Donnie Yen brings the legendary one-time teacher of Bruce Lee to life in the 4-Film Ip Man The Complete Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray set from Well Go USA. The series ranges in quality from dramatically excellent to cartoonishly exciting, but Yen as the Wing Chun grandmaster and series director Wilson Yip maintain impressive character depth with some incredibly visceral action sequences for a complete story spanning the master's long life. Well Go USA combines the franchise in one elegant box set in 4K UHD Blu-ray with modest to excellent improvements in the A/V department. The first film still looks rough due to its processed "vintage" look - but the three sequels all offer notable improvements over their 1080 counterparts and each film gets an excellent Atmos audio mix. If you're a Donnie Yen fan - or just love these movies - this is a great set. Highly Recommended.
When the Ip Man franchise began in 2008, it was amid a flurry of other films about Wing Chun Grandmaster Ip Man and his relationship with martial arts mega-star Bruce Lee. Because the Lee family is notoriously protective of Bruce's likeness (except for crappy CGI whiskey commercials) the franchise - and the numerous other Master Ip films that came in the first decade of 2000 were all subject to approval - or simply skirted around that historical fact. The first film establishes that relationship in a photo montage epilogue in such a way to suggest there weren't originally going to be any sequels. Only in Ip Man 3 and Ip Man 4 The Finale was Bruce ever personified and with appreciable vigor by Danny Kwok-Kwan Chan. And while Master Ip is most famous for this particular student, the series wisely didn't bench its entire focus on the eventual meeting and/or training of Bruce Lee.
Instead, Wilson Yip and his various writers throughout the series based each film partly on historical facts about the man but also used his character as a lens through which to observe a turbulent world. The first time we meet Donnie Yen in Ip Man, he's young, rich, and established as a teacher respected in the community. But then his world is shattered with the start of WWII and the Japanese occupation of China and his refusal to train Japanese soldiers in Wing Chun. Of the four films, this one is the most dramatically pleasing with thoroughly explored character arcs with some amazing martial arts cinematography thrown in for good measure. It remains a heck of a film with a big scope and set the template for the sequels to follow. Historical accuracy is a bit loose, some basic research punches holes in key events, but that's not really the point of this film - or the sequels. Master Ip is an observer of the time. We the audience learn about these key events through his eyes, whether or not he lived them is irrelevant. 4.5/5
Ip Man 2 shifts focus to 1949 Hong Kong and the British control of the region. Poor without means and struggling to make ends meet, we see Master Ip desperately trying to raise his family while starting his school again. But new students don't always mean a steady paycheck. Not only is he having to try and build his school during a depressed economy, but he faces backlash from other martial arts instructors who don't want him teaching Wing Chun. My first time out with this film I enjoyed it, the fight choreography only gets better with each film, but I didn't love it. My most recent viewing was much more rewarding as I found his story of trying to raise a family and deal with economic hardship much more personally relatable. And this time out it dawned on me how much like Rocky 2 this movie is… and then Rocky IV. In many ways, it rehashes events of the first film but does so in an exciting way that makes it worth a watch. 4/5
Ip Man 3 is when things start to become a bit "cartoonish." While anchoring the film in the late 1950s era where property values, development, and gentrification were pushing lower-income and working-class individuals out of their homes, this film also stars Mike Tyson as the strong arm gangster developer willing to do anything to steal property out from under the locals. That plot leads to some great fights, the Mike Tyson fight but also the scene in the elevator is some of the best action in the entire series. But the dramatic meat is Master Ip and his family. That's always been the reoccurring anchor for this series and there are some genuinely terrific performances for those moments. It's a tad goofy, exhilarating, and heartfelt, and it's not the best entry of the series - even if it has one of my favorite fights in the series. 3.5/5
Ip Man 4 bears little historical accuracy to the grandmaster's life, but true to series form it finds Ip as an observer to the cultural infusion of Chinese martial arts into America - not only in the form of Bruce Lee's famous tournament demonstrations but in the American military training apparatus. As this entry sees the Grandmaster towards the end of his days, it's a somber entry allowing Donnie Yen to deliver a meditative performance of a man facing his ultimate legacy between legend and the family he leaves behind. There's also Scott Adkins as the ultimate heavy of the film allowing for one hell of a final fight sequence for the franchise to bow out on. 3.5/5
It'd been quite some time since I saw the first and second films making this Ip Man The Complete Collection box set a worthwhile assignment. While the quality of the films may have diminished slightly with each entry, they're action-packed showcases of Donnie Yen's natural talents as a leading man. Having recently also watched Rogue One again, I do wish his character had a longer run in the Star Wars universe. I'd be more than happy with a prequel Disney+ series for him just to see him get to showcase his skill set in the universe far far away. As is, Ip Man really is Donnie Yen's career achievement. 4 films over the course of a dozen years, he brought his A-game with every entry. Of all the Grandmaster Ip movies to be churned out - with more on the way - his four films are easily the best of the pack.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Ip Man The Complete Collection arrives on 4K UHD from Well Go USA with an 8-disc, 4-4K UHD Blu-ray and 4-Blu-ray set. Also included is a double-sided poster featuring the artwork for the first and fourth films as well as a booklet with images and essays about the films. The included 1080p Blu-rays are the same discs previously available and have not been updated with new transfers or audio. Each film's 4K/Blu-ray combo has a black standard two-disc case. All four cases slide into a sturdy cardboard box designed to look like an old-style bound book. The 4K discs load to static image main menu with standard navigation options. None of the bonus features are included on the 4K discs.
The Ip Man franchise has always had a purposefully color saturation and processed look to give it an old-world vintage quality. As the franchise went on, that effect became more refined as technology improved. To that end, the first film of the series is on the rougher side of the spectrum, but the image quality for the rest of the films improves with each entry.
When Ip Man hit theaters in the U.S. I had graduated film school the year before and friends that were a year or two behind me would still meet up at the Music Box or the Siskel Center and debate what we saw. While we loved Ip Man as a movie, we were dubious about the forced gauzy imagery like someone shot the entire film through cheesecloth. That quality only looked worse on DVD and Blu-ray giving to smeary details and blurry movements. And - that aspect continues with this upsampled 4K transfer from a 2K DI with Dolby Vision HDR. This experience mirrors what I remember of that first theatrical viewing and depending on how you feel about that look, you may be left cold to this transfer. The gauzy heavy grain of the film is much more apparent and more in your face - which is intended - but it comes with the same unsightly artifacts. Fine details can be clumpy, motion can still be smeary. When characters are in face-to-face conversation, things look great and details are impressive. Dolby Vision HDR pushes the color tones nicely giving reds a nice punch. The golden sepia tones of the opening are a little more golden and when the Japanese occupy the area, the cooler blue tones punch grays nicely. Black levels are a bit up and down depending on the processing of the image, but image depth is appreciable. Overall I'd call this an upgrade over the Blu-ray, but it's not the leaps and bounds improvement some may hope for. 3.5/5
Ip Man 2 thankfully didn't have that gauzy texture when it arrived in theaters and on disc. Instead, this upsampled 4K transfer from a 2K DI with Dolby Vision HDR offers ample refinement to maintain that vintage pastiche without the gauzy clumpy grain structure. This time around it's very easy to see and appreciate the improvements from the old Blur-ay to this new transfer. Film grain has a much more natural texture to it, and compared to the old 1080p disc is less obvious against bright whites. To that end, Dolby Vision HDR adds a lot more nuance to the deep inky blacks and the bright bold crisp whites. The white training shirts of the students is a notable example as they train on top of the roof - the blooming isn't nearly as severe. Black levels also offer better color gradience from light to dark for more impressive shadows and image depth. Details gain a modest improvement, but without going back to the original negative and doing a new scan and finishing, this is the best it's going to look - which is pretty damn good. 4/5
Ip Man 3 is the first of the franchise to be shot digitally - and then for the purpose of 3-D at that. And as you watch the cinematography of this film versus the previous releases you can really see the three-dimensional intention with the framing of characters and objects. I noted this in my review for the 2-D Blu-ray years ago and lamented the lack of a 3-D release. I'm still saddened we don't have 3-D here again, but this upscaled 2160p transfer with Dolby Vision gives those little extra refinements you want to see from the UHD format. And with the improvements in white balance and black levels, that sense of three-dimensional depth is even more apparent over the 1080p disc. Again, colors gain some refinements allowing for that beautiful primary pop but also maintains the series' vintage pastel color scheme. Fine details in facial features and clothing are more appreciable in closeups and middle shots. 4/5
Ip Man 4: The Finale from my original review:
"Details are a little more refined here than the 1080p Blu-ray - but not by much, Upsampling from the 2K DI along with the intentional coloring softened some of the finer facial features at times. This is most apparent when Ip Man rescues a Chinese-American girl from being bullied at school - her white attackers have little to no skin texture. But then when the action moves to Chinatown or the Marine base for those impressive fight sequences, details return. It's not a terrific problem but a notable side effect of the coloring. Black levels are superb offering deep inky blacks with wonderful shadow gradience. Night-time fight sequences or when Bruce Lee takes on the racist Karate guys in the alleyway there are some great lighting shifts thanks to the bright neon and the dark corners. Throughout there is a well-maintained sense of image depth. Whites are also crisp without blooming or haloing. This Dolby Vision HDR treatment is a fine effort, not the best of the best, but still very good." 4/5
Each of the films in the Ip Man Collection gets an Atmos audio track with English subtitles for their respective 4K UHD Blu-ray releases. For the first two films, this is a notable improvement over the original Blu-ray 5.1 mixes. Ip Man 3 isn't much of a discernible upgrade as the original Blu-ray already came packed with a really impressive DTS:X audio mix - so the leap to Atmos is a little less dramatic. Ip Man 4: The Finale features the same Atmos track from the first release. Each film also comes with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 English mix, but they sound silly with some very goofy dubbing and the sound effects don't have the same level of impact.
Ip Man opens with an impressive festival scene with people throughout the town center, firecrackers, shouting, and martial arts demonstrations. It's a kicker of an opening moment in Atmos. The surrounds sound about on par with the original 5.1 mix, but the verticals open things up and make the space feel much larger. This is especially a lot of fun with the fight sequences where punches, kicks, and the following whooshing travels the channels and lands with some pleasing LFE thuds.
Ip Man 2 does rocks things much the same way where you gain more atmosphere and dimensionality than the standard Blu-ray's DTS track. As this movie moves into the streets of old Hong Kong and the rooftops above, the soundstage feels much larger and the spacing of the channels and elements feels a little more refined. The opening fights with Grandmaster Ip on the roof with laundry on the line give a great sense of space but the verticals gain that extra oomph. Again, the LFE is also a notable impression.
Ip Man 3 already came packed with a great DTS:X mix on Blu-ray and the Atmos keeps pace nicely. At the time of my original review, I didn't have a setup that supported DTS:X so I based that assessment on the default 7.1 hit. This time around I skipped through key moments in the film between the discs and really found them both to be on pace with each other. They're effectively doing the same thing just in a different format. There's not enough to differentiate the two, not to say that's a problem as this Atmos mix is very good, but if they kept the DTS:X mix I wouldn't have complained.
Ip Man 4: The Finale comes with the same Atmos mix. From my previous review:
"Action sequences get the primary Atmos application allowing those surrounds to become impressively active following legs and fists fly through the screen. Likewise, if there are any aerial stunts the verticals follow the channel movements side to side and overhead. Added to that there is some excellent LFE placement. Every kick and punch lands with a nice rattle in the subwoofers to give the mix some extra presence. Through it all dialogue is crystal clear without issues."
Outside of the booklet and the double-sided poster, there aren't any new bonus features created for this set. All of the previous archival bonus features are found on the included standard Blu-ray discs. As such, bonus features are sadly very brief without a whole lot of depth to them. Some new retrospective interviews would have been great. As it is, the features that are here, aren't bad they're just not very robust as the series progressed. Read our previous reviews for bonus features information:
Ip Man The Complete Collection isn't just a collection of all 4 films, it's a full story of a man's life essentially beginning to end. Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip were the series stewards through the run bringing the legendary Grandmaster of Wing Chun to life. While most folks may know him through his connection to Bruce Lee, Ip Man led an interesting life and oversaw the creation and propagation of a popular martial arts style with millions of students the world over. While the films stretch historical accuracy, they use Ip Man as an observer of time and change in his culture - while also throwing in some impressive fights and fisticuffs. As the series went on - the fights became more intense and entertaining giving martial arts fans plenty of excitement in all that drama.
Well Go USA delivers Ip Man The Complete Collection to 4K UHD Blu-ray in a 4-film, 8-disc set. Image quality improves with each entry. The first film gains only a modest improvement for a film that was already problematic and highly processed looking to begin with. Ip Man 2 and Ip Man 3 see welcome gains mostly due to Dolby Vision HDR and an uptick in overall resolution. Ip Man 4: The Finale is the same set of impressive discs as before. The big boon of this set is the first three films are upgraded to Dolby Atmos with great results - especially for the numerous fight scenes this series has to offer. With some classy packaging including a double-sided poster, and a lengthy booklet of essays and photos, this is a treat for fans of the series looking for an upgrade. Recommended.