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Blu-ray Review: Ip Man

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Based on the life of famed Chinese martial arts instructor Yip Man, Ip Man gives us a rather glorified account of a man whom many consider to be the first martial arts master (in addition to being one of Bruce Lee’s mentors). But, much like many a film that is “based on a true story” from Hollywood, Ip Man takes so many liberties with its tale that it nearly washes away any factual accounts. Instead, the movie goes for the “sensational epic” approach, leaving one to wonder if Akiva Goldsman was a ghost writer for the screenplay (why, it’s even rumored on some websites that the original title was Yiperella Man).

To be frank, most modern epic martial arts films tend to leave me feeling hollow inside. Ip Man was really no exception (and it will probably have the same effect on anyone else who is even remotely familiar with the real Yip Man’s life story). The story starts out with our titular hero (portrayed by Donnie Yen) in pre-Second Sino-Japanese War Foshan, China. A modest man, Yip is revered to be the best martial arts teacher in the land — a credit that has many a fellow instructor (or thugs looking for a fight) wandering into town to challenge him.

When the war breaks out with Japan, the whole city of Foshan is torn apart. Yip’s home is seized by the invading Japanese, and the once prestigious instructor is forced to live in a dilapidated old home with his family, working in a coal mine in the effort to support them. A cunning Japanese colonel named Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) — an expert in the art of karate — decides to build an arena where local Chinese martial artists can compete with his military trainees, offering a bag of rice to the winners (most of whom are killed anyway, since the Japanese are just evil like that).

I’m pretty sure you can guess where this one goes. But, in case you can’t: Yip Man takes on several dozen trainees at once when he can’t take the oppression any longer — remaining a humble man throughout. He even teaches the whole town how to fight back, just so that the writers can throw in a glorious revolt scene with bare-fisted villagers combating armed soldiers.

Okay, so if you’re looking for historical accuracy, look somewhere else. If you’re just looking for some decent no-brainer martial arts entertainment, though, you could do a lot worse than Ip Man. There are some good moments to be found here, such as some fine fight choreography by none other than Sammo Hung. But, apart from that, I wasn’t as gung-ho about this film as most genre enthusiasts out there.

Oh, well, different strokes, eh?

Okay, so while I’m pretty much impartial to the whole movie, I can definitely say that I wasn’t very impressed with Well-Go’s Blu-ray release of Ip Man. While the contrast holds up rather nicely, the transfer is marred by some rather bland colors and a picture that’s all too soft at times. Some portions of the film look pretty darn good, though, but it’s a bit of a disappointment on the whole. Three DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks are available here: Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. The Chinese tracks deliver a bit more oomph than the English dub does (which is to be expected), offering up a rather pleasant audio experience overall. English subtitles are available for both the original Chinese and English language tracks.

Well-Go has issued Ip Man in two different releases: one a single-disc DVD with a few bonus materials, the other a Collector’s Edition (available on both DVD and Blu-ray) with a second SD-DVD disc containing additional special features. The Blu-ray disc features “The Making of Ip Man,” a few deleted scenes, and a handful of trailers for the main feature as well as two other films (White Wall and the Academy Award nominated 9th Company). All of the Blu-ray goodies are presented in HD. The Collector’s Edition extras include interviews with the film’s cast and crew, a “Shooting Diary,” and a few behind-the-scenes pieces.

Since I wasn’t that into the film to begin with, the bonus materials included with either release of Ip Man didn’t do a whole lot for me. Fans of the film, on the other hand, should enjoy them.

The bottom line: Ip Man will either strike you as the greatest martial arts masterpiece of 2008, or as just another epic chop-socky flick.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.