Ip Man Review

Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of great Kung Fu films that serve as factually dubious biopics of historical martial arts masters, so it was perhaps fitting that when Ronnie Yu and Jet Li made their triumphant return to the HK Kung Fu genre in 2006 with Fearless, that they chose the life of Wushu legend Huo Yuan Jia as their inspiration. Now Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen are getting in on the act with Ip Man, which chronicles the life of Bruce Lee’s famous Wing Chun mentor during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Starting off as a noble but easy-going local fight king, Ip learns the importance of passing on his skills and knowledge when the Japanese crush his hometown of Foshan, confiscate all his earthly possessions and start killing off the local fighters in petty duels against their army’s Karate experts.

The parallels with Fearless are obvious, like so many Kung Fu films of the 70s and 80s Ip Man is just a lazy reworking of a successful predecessor, which in Ip Man’s case is exactly what Chinese audiences were lusting for as it drew big crowds across HK and the mainland. It’s not that Ip Man’s story is a complete failure, it’s just over-derivative and suffers from the same flaws as any other Wilson Yip film of the last 6yrs or so: heavily overblown dramatics and one-dimensional characterisation. Ip’s plotline is intensely jingoistic and the characterisation of the Japanese is interminably one-note, and while you can see how the story of one man making a difference in the Sino-Japanese war would stir a Chinese audience, Ip Man needs more layers to have the same effect on a Western audience.

Yip’s weaknesses as a filmmaker are evident, but so are his strengths. More than anything he has a genuine sense of style and most importantly knows how to work with action talent both in front and behind the screen. Repeatedly teaming up with Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung is all a filmmaker needs to do to carve a worthwhile action career, and the fights in Ip Man are absolutely spectacular by today’s standards. In the post-Ong Bak era Sammo proves he’s still the boss when it comes to hard-impact fight sequences, and with talent like Yen and Fan Siu Wong in front of the screen he has created some of the best fight scenes this side of Drunken Master 2. This is an action dream team doing what they do best, and as a long time fan of the Kung Fu/Martial Arts genre it’s a huge relief to be reminded that, while HK cinema is no longer producing the classics, so long as the old guard are still around and filmmakers like Yip are prepared to give them free-reign, there will always be at least one more excellent fight sequence somewhere round the corner.

The Disc: If this transfer is anything to go by then Wilson Yip has done a bit of colour tinkering with Ip Man to give the film a generally desaturated, bland look as far as colours go – certainly Ip Man looks far less colourful on this disc than on the Universal HK Blu-ray that came out last year. The first half hour or so before the Japanese invade is probably the richest colour-wise (although the salmony hues reduce the vividness of certain tones) and when Foshan is taken over by occupying forces the image takes on a drab, oppressively grey look. As a result skin tones can vary wildly, appearing most natural in the more neutral daytime sequences in the first act. Other aspects are more consistent; contrast and brightness levels are generally muted while black levels are pretty solid and only falter a handful of times.

Compression is good - there is noise in the image (mostly in darker areas) but it’s nothing that should be particularly noticeable during regular playback. Grain ranges from a moderate layer to something a little more full- on, but there doesn’t appear to be any obvious noise reduction in play. Detail levels are pretty solid, not sharp but definitely acceptable by HD standards and close ups generally show the pores of the actors. Sadly the transfer is severely compromised by some extremely over-zealous sharpening that introduces all manner of ringing (both bright and black) and gives the film a heavily over-processed, digital look – not to mention the ugly way it exacerbates the grain.

The original Chinese (mostly Cantonese, some Mandarin and Japanese) audio is presented in both DTS-HD 5.1 and DD2.0.The 5.1 track is surprisingly restrained for the most part as Ip Man is very dialogue driven, but when the action kicks in things get considerably more aggressive, the bass deepens down to bring real force to the fights and the impact sound effects are suitably weighty. Audio dynamics are very solid and the 5.1 sound field is immersive in all directions. It’s worth noting that Ip Man isn’t presented synch-sound so dialogue is unnaturally smooth and bassy on both tracks. In comparison to the DTS-HD track the DD2.0 audio naturally sounds much more restrained and less forceful, but it’s still a pretty good presentation.

There’s an impressive amount of extra features included, most of which are production featurettes that are rarely longer than around 2-minutes, however when viewed as a whole give a pretty comprehensive view of the making of the film. The real meat of the extra material lies in the Interviews Gallery, where you’ll find individual interviews with pretty much the entire main cast and director Wilson Yip. Most of these interviews are your typically vapid HK promo jobs, but the interviews with Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung are certainly worth a look. If wading through over one hour of interview footage seems daunting you could simply watch the Making Of featurette, which is in fact just a talking heads piece with edited together snippets from the various individual interviews. The best extra feature is entitled From Ip Man to Bruce Lee - Tracing the Legacy and is an excellent tutorial from Dan Inosanto about the ties between Jeet Kune Do and Wing Chun.

Note: All extra features (except for the Production Gallery and Tracing the Legacy featurettes) are presented in standard definition PAL, and therefore may not play on Region A players

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