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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Ip Man [Blu-ray]

 

(Wilson Yip, 2008)

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray LEFT vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray RIGHT

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Mandarin Films

Blu-ray: Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA)

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 1:46:21

Size: both are dual-layered

Case: Standard Blu-ray case (both)

Release date: February 13th, 2009 / Release date: July 29th, 2010

 

Video (both):

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC

 

Audio:

Cantonese LPCM 7.1; Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1; Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Mnadarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

 

Subtitles:

Feature & Bonus: Traditional Chinese, English, none

English, None

 

Extras:

• The Making of Ip Man (18:37)

• PreProduction (2:02)

• Shooting Diary (3:27)

• Main Sets (2:24 + 2:01 + 2:04)

• Interviews with Director & Cast (Yip: 23:12 + Sammo 8:03) + Donnie 22:09 + Simon 2:53 + Ikeyuchi 7:45 + Ka-Tung 8:56 + Fan 4:49 + Ip Chun 3:27)

• Deleted Scenes (4:45)

• History of Wing Chun (Chinese text only)

• Ip Man – The Master (Chinese text only)

• Photo Gallery

• Trailer

 

Extras:

• The Making of Ip Man - in HD (18:33)

• Deleted Scenes - in HD (3:19)

• U.S. and Original Hong Kong Trailers - in HD

• Trailers for White Wall and 9th Company - in HD

• On DVD (Disc 2):

• Interviews with Director & Cast (about 69 min.)

• Shooting Diary (5:27)

• Behind the Sets (2:23 + 2:00 + 2:03)

 

 

The Film: 8
Given the cast and director, my expectations ran high for this movie. Four luminaries from Wilson Yip’s SPL: Sha Po Lang reunited for this biopic of one China's most famous martial artists: Director Yip, actors Donnie Yen (in the title role) and Simon Yam (in a supporting role), and the always impressive Sammo Hung – here working behind the camera as fight choreographer. Ip Man is, in a number of ways, a throwback to martial arts movies from the time of Bruce Lee – not coincidentally, since Ip Man was Bruce Lee's wing chun teacher. There is the familiar town with competing martial arts schools, each headed by its own master; the bully (Fan Sui Wong) who comes to town to set up his own school, but not before he humiliates the various school masters by giving each a brutal thrashing; and there is the quiet master whom everyone in town knows is the best but who heads no school of his own.

This would be Ip Man, a gentleman among men. Self-effacing, but confident. He is also quite well off and lives with his lovely wife (Lynn Xiong) and young son. Mrs Ip is given to looks of disapproval every time her husband finds an excuse to fight, even though he never gets hurt. He even tries to make sure that the house furniture is not damaged when he fights in his house. This is movie not without a sense of humor – for the first half-hour or so anyhow.

But lightness turns bitter and grey when the Japanese come to Foshan at the leading edge of what would become the Second World War. As the population shrinks from 300,000 to 70,000 we assume that not all of the difference are made up of refugees. Ip's residence has been consigned as the Japanese headquarters and Ip and his family are now among the homeless. It's very hard for him to swallow his pride and try to find work, which he finally does after pawning all the remaining family trinkets.

The Japanese general assigned to this town (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) is another sort of gentleman altogether. It is his fancy to round up those men desperate enough to fight his men in an arena. If one of these miserable people should live through it he gets a bag of rice. If he fails to demonstrate the proper humility, he may have to fight the general, who is an amazing piece of work in his own right. One thing though: the general doesn't appreciate it when his officers take matters into their own hands and kill off his subjects in the arena. Killing is for the streets.

Well, we can see where this is all going. Donnie Yen seems tailor made for the role of Ip Man – proud, assured, and confidently kick-ass in his newly learned wing chun kung fu skills. But even more than another excuse for Donnie Yen to show off his stuff is the unabashed pride that the Chinese take in the way this story unfolds, even though it may be liberally fictionalized. I don't expect that Western audiences would find the story quite as engrossing for this reason, even though its themes are not unfamiliar. It is not so much of a stretch to see in Ip Man echoes of High Noon or Destry Rides Again – the idea of a lone man who only fights when provoked beyond endurance, and then he takes his six-shooters out of mothballs and courageously stands to face his fate.

 


 

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

 

Image (Universe): 6/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

I suspect that the transfer is an accurate representation of the director's intentions, which appear to be that once the Japanese arrive, the picture is drained of much of its color, it’s flatter and at times grainier. We can understand such a design as a metaphor for social/political/emotional consequences of the occupation - if only it were applied more consistently.

We note that in the “free China period” (quotes mine) some scenes, mostly indoors, have an extra gold filtered layer. In these scenes, sometimes the image appears oversaturated, at other times it is thin and insubstantial. Yet there are many other scenes that have a naturally delicate, reach-out-and-touch-it quality to them. Once the Japanese enter the picture the image becomes more consistently desaturated, though not always. The choices are puzzling.

I found few distressing concerns with the transfer: most artifacts and noise reduction are kept at bay. Some closeups of Donnie strike me as smoother than they should be. Edge enhancement shows up in noticeable doses when edges are in strong contrast, such as in the arena where the Japanese stage their fights with unsuspecting Chinese.

 

 

 

Image (WellGo): 5/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

When I first watched the Universe Blu-ray edition at home I confess I had inadvertently set my projector’s color and contrast higher than they should have been, and drew negative conclusions about the differences between the first and second parts of the movie, feeling them to be arbitrary and tiresome. But on second viewing, with correct projection settings and a more forgiving attitude about the vagaries of the medium (viz., the entire signal path + the viewing environment), I am more accepting of the choices made in this regard, though there still remain some puzzling filtration choices here and there.

The Well Go is a different story. It is as if Well Go applied a consistent desaturating filter to the Universe Blu-ray. Now there is less apparent difference between the pre- and post-Japanese invasion scenes, made even less different on large screen front projection (as compared to smaller displays.) This observation, the fact that it makes the same edge enhancement mistakes, and the fact that Well Go, for a change, has given us a true 1080p image, tells most of the story and should satisfy. But I can’t resist a few subjective remarks:

In part it may be that I’m just tired of desaturating filtration as a style. I ask myself, why not just go the extra yard, make it black and white, and get it over with! Then there would only be contrast, grain and exposure to play with. Works for me. However, desaturating a color movie is not the same thing as having filmed it black and white to start with. Among other reasons, lighting is differently considered in order to manipulate contrast for the desired effect.

Since the Well Go and Universe Blu-rays are, aside from saturation, more similar than not, we wonder about original intent, in the absence of which the choice becomes one of taste – and that rankles the critic in me. My caps of the Universe reveal a couple of scenes that are excruciatingly oversaturated, and this “mistake” is “corrected” in the Well Go. But since the Well Go applies the same correction uniformly throughout, the rest of the movie suffers arbitrarily. I want there to be some absolute answers to these questions. We might ask: what about comparing these Blu-rays with the theatrical experience? Unhappily, such comparisons vary with the size and nature of the display even when optimally calibrated - not that the film is handy to begin with.

So, you would think, this leaves transfer issues – however, in this case they are much the same for both editions. And when I look at the comparative screen caps for differences in sharpness, resolution or DNR, I don’t believe I see any. The pre-Japanese caps have more life in the Universe because there is more color and for the most part that sits better with me. But what I cannot confidently account for on technical grounds is why the Universe should always feel more visually involving, even in the relatively desaturated occupation scenes. It would appear that desaturating the image, at least the way Well Go goes about it, flattens dimensionality which, in turn, makes for a less involving experience.

But there is another matter that relates to mass, substance, weight. The Universe has it, the Well Go doesn’t, especially in the earlier part of the movie. In a side by side comparison of the moving picture (less so, frame captures) we readily feel the difference in everything from clothing, to furniture to flooring. Well Go’s desaturation has also resulted in a thinning of the the image - this despite its stronger bit rate (28.00 Mbps vs the Universe’s 25.15). This is too bad, really, since I appreciated what I felt was too much color in some scenes on the original Universe edition.

I suspect that the Well Go is, for the most part, a desaturated version of the Universe rather than vice-versa, since those scenes that have color are rendered naturally and beautifully, and I don’t think you can get the same result by “colorizing” an image that was processed with less color for theatrical purposes.

As with the Universe edition, I found no distressing concerns with the transfer: most artifacts and noise reduction are kept at bay. Edge enhancement shows up in noticeable doses, and in the same way as the Universe, where edges are in strong contrast, such as in the arena where the Japanese stage their fights with unsuspecting Chinese.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM 

 

 
Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM
 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Universe Laser & Video Co. (HK) Blu-ray TOP vs. Well Go 2-disc (USA) Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Audio & Music: 5/7
Dialogue is disproportionately subdued compared to action sequences, whose combined effects and music makes for an uncomfortable imbalance. I found it helpful to ride the gain. Once I found an acceptable, if strained balance for dialogue and action sequences, the sound was clear enough and had plenty of crunch in the fights. There is even some intentionally amusing flights of artistic license, especially during the duel in Ip’s house with rival tough guy, Jin Shanzhao, but elsewhere the attention is so much on the foreground that the environment is almost entirely ignored. One good example is the scene where Ip visits his friend’s cotton mill: the dialogue is loud and clear compared to the muted sounds of the factory a few paces behind the speakers. The effect is unsettling simply because it’s hard to make sense of it. I might mention here that the looped dialogue, regardless of the mix chosen, is never in sync.

 

Audio & Music: 5/7
The Universe lossless audio mixes are rendered in 7.1; the Well Go’s English and Chinese tracks are uncompressed 5.1. Channel balance is therefore subtly different if you have only 5.1 playback. The dialogue-to-effects discrepancy noted on the Universe still obtains. And, for some reason, Well Go sets the overall gain noticeably higher. I didn’t spend much time with the English dub - enough to assure myself that it was not a total loss and that the effects and music are less dynamic compared to the Chinese 5.1 mix.

 

 

Operations: 5
Ip Man is quick to load, without promotional theatrical or video previews. The non-expanding chapter thumbnails aren't very large, nor do they have titles, but they're easy enough to make sense of. All of the menu functions have English subtitles. The one real complaint with the menu is the lack of Play All functions for the eight cast Interviews of from 3-23 minutes each or the several related making-of segments. The English translation was pretty much error-free and idiomatic. The white subtitles for the feature film remain outside the image in the letterbox border area.

 

Operations: 5
Unlike the Universe menu, Well Go displays large chapter thumbnails when clicked on, however, my OPPO was unable to go to a chapter if Scene Selection was accessed while the feature was playing. The menu functions are more English-friendly than the Universe, though that edition did display English as well as Chinese. While there is still no Play All function for the eight Cast Interviews of from 3-23 minutes each we can move to the next segment by way of the chapter advance on the remote, which we could not do on the Hong Kong Blu-ray. For some reason this handy option is not available for the Behind the Scenes segment. The English translation, which appears to be much the same as the Universe edition, is pretty much error-free and idiomatic.

 

 

 

Extras: 7
All of the extra features are shown in non-anamorphic, letterboxed 480p. They are of variable, but generally decent quality, and all of them, except the two that are Chinese text only, have English subtitles – that's over two hours of subtitled bonus material – a real plus.

 

Extras: 7
Most of the bonus features found on the Universe single dual-layered disc are to be found on the new Well Go, minus the two Chinese text-only features (History of Wing Chun & Ip Man – The Master), which weren’t subtitled on the Hong Kong release anyway. The features are organized differently, with the Making-of segment, the Deleted Scenes, and the various trailers retained on the Blu-ray disc, and the remaining features on a separate DVD. The Making-of piece has been bumped up to a screen filling high definition (video & audio) presentation, as are, remarkably, the Deleted Scenes, which are still crowded with distracting elements, making them nearly unwatchable. As for the interviews on the DVD, they are presented in a widescreen letterboxed format (as they were on the Universe) however, they are horizontally stretched - just enough to notice, though I doubt many viewers will be disturbed by it.

 

Universe Menus

 

 

Bottom line: 7
While not at all a Thumbs Down, and despite the excellence of the movie, I find I can't really get very enthusiastic about this Blu-ray. As I said earlier, the image might be faithful, but it's not one that wears very well in the medium (the latter part of the movie once the Japanese enter, I thought fared better.) The fact that audio levels are unbalanced doesn't help. All of this leaves the movie and the presence of Donnie Yen and a couple of amazing fight sequences, brilliantly staged by Sammo Hung, on which to hang our hopes.

 

Bottom line: 7
The advantage to the Well Go is it’s English dub. While hardly to be preferred to the original Cantonese, it is bearable and will serve well enough for those who can’t tolerate subtitles. While the Universe is Region A locked, I have as yet been unable to determine the region coding for the Well Go. The Well Go has the edge in their presentation of the Extra Features, though they do omit a few items present on the Universe. The Well Go image is consistently less saturated, and choice might come down to a matter of taste, though I feel that the Universe is closer to the “truth.” Audio for the Chinese tracks is comparable.

Leonard Norwitz
March 20th, 2009

July 24th, 2010

 

 

 

 

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About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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