a little more intricate design, and are viscerally satisfying, with just the right amount of LFE boost. Kenji Kawai’s musical score follows a pretty predictable route, but fits the picture, and is presented warmly, fully, and with plenty of bass support for the big drum sound.

 Ip Man: Collector's Edition

Extras


The extras begin on the set’s first disc. These include a basic making-of EPK (18:40, SD), including interviews with Donny Yen, Wilson Yip, Sammo Hung, and other people who aren’t identified by the subtitles. Subject matter includes mostly acting, directing, and martial arts. Next up are some deleted scenes (03:20, SD), which are framed within the confines of the main menu art for some reason, and are extremely quiet. The disc is finished out with two trailers (the English trailer is incredibly lame), and trailers for other Well Go USA releases.

Disc two, which is a standard definition DVD, doesn’t amount to much more than a few more elongated trailers, and could’ve easily fit on the first Blu-ray. It starts with the ‘Shooting Diary’ (05:27, SD), a sort of all-purpose making-of featurette/trailer. It’s more of a sizzle reel than an informative look behind the scenes, and is made up of a series of quick cut on-set footage, feature footage, and stills. ‘Behind the Sets’, a series of brief discussions about production design, is broken into three sections – ‘Cotton Mill’ (02:20), ‘Streets of Fo Shan’ (02:00), and ‘Ip’s Residence’ (02:00). The ‘Interview Gallery’ features extended interviews with the major players in the cast and crew, including director Wilson Yip (23:10), actors Donnie Yen (22:10), Gordon Lam (09:00), Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (07:40), Ip Chun with Wilson Yip and Sammo Hung (03:30), Louis Fan (04:50), Lin Xiong (07:50), Sammo Hung (08:00) and Simon Yam (02:00). Sections of these interviews are included in the other special features.

 Ip Man: Collector's Edition

Overall


Ip Man isn’t quite the masterpiece many of the reviews seem to suggest, and years of pre-release build-up may have pushed expectations beyond logical levels, but it still manages to be a solid practice in martial arts action. Viewers expecting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon levels of artistic intent may be disappointed at director Wilson Yip’s more down to earth treatment of period, but martial arts fans looking for an ass-kicking fix should find it easy enough to traverse the more ostentatious and dramatic scenes on their way to Sammo Hung’s choreographed chaos. This Blu-ray looks more or less the same as the previous UK release, based on the full sized screen-caps provided by Chris on his review, which is a disappointment, but not a reason to avoid the release altogether. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is relatively low-key, but features no major shortcomings. The extras included exclusively on this ‘collector’s edition’ release aren’t really worth the extra money, though I notice this version is actually cheaper than the single disc release through Amazon.com, and the same price on Bestbuy.com, which is weird.

*Note: The images on this page are taken from the UK Blu-ray and resized for the page.


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