From the man who brought you such Cat III classics as The Untold Story and The Ebola Syndrome comes the latest film to bring Ip Man to the big screen, Herman Yau's 2010 film Ip Man: The Legend Is Born. When the film begins, Ip Man and his adopted brother Ip Tin Chi are enrolled in a Wing Chun academy by their father. Here the two boys learn from a master, Chan Wah-shun (Sammo Hung), with some help from his right hand man, Ng Chung-sok (Yuen Biao) and here they meet a female student, Mei Wai - the three remain friends into adulthood.
With that set up out of the way, as adults Tin Chi (Fan Siu Wong) has got the hots for Mei Wai (Rose Chan), but Mai Wai is in love with Ip Man (Dennis To), who in turn has fallen head over heels for the daughter of a local magistrate, Cheung Wing-shing (Huang Yi), much to the dismay of her father who doesn't want her involved with a martial artist. As the love triangle story progresses, Ip Man proves himself to be the best of the best when it comes to Wing Chun by besting a westerner who talks smack about the Chinese at a polo match and by saving a girl who gets roughed up by some local thugs. This makes him a bit of a local hero, but he soon wants to learn some different styles to improve his martial arts after an unorthodox training session with an aging shopkeeper named Leung Bik (the real Ip Man's son, Ip Chun!), which makes some of his compatriots angry as they feel Wing Chun is the only true style. Eventually Mei Wai will marry Ip Tin Chi and Wing-shing's father will warm to Ip Man, just in time for him to be framed for a murder he did not commit. With his name and reputation on the line, he must find the real killer and expose a conspiracy involving Japanese co-conspirators and someone far closer to Ip Man than he would like.
Yau's take on the Ip Man mythos doesn't seem all that concerned with historical accuracy and moves at a noticeably slower pace than the two Donnie Yen films did but it does feature an impressive performance from leading man Dennis To. While it's true that he resembles Yen and plays this part in much the same way as his predecessor did, To brings his own charm to the character. That ability to be both humble and completely smug at the same time that makes the character interesting is handled well here and To also handles himself well in the martial arts scenes. Also impressive in the film is Fan Siu Wong) who will always hold a special place in a lot of cult movie fans' hearts for his performance in the amazingly absurd 1991 live action manga adaptation, Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky. He's quite good as Ip Man's adapted brother and his character provides the story with some semblance of an emotional core, something that the other characters can't quite muster. While it's great to see Sammo and Yuen Biao show up, their presence here is minor and these are cameos at best - leaving the principals to do most of the work, which they accomplish reasonably well.
The problem with the film is that it just isn't as polished or as exciting as the two that came before it. Yau was obviously working with a lower budget here and so the fight scenes lack the drama and the intensity that they needed to compete and they don't happen as often as they do in Ip Man or Ip Man 2. Add to this a middle section that actually really drags in terms of pacing and you wind up with a movie that, while worth watching once, should have turned out to be better than it actually is.
Ip Man: The Legend Is Born looks okay in this AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen transfer from Funimation. There are some shots that look a bit on the soft side and the whole transfer lacks some of the really fine detail that you want out of the best Blu-ray's out there, but it looks nicer than the included DVD and does offer a fair bit more texture as well. Colors are nicely reproduced and black levels look good here. There are no problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement but some minor noise reduction looks to have been applied in some spots. Not a reference quality transfer but a decent one.
The Cantonese language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless audio mix on this release, which comes with subtitles available in English only, isn't earth shattering but it's decent enough. A very front heavy track, rears are used only to spread out the score and during a few fight scenes, otherwise almost everything comes at you from the front of the mix making for a listening experience that isn't quite as enveloping as you might hope for. Regardless, clarity is strong here and the levels are balanced nicely. The low end isn't particularly noteworthy but it's there when the movie calls for it. The subtitles are free of any obvious typos and are easy to read.
The only extra of much substance is a fourteen minute Making Of featurette that includes some behind the scenes footage and some cast and crew interviews but even this is pretty fluffy and promotional, not offering up a whole lot of substances. Aside from that, there's a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Funimation releases, menus and chapter stops. As this is a combo pack, a DVD including the same content is also included.
Those looking for the intense action and sweeping drama of the two Donnie Yen Ip Man movies may find that Ip Man: The Legend Is Born can't quite compete. It's not a horrible film and Dennis To is a good substitute for Yen in the lead but you get the idea that this was thrown together fairly quickly to cash in on the success of the other two films. Worth seeing once for To's work, this is probably one you'll want to rent first.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.