Release Date(s)2008 (November 29, 2022)
Studio(s)Mandarin Films (Well Go USA Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C
Many of you already know who Ip Man is, and you’re probably familiar with the work of actor Donnie Yen. But it’s possible that some of you first encountered Yen on film in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. So here’s a quick primer for the uninitiated: Ip Man was a Chinese grandmaster of the Wing Chun martial art. Born in China in 1893, he survived the Second Sino-Japanese War (part of World War II) in the 1940s, then settled in Hong Kong to teach Wing Chun properly. Among his most famous students were several future masters as well as the legendary film star and martial artist Bruce Lee. The important thing to know about Ip Man is that he’s a legend in China, a kind of godfather of the martial arts, and a symbol of the dignity of the Chinese people.
Actor Donnie Yen has played Ip Man in four films now (his other films include Hero, Flash Point, The Monkey King, SPL, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny). What makes each fun to watch, of course, is his stunning mastery of martial arts combat. But what really makes them work is that Yen is just do damn likable, and he always exudes honor. Ip believes that one doesn’t fight simply to beat others or to achieve, you fight first to defend and always to find inner peace and balance in your own life. It’s hard to imagine another actor embodying this ideal better than Yen. Of the four Yen Ip Man films, some are better than others, but all are enjoyable.
Directed by Wilson Yip, the original Ip Man (2008) finds our quiet hero living peacefully with his family in Foshan, China, a place so renowned for its martial arts schools that would-be contenders come from far and wide to test their skills against its masters, the greatest of which is Ip Man. But when the Imperial Japanese Army invades China in 1937, and occupies Foshan, Ip Man, his family, and all their neighbors find themselves struggling to survive a meager existence. Matters grow worse when General Miura, a master of Japanese karate, decides to make sport of the local masters in the combat arena for his own entertainment. So when his friend is killed in one of Miura’s matches, Ip takes it upon himself to teach the general a lesson.
Ip Man was shot on 35 mm photochemical film (in Super 35 format) using Arricam and Arriflex cameras with Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release and appears to have been upsampled for its debut on 4K Ultra HD, complete with a new High Dynamic Range grade (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included). The original Blu-ray had a slightly noisy appearance, as if too much edge enhancement had been applied, visible as a distinct ringing or haloing on fine edges. Some of that remains here in the new 4K master—clearly it was baked into the DI—but it does appear to be a little more tightly controlled, so it’s possible that additional processing was done to the HD master that’s not been added here. Grain remains visible, but it’s a little coarse as you’d expect from upsampling. Colors are definitely richer and more natural looking thanks the HDR grade, with the palette starting off warmer and then shifting to a cooler look after the Japanese invasion. But HDR definitely enhances the shadows and highlights in a pleasing way. There’s a scene about 9 minutes into the film where Ip is having lunch with a businessman friend and the restaurant setting is lush with color—rich reds and golds of privacy dividers, the light tan of bamboo, the blue of colored glass. This image is a modest upgrade from the Blu-ray, but it is an upgrade nonetheless—there’s no doubt the film has never looked better.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is offered in a new Cantonese Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible). The previous Blu-ray included lossless DTS-HD Master Audio in various 5.1 options, yet those mixes felt a little flat. The Atmos audio is definitely more immersive; the surrounds are more active with ambience now and the panning is smooth and natural. Bass is firm, lending every blow a bit more impact. Certain kicks and strikes now have added sweep that extends into the surrounds or the overhead channels, helping to draw the viewer into the hand-to-hand combat. The overall dynamics are expanded too, making the Atmos a fine sonic upgrade. Additional audio options include English and Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles available in English and Spanish.
The 4K disc doesn’t include bonus features, but a 1080p HD Blu-ray disc included in this release adds the following:
- Making Of (SD – 18:33)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 3 scenes – 3:19)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:46)
- International Trailer (SD – 2:18)
The Making Of piece offers some nice background on the real historical Ip Man and his surviving family, who served as advisors on the film, as well as Yen’s efforts to understand the character and his Wing Chun discipline. All of the key cast and crew members have a chance to weigh in. There are also three deleted scenes, which are covered with graphic overlays and timecode numbers to prevent amateur editors from cutting then back into the film. Two trailers complete the package.
Newcomers dipping their toes into this series may want to consider purchasing Well Go USA’s Ip Man: The Complete Collection (reviewed here). You get all four films with best-ever image quality and fantastic Atmos surround sound. And if the extras are a bit lacking, well... you don’t buy these films for their special features. You buy them for spectacular fight choreography—and there’s plenty of that to be found here thanks to fine work by Donnie Yen and stunt masters Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo-ping. This release of the original film on Ultra HD can only whet appetites, or perhaps service those wanting single-SKU releases sitting on their shelves. Either way, it’s a nice release and is recommended for fans.
- Bill Hunt