Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mail Call And A Few Thoughts On Video Quality

The postman visited again today, its been a while since my last delivery and this time I went for something different. VCDS.

Just to be clear, I don't buy vcds anymore, as far as I'm concerned it was never a great format to start with and nowadays it feels as archaic as VHS, however many movies that I haven't seen are available quite cheaply on ebay on this format. A guy in France was selling quite a few titles, all with pretty low starting prices and offering reasonable shipping rates. So I thought what the hell!

Here are the titles

Troublesome night 8 was thrown in free for buying six vcds from him, I had never heard of a few of these but for less than £2 each including shipping it was worth a punt.

They may all be a bag of crap but I see this as part of my growth as a human being. Let me explain, this turnaround was inspired by Kingwho? the fact is I'm a terrible snob about video quality and I'm trying my best to care less about it.

The reason I'm snobbish about it is I have a pretty awesome Home cinema setup that has taken years to get right, don't get me wrong its not a pro install or anything like that but it does feature some well chosen components (lower mid range kit but the best I could afford) that are well set up. It was expensive (to me at least) but as I love movies so much, it was worth it. I love watching movies on it and unfortunately vcds just don't cut the mustard.

Yes I know its the content that matters but I want to see the best quality version I can. I find it hard to ignore if a better version is available, especially if its a favourite. I see this as a first step. Now maybe instead of buying the same movies over and over, my spare cash will go on different movies and that has to be a good thing!

Anyone care to comment? What kind of system do you have? Do you care at all about video quality (You don't have to answer that one Kingwho?) Or is it just me around here that does?


A. said...

Personally, I think you should try to get every film in the Troublesome Night series on VCD. Aren't there over 25 of them?

I try to watch films at home with two standards: is it anamorphic and is it at least close to the original aspect ratio. My set-up is a widescreen Sony Bravia 40". I keep finding a lot films I dig just look like shit on it (The Mission is an especially troubled watch). I like good quality things, but it all depends on availability and price.

M C Thomason said...

Mad Stylist is funny as! It's kind of a serial killer satire with a priceless moment involving a saw (can't wait 'til you see the victim's reaction). :)

As for me, yes quality is a must - within reason. My standalone Sony BD/DVD player doesn't support VCD and I never liked the format as was (plus I'm too lazy to want to get up and change discs halfway through a movie) so that format doesn't figure for me. I have a 106cm Plasma HDTV, Sony Bluray, Yamaha amp etc and have everything hooked up digitally (HDMI and optical). Well produced stuff looks great, the opposite hurts my eyes.

Sometimes it's really hard to go backwards and watch a movie, that isn't available anywhere else, that's just letterboxed (as it makes for a nasty little windowboxed picture in the middle of the screen). But then I think to myself: am I watching this for the movie, or the format? Common sense and the movie always win out ;)

A hero never dies said...

A. I'll give your suggestion some consideration! Anamorphic transfers are extremely important when viewing on a HDTV, the problem is many HK movies aren't available this way and probably never will be. So if you want to watch them you have to compromise.

Mike, re Mad stylist, I had to have that as soon as I saw Michael Wong's thoughtful face on the cover!
I agree to an extent, where I think sometimes the format can intrude is where the film maybe average, and the quality could affect how you feel about the movie at the end. If it's a great film then it doesn't matter so much how it's seen.

A. said...

This is true, hell even some American films weren't released that way for the longest time on DVD. A favourite of mine, Charley Varrick, is on DVD in horrible non-anamorphic quality and with a really incorrect aspect ratio. On the bright side though, it'c cheap! I doubt it'll ever get a decent release in the near future.

Wes Moynihan said...

A fascinating post. I only ever saw one VCD in my lifetime and that was an early copy of Hero, the Zhang Yimou film. I thought at the time it was decent enough for such a halfway house format... Since Blu-Ray arrived my big thing is replacing DVD titles - I'm trying not to, for money and shelf space reasons, but sometimes the leap in quality from DVD to Blu is too much to ignore. Are you upgrading your collection ?

A hero never dies said...

A. I'm just prepping a post on Rolling thunder, another American classic unavailable at all! it's out soon here though at last.

Wes, Its too late for me I'm afraid, I've been buying reds and blus since they were released. It isn't too late to save yourself though! Or is it?

Anonymous said...

Many less known HK films are available only in VCD format, so that is the only option despite the subpar quality.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Isn't Charley Varrick on Criterion? I could be wrong. Rolling Thunder is overrrated, mainly by QT. Still a good film but just don't expect Taxi Driver 2 or anything.

A hero never dies said...

Anon, Its true and thats the main reason I'm trying to not worry so much about the quality, if its the only affordable way to see something I want to see then so be it!

Glenn, I saw Rolling thunder on the UK equivalent of Netflix instant watch last week. I came to it cold other than Paul Schrader was the writer, it was only afterwards that I saw QT was a fan, having owned the Rolling Thunder dvd release of Chungking express I suppose I should have realised. I thought it was amazing, easily the best thing I've seen so far this year!

A. said...

Funny you bring up the criterion thing as I asked them about releasing it a few months back. Didn't get a reply though.

A hero never dies said...

I thought I Criterion had released Varrick but can't find any record of it, there is a decent R2 release that is anamorphic though!

Kingwho? said...

Love this post, AHND. Like to see you branching out a bit and checking out films a few steps off of the beaten path.

MC is right. MAD STYLIST is fun stuff. I wrote a review for it over at, but it is currently down as they are reworking the site. Same goes for RAGING ANGELS. I have that same vcd. Loved it!!!

THE TEA HOUSE is one of my favorite films of the 70's. If you like that one, try and find it's sequel, BIG BROTHER CHENG. They are rated CAT III but they are more tame than the rating would suggest.

As for TRUST ME U DIE....this one is a goodie. I wrote a review of it as well and I'm waiting for to put it back up. Anyway, if you missed it, I also wrote a blog post about it:

For me, it's a feeling I get when I watch a HK VHS or VCD. Especially that grimy and grainy VHS format. That is how I was introduced to HK cinema, by watching hundreds upon hundreds of VHS. So, when I see a 'clean' dvd of a movie I initially saw on VHS, I feel uneasy as i'm not used to seeing it presented that way. I kind of dismiss it as being 'fake' bc it doesn't give me that comfort feeling I had upon initially watching it on VHS. If that makes any sense? hahaha

Looking forward to more 'obscure' titles, AHND.

A hero never dies said...

I have a few more on the way Kingwho? so watch out. I do understand what you mean but I just can't help myself if I see a better version I only want to watch that one. It maybe a long road to "recovery" for me!

YTSL said...

Like others have mentioned on this thread, there are some Hong Kong and other movies available on VCD that aren't on DVD. There also are some movies available with English subs on VCD while their DVDs are minus English subs. For this reason, I'll still check out some VCDs. But if given a choice, I'll definitely go for DVDs over VCDs.

Taking the discussion a bit further: As I think you know, my ultimate preference is to view the movies on big screens in cinemas/theaters. And when a film is playing in more than one venue, I often choose the venue based on such as the size of the screen as well as the kind of audience one is likely to encounter there.

Often times with older works, there's no choice though -- and ditto re the print quality, which I find to be a really sad state of affairs indeed. E.g., yesterday, I went to see "Deaf and Mute Heroine" at the Film Archive. The print was, frankly, pretty awful -- English subs regularly cut off from below and such, and the picture often way too dark as well as with a reddish tinge on it that surely was not meant to be there.

All in all, there was a part of me that wishes I hadn't seen the film since my viewing was affected by the print's substandard quality. OTOH, I've been hankering for over 10 years to watch that movie -- so there's also a feeling of gratitude that I got a chance to watch it at all at last.

A hero never dies said...

Thats the thing YTSL, the feeling that the presentation of a movie can affect your opinion of it against the thought of waiting and hoping that a better chance comes along, which probably may never happen. Given the situation you mention I would always choose to watch it as you did!

Danny Greenstein said...

I still have several hundred of these VCD's. If you are ever looking for a rare title feel free to check in.

They do look horrible on newer displays and I've tried to get upgrades for movies that I really like.

As much as I love HK films it is a bit disheartening to find out that in hindsight only a handful of films from each year were truly lasting works of art/entertainment. (At least from the "golden age" of 80's and 90's. In many ways even less so today)

As for display. I use a 720p projector. You get a bit more flexibility that way. Some none anamorphic titles can be cropped and stretched to display correctly via software. You give up sharpness, but the aspect ratio is right and it is watchable.

Some DVD's from the 90's look really terrible. I've never been able to find anamorphic versions of some of the milkyway classics, or "Comrades almost a love story". Hopefully they'll all be released soon enough.

A hero never dies said...

Hey Danny, thanks for your comment.

I'm I'm really interested in knowing about the software you use to get the films full screen, that is probably my biggest issue with letterboxed titles, where you end up with a tiny box in the centre of the screen! Sure you can zoom it on a tv but then you often lose subs.

I'm not sure how much of my blog you have read but I've found a few of the Milkyway films have excellent releases in France if you don't mind messing with subtitles.

I'm amazed Comrades has never had a rerelease in HK as it's such a hugely respected film.

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