'Ip Man' is a very interesting movie in that it left me enjoying the parts more than the sum. It's a biopic of sorts, focusing on a brief time in the life of Ip Man, also known as Yip Man, a grandmaster in the martial arts style of Wing Chun. The movie didn't get a U.S. theatrical release, but to generate interest, the disc jacket states that he was the "mentor of iconic legend Bruce Lee" and reemphasizes that point on the back with "mentor to legendary kung fu superstar Bruce Lee." While this may help sales, the information spoils the end of the movie!
Opening in 1935, the city of Fo Shan is known for many martial arts schools, but the most talented man appears to be Master Ip, played by Donnie Yen, who not only does a very good job meeting the physical requirements of the performance, as choreographed by action director Sammo Hung, but hits all the right emotional notes as well. The movie first reveals how skilled Ip is when Master Liu (Chen Zhihui) engages him in a friendly challenge one afternoon and Ip wins handily.
Later, an unfriendly challenge arrives on Ip's doorstep. In an effort to open his own school, out-of-towner Jin (Louis Fan) challenges the local schoolmasters and leaves them beaten and bloody. Jin then wants to take on Ip, who has no interest, due in part to his wife's (Lynn Xiong) disapproval of Ip's constant focus on fighting. After a number of insults from Jin, Mrs. Ip gives her permission.
The movie then leaps ahead to 1937 when Japan invades China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The look of the movie changes as colors are desaturated with gray that evokes the oppression of the occupied Chinese. The population of Fo Shan drops from 300,000 to 70,000, and the Japanese Army takes over Ip's house to make their headquarters. Ip eventually finds work in a coal mine.
While there, he discovers men are volunteering for martial arts fights against the Japanese. General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) watches and occasionally takes part. When a friend goes but never comes back, Ip volunteers to learn what happened and is outraged by what he finds. This leads to two epic fights, one against ten men, which is well executed but predictable even with the threat of death on the line. An epilogue presents the remainder of Ip Man's life.
I enjoyed the physics-defying action and over-emphasized sound effects in the fight sequences; however, I found it slightly incongruous in what is supposed to be a real-life story. I am well aware this isn't a documentary, but I frequently found myself occasionally taken out of the moment when the threshold of believability was crossed as bodies flew around and punches were thunderous.
Although I don't know what liberties may have been taken with the actual events, Ip Man appears to have a very intriguing history that deserves to be shared. I enjoyed learning about the man. 'Ip Man 2,' the second installment of a planned trilogy, debuted in April 2010 and I hope to see it soon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA Entertainment brings 'Ip Man' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc with some Bonus Features on a DVD. They are housed inside a standard blue keepcase. Before the menu, there are trailers for 'Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen,' 'White Wall,' and '9th Company'. The Blu-ray is also reported to be Region A.
The video is presented in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Unfortunately, it's a mixed bag, getting some things right while falling short in other areas.
There are different visual looks to the movie. Before the war, colors are bright and pop. A good example is in Chapter 2 when Ip meets with his friend Quan (Simon Yam) in the restaurant where the blue, yellow, and green on the stained glass; the purple tablecloth; and the red and gold on the partition are quite vivid. After the invasion, colors are desaturated as mentioned above and everything has a gray pall, including the blacks.
The lighting tends toward a warm, golden tone. Detail and depth is apparent, from wrinkles in clothing to well-lit exteriors, such as the busy streets of Fo Shan. During the occupation, detail is evident in the low-light scenes where the Chinese and Japanese fight. Dust and spit can be seen flying around.
Film grain has been digitally cleaned up during pre-war portion. There's not much texture in faces and some movement looks smeared, such as Jin darting into Ip's home. The grain is apparent during post-war scenes.
During movie's final fight, which takes place outdoors, creative team foreshadows events by having the look of movie return to pre-war conditions. Grayness is gone and the red and white colors of the Japanese flag are bright as they drape the sky.
All three audio tracks are DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I have a preference for foreign films to be in their native language, which may have contributed to my dislike for the default English dub, but the voices sounded like they were spoken in a recording booth and there was no ambiance blended in. The Chinese tracks sounded more believable though they didn't look in sync.
The effects are prolific during fights. There are distinct sounds of material ruffling, hands smacking skin, metal clanging during a sword fight, and bamboo swats. However, the body hits have a little too much bass to be realistic. The music was too loud during the fights and occasionally was distorted. In contrast to the Chinese tracks, the effects on the English seem mixed a tad louder and have more bass, but the ambiance isn't as strong like in the scene where Ip agrees to train Quan's workers.
Dialogue comes out front center with effects and music mainly spread across the front and subwoofer. Surrounds offer minor support, delivering the score and limited ambiance. Elements were positioned within the sound field and moved across channels. Weapons slice through the air, almost singing, and a blade slashes through a screen and across speakers.
The subtitles have some issues with accuracy as something a colonel says before the final fight appears to be in complete opposition to what he said and meant.
The Making Of 'Ip Man', Deleted Scenes, and Trailers are on the Blu-ray Disc. Shooting Diary, Behind the Sets, and Interviews are on the DVD
'Ip Man' is an entertaining movie and tells the story of a man who deserves to be better known even though only part of that story is presented here. Sammo Hung executes very good action sequences, and Donnie Yen delivers both aspects of his performance well. The Blu-ray has good sound and extras that run longer than the movie, but the inconsistent video qualities are likely to leave people unsatisfied.