Monday, May 13, 2013

Run And Kill Hong Kong Universe VHS

My very first VHS tape from Hong Kong and what a beauty it is. Billy Tang's category III opus Run And Kill courtesy of the evergreen Hong Kong label Universe. Despite having no real intention of picking up HK tapes, this one sang to me and I simply couldn't resist it's nihilistic charms. For my review of the movie click here.

As can be seen from the pics the condition of the box and sleeve is pretty exceptional, especially considering the case is made of such soft plastic.

Love the Universe logo embossed in the plastic on the inside of the clamshell case, a nice touch.

The tape itself is in perfect condition. The main problem with trying to buy HK tapes is the cost of shipping them, fortunately this one was located in the UK, and I got it with a few others so it wasn't too bad. I have a strong feeling it could end up costing more in the future though as I look for others to join it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

John Woo's Just Heroes UK Laserdisc

Hong Kong Classics/Encore UK laserdisc for Just Heroes. A film made as a benefit for the legendary director Chang Cheh, produced by Tsui Hark, and with John Woo and Wu Ma co-directing. The film is a bit of a rushed mess, but it's entertaining enough and the trademark Woo gunplay is all present and correct. The film has an interesting cast too, featuring several stars of the Shaw era including David Chiang and Danny Lee, and the then up and coming Stephen Chow.

Just Heroes has never had a Hong Kong dvd release, there is a French release where it is paired with Once A Thief on the HK Video label, unfortunately it doesn't have English subtitles. Leaving this laserdisc the best option for anyone requiring an English option.

Although laserdisc was never anywhere near a mass market product in the UK discs could be found in most stores like HMV and Virgin. It was too little too late for the format however, and it wasn't long before dvd stamped on what little fight the 12" silver disc had. Back when stores were practically giving laserdiscs away in order to make shelf space for dvds, I had the option to pick up Just Heroes for £4.99, but as money was really tight back then had to choose between this and the newly released vcd of Stephen Chow's King Of Comedy. I went with the Chow film (which I loved) and I've been searching for this since, so it was great to finally get it for the princely sum of 99p plus postage, it was brand new and sealed too.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Improving The Japanese Hard Boiled Blu Ray

Remember the Japanese blu ray of Hard Boiled I posted about? Of course you do, it's all I've gone on about lately! As good as the disc is it isn't without problems, being too bright, it doesn't have English subtitles and it's slightly cropped. This is how I got around the first two of these issues (nothing I could do about the slight cropping, however it's not really that much of an issue), and came up with what is almost the definitive video presentation of Woo's action classic. In addition, I've removed the 5.1 DTS audio and replaced it with the original PCM mono sound from the US laserdisc, which sounds superb. A big thank you to Matt for the file and advice.

The first job was to rip the film from the blu ray, a number of programs can do this, but my choice is AnydvdHD from Slysoft. It removes any protection from the disc and stores the file on your hard drive as is. Once this was complete I took the subtitles from the UK Tartan dvd release, which is by far the best translation available. In order to do this I used AnydvdHD once again to rip the dvd and then DSubtitler to extract the sub file from the data. Once this is done the dvd files were deleted.

With video and subtitles both ripped, the next job was to get the subtitle file to sync with the video as I knew the two would not match. This is as a result of the blu ray being encoded at 23.97 frames per second and the dvd being 25 fps, so as the video goes on the sync drifts further and further out. In order to correct this I used Subtitle Edit, this allows you to automatically change the subtitle file from the original speed to whatever you need it to be, in this case 25 fps to 23.97 fps. To test the results I fired up VLC and played the two files together. Weirdly they were still around a second out, why I don't know, but it was easily rectified in the Subtitle Edit software as you can time shift the subs in fractions of seconds in either direction. Once they matched the next job was to darken the video.

Many programs will allow you to change the brightness and contrast settings before re-encoding the video, but I used Xmedia Recode. After adding the blu ray data you choose how you want to output the video in this case as an mkv file, make the adjustments you require and then click go, and then wait and wait and wait. If I can give you any advice don't use a woefully underpowered media PC to do this part of the job. 183536 individual frames to process at an average of 1.81 fps, it took almost 30 hours to complete!

Once you have your completed mkv file the last job is to put everything together and for this you need Tsmuxer, an excellent, versatile program that allows you to add subtitles and audio tracks to an existing video file. To start the process I added the mkv file which brings up a list of the video, audio and subtitle tracks already part of the file. From here you can delete anything you don't want and add what you do, so I added the PCM soundtrack and the retimed Tartan subs. Once you're happy, choose how you want to output the file, click start and wait as the program merges everything together. Thankfully as this doesn't re-encode the video it only took about twenty minutes to complete. The result? An almost perfect version of Hard Boiled. Happy days!

Time for some screencaps, although I'm not a fan of judging a video image by screencaps they can be useful to highlight obvious differences. The top cap is the Tartan dvd upscaled to 1920 by 1080, the middle cap is the Japanese blu ray as is and the bottom cap is my tweaked version. All have the same level of jpeg compression and I've tried to match the frames as closely as possible, it's a tricky task and unfortunately I'm not perfect, but I think you'll get the idea. As you will probably notice from the screen captures, some scenes have a different look with much of the blue tint toned down, and although a few purists may disagree to my eyes it actually makes the film look significantly better by giving the detail and colours more of a chance to shine.

So, when I say almost perfect, I'm going to look into the possibility of changing the brightness on a per scene basis as a couple of sequences are overly dark after my tweaks. The resulting image is still way superior to the actual disc, but after putting so much effort into this thing I need it to be absolutely the best it can be. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hard Boiled : Everyone's Heard Of Double Dipping, How About Duodecuple Dipping?

When it comes to buying movies on home video formats, I'm sure everyone is familiar with the concept of double dipping. For the uninitiated it's buying a dvd (or whatever format) of a film only to buy it again when the film is re-released in a better edition, usually a new transfer or maybe with new extras.  Like a moth to a flame there are maybe thirty to forty movies I'm drawn to buying over and over again, it's something that seems ingrained in my wiring. While some movie fans can be satisfied with one version of a film, and others may skip a few re-issues to wait for a significant upgrade, such as a release on a new format, unfortunately my brain refuses to function in this sensible manner. Which brings me to my most extreme case, John Woo's Hard Boiled.

Since the film was released back in 1992, I've bought countless different versions across just about all the home video formats. When I read positive feedback on the Japanese blu ray release I pulled the trigger without giving it another thought. Only afterwards did I think do I really need another version of Hard Boiled? Guiltily checking my shelves, I found that this would be Hard Boiled edition twelve for me, yes twelve different editions of Woo's action classic, and it isn't even my favourite of his movies, just the most exploited!

01. Tartan VHS

02. Encore UK Laserdisc

03. Pioneer Japanese Laserdisc

04. Delta Video French Laserdisc

05. Criterion collection US dvd

06. Fox Lorber US dvd

07. Tartan collector's edition UK dvd. The subtitles on this edition are by far the best of any version of the film.

08. Mei Ah HK remastered dvd

09. E-M-S German remastered dvd

10. Dragon Dynasty US ultimate edition. Dubtitles ruin this release, but the extras are pretty good.

11. Stranglehold US PS3 game pseudo blu ray release

12. Japanese blu ray. By far the best the film has ever looked anywhere, lookout for more on this soon.

This is clearly insane, as my long suffering wife knows only too well. Looking on the brightside, maybe this post can help anyone out there who thinks they have a problem. Who knows, maybe just maybe there's even someone worse than I am! It could have been worse still as I haven't included the copies I didn't hold onto.

It may seem a little obsessive compulsive and I've no doubt many would frown upon what to them would be my flagrant disregard for the value of money, and yes there are thousands of other movies I don't already own that I could be spending the cash on instead. For me though some films are worth the time, effort and money it takes to track down a worthy new release. Of course not all "upgrades" turn out to be worthwhile, but in the case of this Japanese blu ray of Hard Boiled, although it's a film I've bought and seen many, many times, it's now been given a new lease of life. By being able to take the best version available and show it a little care and attention to make it even better (more to follow), I now have the satisfaction of being able to recreate the feeling of seeing the movie for the very first time, and that is something very special.

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