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Friday, September 08, 2006

Karate: Hand of Death & the Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection

Note: Another old review post from a blog I used to keep that's going away. Enjoy.

Right now, I'm on kind of a kung fu thing. If you've been following my cheap DVD reports, you'll know that there's simply tons of cheap kung fu discs out there, if you can put aside concerns about original aspect ratio, picture quality and correct language tracks. However, I want to talk for a minute about two regular priced collections that have been on my radar.

First up is the Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection. This set is more or less a port of the region 3 set released a while back. The US version loses Enter the Dragon, due to licensing issues, but Warner has a nice 2 disc set of that out anyway.

The big attraction being the visual quality of the films. The previous region 1 Lee discs presented the fimls non-anamorphic widescreen, which was a revelation in itself, but this set goes even better with 16:9 enhancement and much improved prints. The Big Boss in particular is stunning. I've never seen an early 70s Hong Kong movie look this good.

In addition, you get the original Mandrin dubs of all the films as well as the later Cantonese dub and a 5.1 English mix. These tracks are pretty cool to switch between as there's many differences in the music (I wonder if Pink Floyd and King Crimson even knew they did soundtrack music for Bruce Lee???)

The 5.1 English mixes drive me up the wall though. These movies were originally mono, so to create a surround mix, more Foley has been added on top of the original sfx. To my ears, the new effects on top of the old ones sound horrible and are nothing more than a distraction. Saddly, there's no mono English option on the Chinese films, though we are lucky to have real subtitles and not dub-titles, so you can pick a Chinese language track and subs.

There's also a handfull of extras. Honestly, I haven't gotten to the Game of Death 1/2 discs yet, and that's where the lion's share of the extras are. Speaking of, I find it weird that the producers of this set chose to legitimize Game of Death 2 by including it in a Lee set. Supposedly, it's better than the first (which is really the Plan 9 of martial arts flicks) and the set is still affordable, so I'm not complaining. I just think it's weird.

Aside from the horrible 5.1 English sound, I can't recommend this set highly enough. I wish they still included the documentary Bruce Lee: The Legend, as that was a nice collection of rare footage, but this set is pretty damn good as it stands.

Over to Karate: Hand of Death from Something Weird video. Something Weird is a great company that releases offbeat stuff and crams the discs with plenty of extras. In this case , we start with Karate, which was apparently the first martial arts film released in the states. The movie is presented in widescreen with a pretty good looking b&w picture. There's a weird editing thing in the middle where a short scene appears twice, but considering the obscurity of this film, I'm amazed that's the only real glitch in it.

The movie itself isn't that great. It's more of a melodramatic mystery than an action flick. The fighting, what little there is, is fairly straight forward. That doesn't prevent some real cheezy moments, like when our hero has to regester his hands (of death) with the Japanese government as lethal weapons. It's a bit slow and talky and, though being filmed in Japan with a mostly Japanese cast, isn't above playing up some old stereotypes.

Anyway, the real attraction of this package is "The Incredible Martial Arts Mayhem Kung Fu Trailer Show!" In this instance, the bonus totally overshadows the main feature as what we have here is over 2 hours of vintage trailers for kung fu movies! Nothing but fightings, Engrish and the occasional flash of frontal nudity!

If you are someone who takes your kung fu seriously, you might want to pass, but for the rest of us, this is an awesome collection of all the stuff that makes this genre so enjoyable. Completely awesome stuff, mostly presented in the correct aspect ration to boot! The only downer is Something Weird has added a transparent watermark in the lower right of the screen as they do with a lot of their trailers. It's a lot less obtrusive than what you see on any TV channel, but it is the kind of thing I wish they would note on the packaging. Even so, this disc is just awesome and if you like 70s kung fu, you are going to love it.

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