Sakra Blu-ray Review: Donnie Yen’s The Fugitive

Donnie Yen is still at it. In addition to facing John Wick he’s still making his own vehicles. Sakra is a martial arts period piece that takes Yen’s fighting to another level with modern enhancement.

CGI enhances Yen’s speed but it’s still his movies. That’s an interesting modern technology take on old school Kung Fu. They used to undercrank and use wires, but now they have another tool to make Yen look supernatural. They’ve been using CGI to erase wires for decades, but now they can vary the speed and rhythm of traditional choreography too.

The plot is sort of Donnie Yen’s The Fugitive. He’s framed for a murder so has to defend himself while looking for the real killer. It gets much more complicated, mythological and romantic before the first hour is even up.

Sakra looks gorgeous on Blu-ray with its widescreen fields and forest, historic towns and aerial shots of Chinese rooftops. Rain and mud add HD texture, as do sandstorms with blood on the ground.

The sound mix has fun whizzing and whooshing sounds surrounding the viewer too.

In the Line of Duty I-IV Blu-Ray Review: The Best Hong Kong Films Ever Looked

The In the Line of Duty series is a long running Hong Kong female cop franchise. It began with Michelle Yeoh but continued even more prolifically with Cynthia Khan. Like the Tiger Cage movies released last week, In the Line of Duty films add martial arts and Hong Kong stunts to fairly generic cop dramas, and make them exponentially more awesome.

Royal Warriors and Yes, Madam were Yeoh’s first two action movies and they do not disappoint. Madam even teams Yeoh up with Cynthia Rothrock. Seeing them both kick in ‘80s jeans is stunning. They were also just on the Criterion Channel for Michelle Yeoh month but they look even sharper on 88 Films’ Blu-rays.

In the Line of Duty III gets short shrift because there’s no Yeoh or Donnie Yen in the cast, but Khan is awesome too. She takes over the franchise and she’s only getting warmed up in III. I hope 88 Films releases the rest of the series which are more Khan vehicles, but IV includes Yen too.

The 88 Films set puts Yes, Madam first because it was the first movie to officially get the In the Line of Duty rebranding. In one of his commentaries, Frank Djeng confirms that Royal Warriors was even sometimes called Yes, Madam 2 despite being made first. All these movies keep changing names so who’s to say. The Khan films even get the titles Royal Big Sister III and IV on screen.

These four films are the best I’ve ever seen Hong Kong film look. I’ve seen Dragons Forever and Police Story in 4K and they are amazing, but these Blu-rays look a tad better in the brightness and color. It must be the 2K restoriations that just nailed these transfers.

Yes, Madam includes a Cynthia Rothrock interview. She’s told some of these stories on multiple extras but there is some new stuff about her early competitions, the audition for Yes, Madam and her first on screen experience, including some anecdotes on specific stunts including an accidental kick in the head.

Djeng does commentaries on all flour films. He is a regular on these American release of Hong Kong movies and he’s one of the best. Djeng is full of production background and biographies of the careers of performers, including the voice actors who dubbed them and who doubled certain stunts. No one is too minor, not even a newscaster on TV. And Djeng also knows about locations like the airport that has moved since these films. He keeps the commentaries flowing with information that seems to roll off his tongue rather than reading from notes. I never knew Jumbo’s floating restaurant closed in the pandemic and sank while being transferred. I got to eat there in 2011.

John Sham speaks for 25 minutes about starting D&B, a logo you see on many classics, training Yeoh and changing her surname. Sham also speaks about films not included in the set like Robo-Force and Legacy of Rage.

This time, the booklet included in the box includes more interviews. Read about specific stunts, scenes and how actors behaved behind the scenes from AD Shan Tam and performers Stephen Berwick and Michael Woods. Woods is especially frank as these films are a distant memory to him. The booklet also includes all of the alternate international promotional art for each film, and the reversible covers let you choose between the arguably more accurate 88 Films art and the bonkers original art.

Tiger Cage Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Hong Kong Cop Drama


Hong Kong action cinema has a great tradition of cop movies, not just the headliners Police Story and Hard Boiled. In the Line of Duty is coming out next week, but first Shout! Factory has the Tiger Cage trilogy. Like Duty, these are three standalone cop movies, though all three of these are directed by Yuen Wo-ping.

The cop movie was already a staple of American action movies but in Hong Kong they include martial arts and insane stunts. By Tiger Cage III they’re jet skiing with uzis and II has a crazy double decker bus fight scene. 

We must be entering a golden age of Hong Kong Cinema on home video because the Blu-rays Shout!, 88 Films and Vinegar Syndrome are putting out are going above and beyond any previous releases, let alone the occasional 4K. The Tiger Cage films show Hong Kong in the ‘80s and ‘90s with clear pictures and bright colors. 

I’m glad they chose David  West to do all three commentaries. He was my favorite commentator on the Jackie Chan Collection because he’s so well prepared and researched. He applies the same insights to these films.

Vincent Lyn gives interviews about his career that led to the films. Bonus feature mainstay Frank Djeng explains why three unrelated movies are connected as a franchise. The Chinese titles are still different and Djeng also gives a perspective on where these fall in Donnie Yen’s career, Yuen Wo-ping’s and political issues between Hong Kong and China now. Further interviews delve into the choreography and analysis.

Two critics discuss the heroic bloodshed trend. It’s funny, this was current when I was discovering Hong Kong films 30 years ago. There are now grown adult fans who never experienced it so they put it in perspective for new viewers.

Ip Man 1-4 4K UHD Review: 4Kung Fu

I always marvel at how good Hong Kong movies can look in the DVD and Blu-ray era after struggling to make do with VHS copies cropped with white subtitles that blend into the background. The Ip Man films were already made in the last 15 years so they alreedy benefited from modern day Hong Kong cinema following more Hollywood practices. Now I get to see them on 4K since Well Go USA released single disc editions after the 2020 collection sold out. 

These historical fictions inspired by the real Wing Chun teacher offer a great role for Donnie yen. He gets to be a humble mentor but still spring into action, staying calm no matter how badass he is. Each film is sort of anthology with two Ip Man episodes. Ip Man 2 ends with the Batman Begins tease of Ip’s famous student, Bruce Lee. The subsequent sequels incorporated Lee as a supporting character in a classy way without having actors do a blatant impression. 

The films offer beautiful sights in 4K as backgrounds to the martial arts action. Ip’s school offers a lush garden with colorful laundry while you can see the texture of the stones, concrete and fading paint on the wood. Watching Yen do martial arts at magic hour is a sight to behold. 

A fish market is colorfully green and a boxing ring offers deep shadows in the audience, as do further underground fighting settings. They keep finding new settings that provide evocative atmospheres for a 4K fight: a boat frame, an elevator and stairwell. There’s even food porn when the Ips make dinner. Mike Tyson plays a villain in Ip Man 3 and his facial tattoo is striking in 4K with closeups of all the pores in his skin. 

Ip Man 4 is the most recent film and it was shot with Arri Alexa digital cameras. I am a film pursuit, but this is my forest martial arts movie shot digitally and presented in 4K, so it is a unique experience. It practically becomes a live martial arts demo in front of you in your living room. The setting of 1970s Chinatown is unique to the other films, too. 

Only the first Ip Man is compromised from its source but it still benefits from the upgrade. It looks more like an Avid output but the original Blu-ray had that pixelated look, too. In 4K you can really see all the pixels. The first film deals with the Japanese takeover, so the second half looks very stark in all the rubble, but Master Ip’s black robe is full of tattered fabric detail. 

All of the films utilize full surround sound. You’ll hear kicks whizzing by your head and fabric flapping, but also environmental sounds like crickets in the night air and street noise, bicycle bells and crowd chatter. Bruce Lee exits in a specific speaker in Ip Man 3.

Franchise Fred Blu-ray Review: Ip Man 3

When Ip Man 3 came out in January, I got to interview Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson. I didn’t have time to write my review before I left for Sundance, so now I get to review the Blu-ray. The third in Yen’s saga of the master kung fu teacher reaches a long-awaited point, yet remains faithful to the interpretation of the character in the previous two films.

On Blu-ray now

On Blu-ray now

Beginning in 1959, Ip Man 3 answers the Bruce Lee question immediately instead of building it up any further. I think this is smart, because rather than setting even more impossible expectations, it gets it out of the way. There are some CGI visual effects that I imagine were emphasized in the 3D version of the film, and a lovely foreshadowing of Lee’s “flow like water” philosophy.

These films have a great way of addressing the stages of Ip Man’s life with fictional adventures that could have happened in private. He was Bruce Lee’s teacher, and he did survive Japanese occupation (in the first film), but bouts with gangsters may have been exaggerated. Either way, the films celebrate the legends.

Ip Man (Yen) is still gracious. He makes friends with the parents of a child his son got into a schoolyard fight with, and takes the bullying child to dinner. There’s a parallel in Frankie (Tyson), who is introduced playing with a child, but he’s a dangerous gangster boss. Gracious attitudes go both ways.

The fight choreography remains excellent, although there is more emphasis on punching towards and throwing things at the camera. That would have been great in 3D. In 2D it looks like old Clint Eastwood movies, although Eastwood never kicked. The camera flows like water through the martial arts combat.

Tyson’s English is subtitled too. Take that for what it is. He does have some Chinese lines.

Like the first two Ip Mans, Ip Man 3 is fragmented. The first half focuses on Frankie baiting him into a fight. That is settled about halfway through and the second half is an entirely different conflict. At this point, that’s the Ip Man tradition.

The Blu-ray looks great. With a perfectly clear picture, you can see all the detail restored to historical China. It has a sort of florescent green tint, which must be what the world thinks martial arts looks like thanks to The Matrix.

There’s a surprising amount of behind the scenes features, at least as much as an American movie would have. Behind the scenes footage shows that people still get hurt. Not quite like Jackie Chan outtakes but all physical action has risks. On set interviews show that Yen is very grounded and real, embodying the humility of Ip Man.

Franchise Fred Interview: Donnie Yen And Mike Tyson On Ip Man 3

I have been waiting for Ip Man 3 for a long time. Ip Man is a great character for Donnie Yen to play because he is gracious and modest, yet the world’s greatest fighter when pushed. Ip Man told the story of how he survived Japanes occupation in World War II, while Ip Man 2 showed him opening a dojo, defending Wing Chun Kung Fu, and at the very end telling a young Bruce Lee to come back when he’s older.

Mike Tyson in Ip Man 3

Mike Tyson in Ip Man 3

Ip Man 3 begins with a grown-up Bruce Lee coming to take Ip Man up on his offer, but this is not the story of training Bruce Lee. Ip Man now faces a local gangster (Mike Tyson), as well a traitorous Kung Fu instructor. I got to speak with Yen and Tyson in Los Angeles just before I left for Sundance, and I’ve just now found strong enough Wifi to post the interview! Ip Man 3 is now playing.

Franchise Fred: Ip Man’s fighting style is to look effortless, but I imagine it’s very strenuous on you.

Donnie Yen: Oh, very difficult.

Franchise Fred: How do you make it look effortless? You don’t even sweat.

Donnie Yen IS Ip Man 3

Donnie Yen IS Ip Man 3

Donnie Yen: It’s part of acting as well, but it’s also part of many years of being a martial artist. You just half to stay calm. Especially dealing with Mike Tyson, right. I just have to tell myself, look, you’ve got to bring the best out of that energy to stay focused, not to get hurt.

Franchise Fred: Mike, did you like your introduction, playing with the little girl when we’re about to find out he’s really a dangerous gangster?

Mike Tyson: Most gangsters are the nicest people. That’s why they’re gangsters. They don’t have to be tough and mean. I couldn’t ask for anything better. The casting and everything was perfect.

Franchise Fred: You charge at Donnie like a bull. Were you thinking that when you performed the fight scene?

Mike Tyson: That’s what they told me to do.

Franchise Fred: When you punch the glass, was it fake movie glass?

Mike Tyson: I don’t know what it was. Was that a good scene? Did it look like a good scene?

Franchise Fred: Oh my God, yes.

Mike Tyson: That’s good to hear.

Donnie Yen: I told you. Everybody loved it.

Franchise Fred: Donnie, you crouch down on one leg. I know from doing yoga that crouching on two legs is hard. How long did it take you in your practice to be able to do it on one?

Donnie Yen: Oh, it’s easy to get down but it’s hard to get up.

Franchise Fred: The end of Ip Man 2 brought up the Bruce Lee question. Was it important that Ip Man 3 answer the Bruce Lee question early in the film?

Donnie Yen: Well, we paved the way for Bruce Lee’s entrance. He is Bruce Lee’s teacher. Somehow you have to introduce Bruce Lee. There’s no better way of blending that Bruce Lee philosophy to be water into that scene.

Ip Man and his wife

Ip Man and his wife

Franchise Fred: Is it important that each Ip Man address some real history of his life while telling sort of mythological stories about him?

Donnie Yen: It’s more fictional. From day one, we didn’t want to make a documentary. We wanted to borrow this real person, this icon. He’s famous for being Bruce Lee’s teacher, but honestly to make a movie out of it, we didn’t feel we had enough elements to make a brand new refreshing screen hero. That’s why we created this Ip Man. We try to stay true in certain characteristics, not as far as storylines.

Franchise Fred: Well, the first movie did deal with WWII.

Donnie Yen: Japanese occupation, in number two he brought his family to Hong Kong and wanted to make a living. Out of these three, it’s about family besides being the martial arts grandmaster. We do have a theme in each installment. The first one is, under the circumstances, surviving. The second one, making a living. The third one is about life and death.

Franchise Fred: Are Ip Man’s philosophies at odds with being a professional fighter for sport?

Mike Tyson in Ip Man 3

Mike Tyson in Ip Man 3

Mike Tyson: I don’t know. We haven’t discussed nothing about that, but listen, in Islam, boxing is folly. We’re really not supposed to fight or be professional fighters, but that’s not the reality of life. Even though you know you’re going to lose, you still have to fight.

Franchise Fred: Ip Man doesn’t lose though.

Donnie Yen: For the movie.

Franchise Fred: Mike, was learning choreography for movie fights a different experience?

Mike Tyson: Of any other fight, Ip Man was the easiest to learn. Any other fight I did was complicated. The guy would kick you in the head, you gotta block, you don’t know if this guy’s going to knock you out or anything. Holy moly. It was intense on Ip Man 3. It was intense. I gotta watch these guys. I might have to hit this guy for real if he kicks me hard.

Franchise Fred: Do you have new respect for what action hero actors do?

Mike Tyson: Funny that you said that, because when I went back home I said I have a totally different respect for Westley Snipes, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger. If they’re doing this themselves without stunt doubles, they might as well be in the ring fighting. It’s the same training and working out, every day for three or four weeks. They’re doing it longer. I was just a costar, a guest but he’s doing the whole movie so that’s just crazy. You might as well be an athlete if you’ve got to work like that.

Franchise Fred: Was it also a different challenge playing a character who’s not Mike Tyson in a cameo?

Mike Tyson: I loved that. I loved playing that guy. I played that guy better than I play Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson sucks.

Franchise Fred: What were the most difficult fight scenes for you, Donnie?

Donnie Yen in Ip Man 3

Donnie Yen in Ip Man 3

Donnie Yen: For me, fight scenes, I’ve been doing it for 33 years. For me right now it’s about precision and control. When I started off, especially back then when we used to make Kung Fu movies, it was a lot more macho. We had no padding. We really had to hit each other and kick each other across the room. Our bodies are all screwed up and injured from those times. Right now when I work, it’s more about placement. Before, when we punched, we really hit each other and made the other person feel it. Now it’s about the acting. Now I can just tap and the person who’s been hit reacts to that. So right now it’s more about the perfection of the art rather than trying to be more macho about it.

Franchise Fred: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a different kind of martial arts, more artistic. Was Sword of Destiny a different style for you?

Donnie Yen: Different kind of fighting. For me, Donnie Yen has three styles when it comes to screen fighting. The Kung Fu style with a lot of stances and we call it animal styles like the Shaw Brothers, different poses. The other kind is swords and weapons, bigger movements. At time we tend to have wires. Don’t get me wrong. Some people say, “Why are you flying around?” That’s part of Chinese culture. Why is there a superhero culture in America? You have Batman and Iron Man. In Chinese, this is Chinese culture, the swords and everything. The third kind of fighting is contemporary. We borrow boxing or Muay Thai or MMA. I try to play the part. If I’m playing a cop, I’m not going to be posing. That doesn’t fit into the character but if I’m playing the Grandmaster, Ip Man is a Wing Chun grandmaster so he does Wing Chun.

Franchise Fred: In Star Wars: Rogue One do you get to fight, or is it more of an acting role?

Donnie Yen: I can’t say too much about it, right, but I think they’re clever enough to have me in there not to miss what I have to offer. [Puts up fists.]

Mike Tyson: He’s going to be one of those aliens f***ing everybody up.

Franchise Fred: Did you two exchange any training tips?

Mike Tyson: We talked about fighting and stuff.

Donnie Yen: I learned a few tricks from Mike. He shared his boxing [tips]. I’m so fascinated by that.

Franchise Fred: Mike, how are your pigeons doing?

Mike Tyson: They’re doing awesome. We moved into a new house, five houses down so today or tomorrow we’ll start moving them in and building their home. It’s something I’ve been doing all my life.