Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mail Call : My Holy Grail Laserdisc

It's mine, it's finally mine! After searching for years I managed to finally pick up A Hero Never Dies on laserdisc. While the laserdisc format is pretty much undeniably cool, in terms of pure quality it often lags behind dvd. In this instance though the laserdisc is preferable to the atrocious Universe dvd, as it has none of the horrible digital smearing the dvd suffered from, so while it's far from the presentation the film deserves, this will be my format of choice from now on for viewing the film (at least until a remaster comes along).


The laserdisc must have been released sometime in early 1999, and it made me wonder what was the final movie to be released in Hong Kong on the format? A quick google search revealed the last movie to be released anywhere on ld was the HK film Tokyo Raiders, but that was a Japanese release, do any of you laserdisc experts know?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

75 Years Of Superman History in Two Animated Minutes

Man Of Steel director Zack Snyder and all round living legend Bruce Timm have teamed up to bring us a celebratory, animated look at 75 years of Superman history in a little over two minutes. Absolutely adore the Christopher Reeve shot.

Here for HD

Re-Animator German Blu Ray Mediabook

Last year Image Entertainment were responsible for releasing Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator on blu ray. Unfortunately, they didn't do a very good job of it. On anything but the largest screens it was hard to tell the difference between it and the upscaled standard definition dvd. When news came through of a brand new transfer taken from 35mm film elements, I got all excited again...

This German mediabook is the result, a superbly presented 3 disc edition of one of my favourite films. Consisting of 2 blu rays and a dvd it features 3 different cuts of the film, the original unrated version, the so called intergral version which adds all the extra footage (used to bump up the running time of the R rated version after all the gore and nudity were cut out) into the unrated cut, and lastly the R rated version in SD as an extra. The difference between this new version and the Image release is vast, and it's difficult to imagine Gordon's film could ever look any better, although how many times is that said? Anyway for much more info take a look at Kentai's look at the disc.

To round the package off, the set includes two commentaries, the documentary Re-Animator Ressurectus, interviews, deleted scenes etc, etc, just about everything the fan could ask for really. If you want to pick up this release, you'd better be quick as once the initial run sells out that will be it, future versions will lose the extra blu ray and the fancy packaging. Second Sight will be using this new transfer for their blu ray release in the UK early next year, but it's doubtful it will be as comprehensive a package. A new Spanish release comes as a 5 disc set, consisting of a blu ray, three dvds and a cd of the score, however unconfirmed reports suggest this uses the Image transfer, which was more than enough to put me off, I'll update if I find out differently.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Desperados

Wong Hei Dak's The Desperados belongs to the "Mainland invader" genre of Hong Kong cinema, and mines similar territory to Johnny Mak's classic Long Arm Of The Law. Wong's effort may have arrived four years earlier, but The Desperados lacks both the subtleties and visceral impact of Mak's film.

The film opens with Cheng (Kenny Bee) dodging shark attacks (set to the Jaws theme!) as he and a group of other refugees try to enter Hong Kong illegally. Once past the sharks Cheng finds that was the easy part, as he discovers the grass isn't always greener. He falls for another refugee (Cecilia Wong), who had triad help getting into Hong Kong resulting in ever mounting debts for her family. In need of cash, Cheng and his friends turn to armed robbery, and he ends up in prison. Once out and trying to go straight, Cheng finds things are even tougher, as he's unable to find work, how long before thoughts turn back to crime?

I'm sure the filmmakers had good intentions for The Desperados, trying to highlight the plight of the mainlanders desperate to get into Hong Kong and what becomes of them once they're there. However the lack of subtlety kills any serious intent the film may have had. The script packs in a catalogue of incidents so long that nothing is given chance to breathe and thus resonate. It has the effect of being like a child's storytelling, in a "and then this happened, and then this happened next" way. As amusing as the opening shark sequence is (not only with the Jaws music but some of the worst intercutting of stock footage I've ever seen), the film never quite manages to recover from it enough to be taken seriously. This is in spite of a reasonable performance from Kenny Bee as the naive and easily led Cheng.

By the end of the film my mind had drifted to thinking that either the script writer or the director (who never directed another movie) have serious issues with their mother, as both "mother" characters in the movie are completely and utterly vile. The film only ever really comes to life during it's infrequent moments of violence, which unfortunately aren't enough to raise it into the recommended category, even for fans of the genre.

Viewed via the Ocean Shores vcd, which unusually features two endings one for the Hong Kong audience and the other for Mainland consumption. For some reason the Mainland one comes first, which rather ruins the effect of the Hong Kong ending.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

THE Mullet In HD or Hard Target On Blu Ray

A while ago I posted about the work print version of John Woo's Hollywood debut Hard Target and in it I hoped for a 20th anniversary blu ray edition of the film. Well Universal UK have delivered. Kind of.

The film is now on (region free) blu ray, unfortunately it isn't the feature packed release I was thinking of and hoping for. In fact it is literally just the film, without even a trailer for company. At least it's the uncut theatrical version, rather than the US R rated cut, but even so this is a huge missed opportunity to do something special with the movie. To their credit, Universal haven't tried to jazz up the release with any ballyhoo about it being an anniversary release. The disc has just slipped out as a back catalogue title, destined to be ignored, with buyers most likely thinking it will offer little in the way of an upgrade like many catalogue releases. Surprisingly having sat and watched the disc, I'll say if you're a fan of the film, you owe it to yourself to buy it now, the upgrade over the available dvd is so huge.

Presented in it's original aspect ratio, the 1080p video makes the film look better than I remember seeing it theatrically, with a totally unexpected level of detail, depth and sharpness for a film of this budget and vintage. Considering the master used for the transfer was unlikely to have been recent, this is all the more remarkable. The sharpness and detail varies depending on the scene and shot, which is unsurprising considering Woo's use of multiple cameras for coverage, but the quality on display in the action and night time scenes in particular make the film look almost brand new. I swear you can almost see the product dripping off JCVD's mullet.

The audio is given a DTS-HD MA 5.1 upgrade and again, the result is hugely impressive. Graeme Revell's score sounds simply superb and is masterfully integrated with the audio mayhem surrounding it. Again for a lower budget feature the highly directional and violently aggressive 5.1 mix is truly impressive and involving, without ever threatening to overpower the dialogue. Turn it up loud!

The review for this disc on is quite negative, both about the film and the disc, and at least as far as the disc goes, I honestly can't understand why. I've seen the film a few times in the twenty years since it was released, and while obviously the huge upgrade in quality can't help the script's clunkier moments or Yancy Butler's acting abilities, I've never enjoyed it as much as I did courtesy of this blu ray. The absence of any extras whatsoever, nevermind the work print footage is a real shame but as I said earlier, if you're a fan of Hard Target you need to see this disc!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Normal Service Is Resumed....

As you may have noticed it's been quite a while since my last post. Why? Well as I mentioned on facebook last week, after a long time feeling down and out, I'm back and (relatively) fighting fit, and as the post title suggests ready to resume normal service. After months of limping along trying to update the blog while not in a fit state, I decided a complete break was required for me to get my strength back, so here I am and I'm feeling pretty good for the first time in ages and ready to get back down to some serious blogging! I can't promise the same pace of updates as before, but hopefully lower frequency will equal higher quality. While I'm on the subject I'd just like to thank those of you who took the time out to check in on me, thank you!

While I've been away I've spent many an hour revisiting the giallo movies that helped me get hooked on cinema in the first place, along with plenty of Eurocrime films I hadn't seen before. Top of the pile in that particular category is Fernando Di Leo's Milano Calibro 9 from the Fernando Di Leo box set volume 1. Since first seeing it around six months ago, I've watched it at least another five times so far and it's comfortably my favourite film seen this year, as a result I've developed a real case of man love for Gastone Moschin. In addition, I've equally fallen for Di Leo's Shoot First, Die Later from volume 2, both are highly recommended. Look out for some form of coverage on them soon.

What else do I have planned? Well, I've finally got my hands on the Bullet In The Head festival cut, thanks to one of my supercool readers, so it would be rude not to do something with that. I have an idea for a new occasional series, but the details need ironing out on that one, and I have loads more posters and other goodies to share with you, having finally had all of them out and taken pics of them. I'd love to know what everyone else has been doing, what have you been watching etc???

Friday, September 27, 2013

Guest Post : Popular U.S. Films Set In Hong Kong

With its gorgeous harbor and magnificent skyline, Hong Kong is the perfect setting for a Hollywood blockbuster. Although we mostly think of Bruce Lee's final flick Enter the Dragon or the movies of the Rush Hour franchise, a number of renowned U.S. films have been shot in Hong Kong. While action and marital arts movies are the two most typical film genres that use Hong Kong as a backdrop, there have been other types of films that have been made in the city, including dramas and comedies. As one of the world's major international financial centers and due to its massive size and urban feel, Hong Kong provides all the amenities necessary to produce a film of any nature. Here are some of the most popular U.S. films that were filmed in Hong Kong, many of which are available as on demand movie picks from PictureBox Films or for purchase via online retailers like Overstock.

The Dark Knight

Because it's a city harboring a vast amount of tall metal buildings and remarkable architecture, Hong Kong was the ideal place to shoot a few scenes for the 2008 installment of the Batman film The Dark Knight. Featuring Two International Financial Centre, which was the tallest building in the city at the time, Hong Kong was used to film a pivotal moment in the film when Batman breaks into the building and captures one of his nemeses.

Rush Hour

East meets west in this action comedy starring American comedian and actor Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong native, martial artist, and actor. Directed by Jackie Chan fan Brett Ratner, Rush Hour was Chan's first English-speaking role that didn't use dubbing. Released in the U.S. in September 1998, the New Line Cinema film grossed approximately $245 million worldwide and led to two sequels so far.

Enter the Dragon

Although he was born in San Francisco, California, Bruce Lee is a Hong Kong legend. His filmography may be short, but his final completed film, Enter the Dragon, is arguably one of the greatest martial arts films of all-time. Released in 1973, Enter the Dragon was the first Chinese martial arts film to be produced by a major Hollywood studio and was deemed "culturally significant" in the U.S. and was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2004. One of the movie's most well-known scenes was filmed in the Tsing Shan Monastery perched on the slopes of Castle Peak on the western region of the New Territories, and, due to its status as a Grade I-listed historical site, it's one of the few parts of Hong Kong that has barely been changed since the film was made.

The World of Suzy Wong

Based on the 1957 novel by Richard Mason, and starring Nancy Kwan and William Holden, this film explores the relationship between an American artist and a Hong Kong prostitute. Although it was initially received with praise, as time wore on, film critics begin to regard the film as culturally insensitive. The film was shot on location in Hong Kong and features unforgettable landmarks like the Star Ferry terminal, Aberdeen harbor, and Ferry Street in Yau Ma Tei.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mail Call : Made In Hong Kong VHS Frenzy II

Here's another load of Made In Hong Kong tapes I received recently (for the 1st lot click here). A few harder to find titles in this lot, along with a couple of doubles and a whole load of classics!

Along with the M.I.H.K tapes, a couple of other HK movies were thrown in.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hong Kong Poster : Fist Of Legend

It's been quite a while since I last blogged a poster, so to remedy that here is the Hong Kong poster for Gordon Chan's excellent Fist Of Legend. Comfortably one of the best fight films of the 1990's, and easily one of the best of Jet Li's career. It also has to be one of the most striking posters of the period too.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Recent And Not So Recent Buys Criterion Blu Edition

It's been quite a while since I did a recent buys post due to a number of reasons including last year's Favourite Hong Kong Movies series and my enforced layoff throughout the winter. Neither of those things prevented me picking up dvds and blu rays however, so here is the first lot centred on Criterion blu rays. Three of them are upgrades and two are blind buys, upgrades first.

Wong Kar Wai's masterful In The Mood For Love was a film crying out for the jump to blu ray and Criterion haven't disappointed us at all with a sumptuous transfer.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome remains not only one of my favourite horror films of all time, but also one of the most important of the modern era. A superb transfer and stellar extras round out a must have package. They even recreated the video tape style packaging for the blu release.

The extras package for Seijun Suzuki's Branded To Kill maybe slim, but the transfer of the stunning monochrome photography featured in the film is well worth the upgrade for what is one of my favourite Japanese movies. Branded To Kill was my first taste of Suzuki, when I caught it on a late night tv screening in the mid 90's. I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing it was so bizarre. As I was watching it I was also recording it and on waking the next day, I had to watch it again to make sure I hadn't dreamt the whole thing. One of the few films I make sure I watch at least once a year.

Onto the blind buys and the first one is a film I really should have seen before but never have, and that is...

A film I've always wanted to see, but never have. Now with the chance to see it looking probably as good as it ever has, there has never been a better time.

Lastly we have Terrence Malick's Days Of Heaven, since becoming a fan of Malick's work thanks to The Thin Red Line, Days Of Heaven has intrigued me, yet I found the subject matter unappealing. The chance to see the film on blu rekindled my interest and I'm just waiting for the right moment to see those cornfields in their all their golden glory.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Citizen Kane? How About Citizen To...

I'm currently gearing up for the imminent arrival of Drug War on blu ray and to get in the mood I thought I'd share some Johnnie To themed pictures with you all. These are taken from the April 2006 issue of City Magazine, an upmarket lifestyle mag from Hong Kong. Written entirely in Chinese, City Magazine appears to be the kind of publication I would usually avoid like the plague. You know the type, where you find twenty pages of glossy ads for ridiculously expensive designer labels before you reach the contents pages, and even then they're split over multiple pages with yet more glossy ads in between. So why then did I buy it?

This is the issue that was released to coincide with the 2006 Hong Kong International Film Festival, where the focus (for the Hong Kong side of things at least) was the first ten years of Milkyway Image. It was a really busy time for To, in addition to the premiere of Election 2 and screenings of many of the Milkyway films, there was a book launch for Milkyway Image : Beyond Imagination and also an exhibition of To's still photography titled On Location, mainly as the name suggests behind the scenes shots taken on set or shots of his actors during shooting.

To celebrate this City Magazine chose to feature Johnnie To on the cover and as the main article, choosing to call it Citizen King and do a photo shoot based on Citizen Kane.

Along with an interview with To the article also features a few of To's own photos from the set of Throwdown. As I mentioned before the entire thing is in Chinese, so unfortunately I can't read any of it but it's worth having for the pictures.

The monolithic Tony Leung (TM Jacob Feltner)
To round this post off here are a couple of my own photos from the On Location exhibition.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Akira Special Collection CAV Japanese Laserdisc

No sooner had I pulled the trigger on the Criterion Akira laserdisc featured in this post, than I came across this beautiful Japanese CAV edition of Otomo's classic anime. I tried hard to resist, really I did but eventually the pull of this set was simply too strong!

Titled the Special Collection and released by Pioneer, like the Criterion edition this is spread over three laserdiscs. Each disc has it's own sleeve with different artwork, and as seems to be the norm with Japanese lds it comes with an insert, this one featuring writing on the film by Moebius, Alejandro Jodorowsky and James Cameron amongst other things.

Onto the insert, I haven't taken pictures of everything as it was difficult to photograph in the light available, I may come back to this and update at some point in the future.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Additions To The Laserdisc Library : Criterion

My good friend Wes over at Plutonium Shores has written a sister post to this one, to see his Art of Japanese Laserdisc click the link, in which he highlights his Japanese lds of the same titles.

A couple of recent Criterion additions to the laserdisc library, one a film I've never seen and the other a hugely important film both for myself and no doubt many others. The first is David Cronenberg's Crash, this being the only legitimate route to listening to his commentary track for the film.

The second disc is the CAV edition of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, as I mentioned it's a film that made a huge impression on me and opened my eyes to the wide world of cinema beyond the latest action and horror releases that were my staple diet at the time. The three disc set comes in a fantastic triple gatefold sleeve, I'd been searching for a reasonably priced copy of this for a while and I was ecstatic to finally get it.

For fans of Akira look out for something special coming soon to A Hero Never Dies!

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