I've seen the U.S. version of this film about a half dozen times in theaters. Needless to say, I'm a huge fan. But I've been wondering if, as some have suggested, it's a "dumbed down" edit for American audiences compared to the longer Hong Kong release. So when this Blu-ray's launch date was delayed, I decided to buy the HK version and I was surprised by the differences in ways I did not expect at all.
Let me start with the bad news first: if you're a fan of the film, you really need to own both versions. Both have important strengths, and neither one is a wholly satisfying substitute for the other. BUT… if you forced me to pick just one, I'd have to say the U.S. release would be it, and that's not the conclusion I expected to reach. Here are the pros and cons of each:
1) It fully fleshes out a few characters who have been edited down to cardboard cutouts in the American release. In particular, you'll be astonished at how much more there is to the stories of The Razor, Madame Ip and Ding Lianshan (the guy who only shows up in the cigarette lighting scene with Ip in the U.S. version.)
2) There is just a little more background information to many things throughout the film, which makes for a more complete story.
1) It eliminates the amazing scenes of Gong Er, both as a child and an adult, practicing martial arts in the snow!!! These are some of my favorite scenes in the whole movie, and I was shocked to find them gone in the longer version.
2) It doesn't mention that Ip Man trained Bruce Lee! Again, I was shocked, since this is such a key revelation in the U.S. release, and it brings Ip's story full circle. Maybe the assumption was that Asian audiences would just know this.
3) The HK version just doesn't feel as taut and powerful as the U.S. release. Yes, this is a very subjective comment, but I thought the longer lengths of just about everything in the film left the pacing feeling sluggish and "off" by comparison.
HK DIFFERENCES (not pro or con, just different from U.S.)
1) The U.S. release focuses on Gong Er's later opium addiction, and is clear that she died from it. The HK version mentions but doesn't focus on the addiction, and is vague about whether she died from it… it's presented as just one possibility rather than a certainty. I'm not sure which version is the more accurate.
2) Gong Er is more focused on vengeance in the HK version.
3) In the key early scene where Ip Man breaks the cake in the hand of the Northern Grandmaster, Ip says something very different after breaking it than he does in the U.S. version.
1) Ultimately, while you lose what I've mentioned above in this edited version, the editing makes for a tighter, better paced and more powerful film. And this is why I'd pick this release if I could only choose one.
2) There's a difference in the scoring of the U.S. version (though not a new score)--probably driven by the differences in editing--and it also contributes to the U.S. release being more powerful.
3) It contains the unmissable scenes of Gong Er practicing in the snow.
4) It contains the important info about Bruce Lee.
1) Poor development of a few important characters (see above)
2) Less background info throughout (but the story is still completely understandable)
Well, there you have it! Thanks for taking the time to read my review, and I hope you find in helpful in making a buying decision!