Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tsui Hark's The Blade Dvd Comparison UK vs French

Tsui Hark's 1995 The Blade is another in the list of Hong Kong classics to never receive a quality English friendly home video release. The Blade has been released in its native Hong Kong only on VCD and laserdisc, for some reason a dvd has never been made available. I cannot find any record of a legitimate US release either (although bootlegs have been around). So if you want to see this awesome film what options are open to us?

A Japanese dvd was released some years ago, which I have not been able to view, I am certain though that this release is not English friendly. A Thai release is available and that is English subbed but not anamorphic, and as such I have not bothered to track that disc down. The other releases available are the UK Hong Kong classics dvd, which is subbed but not anamorphic and the French HK Video dvd, available as a single disc edition and also as a two disc box set which are anamorphic but not English friendly.

UK dvd
The image quality on the UK dvd is very poor, the picture is overly dark to the point that during the darker scenes it is very difficult to make out what is actually happening, detail is virtually nonexistent and the video compression is also poor, again especially prevalent in darker scenes. Given the dvd was released in 2000 and the nature of the film and the shooting conditions, it was never going to look spectacular but even so it is a poor quality release. The UK dvd is now long out of print and thats not such a bad thing as the dvd does Tsui Hark's film no favours, it takes a beautifully ugly film and turns it into something just plain ugly.

French dvd single disc

French dvd two disc box set
The image quality on the French dvd is in comparison an absolute revelation, it is much brighter with better colours and skin tones. The image is sharp and detailed and the compression is handled far better than the UK disc, as you would expect given the advances made in this area in the six years between the releases. The dvd makes the film look like a relatively recent release, rather than a dirty,dusty and grimy sixteen year old movie. The dvd has the original Cantonese mono soundtrack with French subtitles and it sounds very nice, a French 5.1 dub is also available, although I'm not sure who would listen to the movie this way.

English subtitles are available to download to make your own version of the dvd and for the time being at least, this seems to be the only quality way to see the film.

Below are screen captures from the two dvds, while every effort has been made to capture as close to the same frame as possible, using the equipment I have it is not possible to guarantee it is exactly the same frame. The screen grabs are presented exactly as captured and have not been processed in any way, click on the capture to see it full size. The Hong Kong classics UK dvd is first, followed by the HK Video French dvd.

(The third capture was particularly difficult to get right, as it is a flash that lights Chiu Man-Cheuk's face and it makes it look like the French capture is too bright, but its just a difference in the frames.)

Having done dvd comparisons for The Mission and The Blade, it is lamentable that the two movies don't have releases in the US and that Hong Kong and UK editions are either very poor or also nonexistent.
Its no surprise that the French dvds are way out in front of the competition in the quality stakes, in all cases I have seen, French dvds of Hong Kong films are at least the equal of and usually better than any other versions other than in English language options, this applies particularly to image quality but also often to extras as well. Why do the French have so much more respect for their customers and the film makers than the their US and UK counterparts?

The next dvd comparison I tackle will be Patrick Yau/Johnnie To's The Longest nite. ( and surprise, the French dvd wins again!)


Kingwho? said...

This was a great movie, AHND. I have it in a few different formats. Though, I must say, I really could care less about a brighter transfer. I love the dark look of the prints that I've seen and wouldn't change them for the world.

I recently re-watched The Mission, based on your blog post, and prefer the dark and shadows. As Burt Reynolds said in Boogie Night, "There are shadows in life, baby." (One of my favorite film quotes =P)

A few years ago I saw The Longest Nite on original 35 mm at the NYAFF. It was dark and had soooo much wear on the film, it actually made the film and the film going experience so damn memorable. All of that dirt and grime that was attached to the actual print was just great.

Bring on the shitty prints! I LOVE 'EM! =P

A hero never dies said...

Shadows and dark are good for me too Kingwho, but I like to be able to see what is going on as well!

It isn't just about the brightness though, its that extra detail that you should be able to see, I haven't seen The Blade in a cinema but that Mission dvd looks much like it did in the theatre, and The Longest nite dvd is equally awesome.

I guess to some degree your TV plays a part in what you can stand PQ wise, what kind of TV are you watching on Kingwho?

llewellyn said...

This movie was on the big screen here in Canberra ,Australia recently at the ARC cinema.Don't know what version it was but it was spectacular, a real gem from Tsui Hark and one I can't get on dvd, I would be happy with any dvd at this moment.

A hero never dies said...

llewellyn. Welcome to the blog, it really is an incredible film. Somebody needs to sort the rights out for this film once and for all!

Anonymous said...

I just bought the 2 disc French set on a recent trip to HK. Watched it last night on the last day of 2011. I've watched it on VHS many years ago and had good memories of it. It remains as one of Tsui Hark's most important works in the 1990s when his output was patchy. He said on the DVD extras that he was trying to make a new type of Wuxia Pian, comics verite on film. 16 years later, he is attempting to reinvent the genre again w 3D technology in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. The man never gives up.

A hero never dies said...

Anon, Great pick up! It really is a great movie and nice that you can finally see all the detail! Looking forward to Tsui's latest reinvention of the genre!

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