Release Date(s)2008-2019 (December 15, 2020)
Studio(s)Mandarin Films/Pegasus Motion Pictures (Well Go USA Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: C
- Overall Grade: B
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 these four Yen Ip Man films, some are better than others, but all are enjoyable. And Well Go USA has just released them in a new Ip Man: The Complete Collection box set in 4K Ultra HD. So let’s talk about each of the films in this set one by one…
Directed by Wilson Yip, 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.
Ip Man (Film/Video/Audio): A/B-/A-
Having escaped Foshan with his family thanks to the help of friends, Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grand Master (2010) finds Ip Man building a new life in Hong Kong in 1949. To share his Wing Chun discipline with others and make a living, he opens a school and quickly attracts new students. But he also draws the ire of the local martial arts masters, including Hung Chun-nam, the head of their coalition. Hung demands that Ip Man pass a test to decide whether they’ll allow him to keep his school open, then demands he pay their “protection” tax as a cost of doing business. This tax is used to pay off the local British authorities, who have no respect for Chinese martial arts. But Ip says the coalition should instead refuse to pay this bribe and stand up for themselves. When Hung attempts to do just that, and is killed by a bloodthirsty British boxer, Ip Man must once again step forward to show these foreigners that the Chinese people will not be disrespected.
Ip Man 2 was also shot on 35 mm photochemical film (in Super 35 format) using Arriflex and Moviecam cameras with Zeiss Ultra Prime and Cook Varotal and Angenieux Optimo lenses. It too was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. And once again, it appears to have been upsampled for its release on 4K Ultra HD, with new color grading for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision are available). The Blu-ray presentation of this sequel had a higher contrast look than its predecessor. It also suffered from some of the same added edge-enhancement, resulting in noisy edges—though it’s not quite as bad as the original film. Thankfully, this problem is more contained on the 4K presentation, again suggesting that some of this was baked into the original master while some was added for the HD. Shadows are inky black but retain more detail than is visible in the Blu-ray presentation. The HDR also notably deepens and expands the coloring. There’s some aliasing visible on fine edges—a product of the upsampling—but overall this is also a nice upgrade from the previous Blu-ray.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is offered in another new Cantonese Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible). The previous Blu-ray included DTS-HD Master Audio mixes in various 5.1 options and those were more immersive to be sure, but the new Atmos experience is once again a step better, with greater activity in the surrounds, more natural panning, and stronger dynamics. Bass is firm and satisfying. The Atmos audio is definitely more immersive too; the surrounds are more active with ambience, the panning is smoother, and bass is firm. Additional audio options include Mandarin, English, and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional subtitles available in English and Spanish.
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (Film/Video/Audio): B+/B/A-
The weakest entry of this series—its Rocky III, if you will—Ip Man 3 (2015) rejoins Ip Man and his family a decade later. Hong Kong in 1959 has become a prosperous place, but also a lawless one, with the local police lacking the power to stop the fast-growing organized crime. So when his son’s school becomes the target of a hostile takeover by an American property developer named Frank (boxer Mike Tyson in preposterous casting), Ip Man and another Wing Chun disciple (whose son attends the school too) must fight again and again to foil his plans. But despite seeming an ally, this fellow disciple, Cheung Tin-chi, has a plot of his own: He secretly intends to challenge Ip Man for the right to call himself the true Grandmaster of Wing Chun. Weak or not, it should be noted that Ip Man 3 does have its charms, not the least of which is the appearance of Bruce Lee (played by Danny Chan) in a small role.
Unlike the two previous installments, Ip Man 3 was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 2.8K) using the Arri Alexa XT Plus camera with Cooke, Zeiss, Fujinon, and Angenieux Optimo lenses. The film was then finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, the film has been upsampled and graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included). The result is the cleanest and most stable image presentation in the series yet, with strong detailing and vibrant color. Shadows are also enhanced, though blacks do occasionally look a little gray, while highlights are more naturally bold. Fine detailing is also a little lacking (there appears to be a bit of light DNR applied here and there), but on the whole this is still a nice image and a good upgrade over the Blu-ray presentation.
Primary audio on the 4K is once again offered in a new Cantonese Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) that has fine dynamics, excellent clarity, robust bass, and notable immersion. But I’ll be damned if I can say that it’s better than the equally fine Cantonese DTS-X mix found on the Blu-ray version of the film. The soundstage might be just a little larger and more expansive vertically, with a bit more activity in the rear channels during fight sequences, and maybe slightly more throaty bass. The point is, both mixes are terrific. Additional audio options include English, Spanish, and French in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format, with optional subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French.
Ip Man 3 (Film/Video/Audio): B-/A-/A
The final film in this series to star Donny Yen, Ip Man 4: The Finale (2019) opens in 1964, with the title character struggling to raise his teenage son following the death of his wife. Upon learning he has throat cancer, Ip Man decides to accept an invitation to visit one of his greatest students, Bruce Lee (Danny Chan), who’s settled in San Francisco and begun teaching Wing Chun on his own. Ip hopes to find a new life for his son and a place for him to study in an American school. But to do this, he’ll need a letter of reference from the local Chinese Benevolent Association. And its president, the martial arts grandmaster Wan Zhong-hua, is not happy that Ip’s disciple Bruce Lee has been teaching Wing Chun to non-Chinese. Matters change, however, when the Association holds a festival demonstration of martial arts in Chinatown, and a brutal U.S. Marine gunnery sergeant decides to teach them that Japanese karate is the superior form of combat. As you might imagine, it falls to Ip Man to dissuade the man of his obvious delusion.
[Editor’s Note: Some of you may have noticed by this point that menacing foreign adversaries (usually Japanese, British, or American, and played by uniformly terrible actors) are a running theme in this series. But when you consider that menacing “Asian” characters have been a recurring trope in Western filmmaking for many decades, you can hardly blame Chinese and Japanese filmmakers for returning the favor once in a while. The good news is that honor always wins out in the Ip Man films in the end… and that is a universal human quality.]
Ip Man 4 was captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 2.8 and 3.4K) using Arri Alexa XT Plus and Mini cameras with Fujinon Alura and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. It too was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.25:1 aspect ratio and again appears to have been upsampled for its release on 4K Ultra HD, albeit with a new high dynamic range grade (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are available). The image is mostly very good, with nice detail, deep and detailed blacks, and vibrant yet stylized period coloring. But slightly too smooth skin textures and the lack of very fine detail suggests that DNR has occasionally been applied. There’s also some strange blurring in the image from time to time. At about 7:55 into the film for example, as Ip is opening the door to his apartment, there’s what looks like a bit of sensor noise or ghosting in the detail of the painted door. It’s as if the camera’s image sensor isn’t getting quite enough light. But this effect is relatively infrequent. On the whole, this is still a good image.
Both the 4K disc and the included Blu-ray offer a home theater version of the film’s theatrical Cantonese Dolby Atmos sound. It’s another fine mix with a wide soundstage and immersive use of the surround channels. Panning is smooth, there’s nice vertical extension during set pieces, and bass is always robust. Dialogue clarity is excellent as well. Audio is also included in English DTS-HD Master Audio format, as are optional subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, and French.
Ip Man 4: The Finale (Film/Video/Audio): B/B+/A
None of the 4K discs in this set include bonus features, but each film is also included in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. Those discs add the following…
Ip Man BD Extras
- 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.
Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grand Master BD Extras
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:12)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:16)
- International Trailer (SD – 2:43)
- Making Of (SD – 17:37)
Once again, the Making Of piece is a look behind-the-scenes on the making of the film, with key members of the cast and production team weighing in with their comments.
Ip Man 3 BD Extras
- Making Of: The Story (HD – 2:29)
- Making Of: The Action (HD – 2:52)
- Interviews: Donnie Yen (HD – 6:04)
- Interviews: Mike Tyson (HD – 7:27)
- Interviews: Donnie Yen & Mike Tyson on Press Day (HD – 5:27)
- Interviews: Wilson Yip, Director (HD – 9:05)
- Behind-the-Scenes (HD – 2:19)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:19)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:07)
- International Trailer (HD – 1:03)
This batch of extras is a little more substantial. There’s less behind-the-scenes content, but more in the way of interviews and insights from the two leads and the film’s director. All of it is in better quality in full HD this time too.
Ip Man 4: The Finale BD Extras
- Making Of (HD – 2:11)
- The 10-Year Legend (HD – 2:10)
- The Story (HD – 2:26)
- Trailer A (HD – 1:31)
- Trailer B (HD – 1:21)
- US Trailer (HD – 1:49)
Unfortunately, the extras for this final film are a bit light. It’s basically EPK type material. But a glossy double-sided foldout poster and a lovely soft-cover book (with photos and liner notes by film historian Calum Waddell) round out the extras in this boxed set. And all of it comes in a sturdy faux-fabric covered slipcase with gold embossing. It’s a nice package from Well Go USA that looks great on your video shelf.
For fans of this series and actor Donnie Yen, Well Go USA’s new Ip Man: The Complete Collection in 4K Ultra HD is money well spent. For about $15 per film (on sale at Amazon and elsewhere) 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 Yen and stunt masters Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo-ping. This Ultra HD package is pretty lovely and makes us crave more Chinese martial arts films in 4K. It’s definitely recommended for fans of either.
- Bill Hunt