THE ABYSS dvd review

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China NTSC Region 6 DVD

Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

English DTS-ES 6.1, DD 5.1 EX

Subtitles: English, Chinese

IMDB

MOVIE: 10

VIDEO QUALITY: 8

AUDIO QUALITY: 10

EXTRAS: 1

After many years of researching and buying different DVD versions, yes…there is an anamorphic widescreen DVD version of The Abyss. The Chinese Excel Media NTSC Region 6 DVD is actually anamorphic! Finally. While it is out-of-print and may be hard to find, it was totally worth the trouble of acquiring this version. I could not enjoy watching any of those other letterboxed DVD versions because no matter how you customized your video player to play the film, it looked like a pretty bad VCD.

While this DVD is far from perfect, I can finally watch this video normally on my home theater without tweaking a thing. I’m tired of waiting years and years for a special edition Anamorphic dvd or hypothetical blu-ray so this DVD is more than fine. The video quality is like a revelation after watching all those other versions. The video quality isn’t crisp but it looks pretty damn good in motion. I don’t know how to take proper video screenshots but I uploaded some images to get an idea how it looks.

The DTS-ES 6.1 is quite amazing – couldn’t ask for anything better on a DVD.

The only extra is text trivia about the making of the film.

Finally, finally, finally. I’m so happy with this DVD that I don’t even care about any Blu-ray now. I’ve been so fed up with waiting that all I really wanted was to just watch this movie without looking distorted.

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RPG METANOIA dvd review

RPG

Philippines NTSC All-Region DVD

Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1

Tagalog Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, Tagalog

IMDB

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 8.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 8.5

EXTRAS: 7

Video games are pretty damn addicting. From Pac-Man to Super Mario Brothers to Street Fighter 2 to Halo to Minecraft. As addictive as these games may be, nothing is going to stop generation after generation from playing them. Just remember to balance the gaming out by playing outside and doing non-virtual activities with your family and friends! Luis C. Suarez’s animated film RPG Metanoia perfectly captures the essence of both positive and negative sides of the virtual world – the endless, awesome fun that friends can have playing online with each other as well as the dangerous addictive nature of becoming virtual zombies.

I watch a Filipino film about once every 4 years to get a sense of any sort of progress in the usually disappointing Philippine film industry. After vacationing in Cebu recently, I browsed a local video store and saw the RPG Metanoia DVD popping out among the many other amateurish-looking soap opera Pinoy movies released on DVD. Looking at the front and back cover of the DVD case, the photographs of the animation style looked pretty good. As a huge fan of animated films from all over the world – from Ghibli films of Japan to Michel Ocelot of France – I took the chance and blind-bought the RPG Metanoia DVD without even watching a trailer or reading a review. Best video-buying decision I’ve made in ages!

As the first CG-animated film from the Philippines (as well being the first one that played in 3D in local theaters), Luis C. Saurez’s RPG Metanoia is a beautifully animated film for all to be proud of. Period. Reading other reviews online about how the animation style is “not Pixar, not Disney, not Hollywood” is pretty pathetic. Metanoia is a refreshing example that not all animated films have to copy the same exact mold. I may be biased to love hand-drawn animation more since CG-animation has been a bit too focused on bug-eyed, hyperactive, loud characters, but I still like CG-animation or any animated film that breaks away from any typical mold – The Iron Giant, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Mind Game, Kirikou and the Sorceress, The Secret of Kells, etc. The animation style in RPG Metanoia is almost like a combination of stop-action motion and CGI but much smoother. The designs, lighting, and texture of the characters and backgrounds have a soul that many big-budget CG-animated films may be missing. Costing around 2 million US dollars, Saurez and his filmmaking team have created a very impressive work of art. Not only is the animation exciting to watch with its many impressive real-world street scenes of Philippines and fantastic virtual worlds that the characters enter when they play their online video game, the action choreography is as exciting as any Woo Ping Yeun or Tsui Hark film. The musical score is quite intense and epic as well – the filmmakers managed to evoke the best elements of John Williams’s Indiana Jones and Star Wars without copying him.

Beautiful animation, intense score, and exciting action scenes would be worthless had there been an awful screenplay with laughable dialogue. Thankfully, RPG Metanoia has a naturally flowing screenplay with lovable characters and entertaining dialogue that makes this the best written film from the Philippines I’ve ever seen yet. It’s a shame that many may have skipped seeing this film because it’s the type of film that’s marketed to children and teens. RPG Metanoia is an entertaining, touching film for all ages in the same way that millions of adults enjoy Disney, Pixar and Ghibli films.

While the Filipino DVD from Star Home Video does not advertise the technical specs on the back cover, I’m happy to report that this NTSC All-Region DVD is 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Tagalog soundtrack. I don’t know about other new Pinoy DVDs, but this is the best quality DVD from the Philippines I’ve owned yet. The video quality is very good and the DD 5.1 audio option is very active. The English subtitles are perfect, and also includes Tagalog subtitles. Extras are about 15 minutes of making the film, a couple non-finalized deleted scenes, images, music video, trailers, as well as a non-subtitled Tagalog audio commentary for the film.

Besides lovers of Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon, Matrix, Tron, Wreck-It Ralph, and video games, anyone who loves a good animated film should definitely check out RPG Metanoia.

BARFI! blu-ray review

barficover

India Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

Hindi DTS-HD 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 9.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

EXTRAS: 7.5

The big emotional moment in Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill comes in the final climactic courtroom speech when Matthew McConaughey is talking about the black girl who gets beat up and raped, “Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.” Don’t worry, this film is totally unrelated to Barfi! but I would like you all to participate in McConaughey’s lawyer approach for a moment:

Barfi! is an Italian-French dramedy set in the 1970s about three people who are seeking love and acceptance. Jumping between Verona, Italy and Brittany, France, Barfi (played by Roberto Benigni) is a deaf-mute who unintentionally gets into trouble with a chubby police inspector (played by Michel Blanc) always on his tail. Barfi falls in love with gorgeous Shruti (played by Monica Bellucci) but she’s already engaged and pressured to marry a man she doesn’t love. Even as she eventually falls in love with Barfi, Shruti gives in to pressure from her mother, chooses to live a typical life with the man she does not love, and moves away. Heart-broken and dealing with his father’s job loss and health problems, he tries to rob a bank to pay for an operation his father needs. When his bank robbery plan fails, Barfi decides to kidnap and hold for ransom the daughter of his father’s ex-boss – a sweet autistic woman named Jhilmil (played by Nicoletta Braschi). This plan fails as well, and no matter how many times Barfi tries to free Jhilmil, she becomes emotionally attached to Barfi the likable clown. He gives up trying to get rid of her and lets Jhilmil tag along with him as they both run from the law. Some years later, Barfi runs into an unhappily married Shruti and all three end up developing a unique friendship. There begins a love triangle – who ends up with who? Barfi! is a heartwarming film with Chaplin-esque comedy, tear-dripping drama, perfect direction, powerful performances, and a unique story. While the film may be too commercial to be Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign film (as it was the film that India submitted to the Oscar’s Best Foreign Film but wasn’t selected), Barfi! is my favorite foreign movie of the year.

“Now imagine all the characters are Indian and the movie takes place in India!”

I had heard many positive things about this Indian film but I was a bit cautious. After all, the title of the movie sounds like “The Man Who Liked to Vomit” to me. I am also very skeptical about any new movies that tackle the mentally handicapped genre because they end up looking like a parody. As quoted in Tropic Thunder, “You went full retard, man. Never go full retard.” Right now in India, they love making movies about mentally-challenged characters just as Hollywood did in the 1980s and 1990s but the genre was eventually killed off by the painful-to-watch Jack, Patch Adams, Radio, The Other Sister, and I Am Sam. But Anurag Basu’s Barfi! managed to pull it off as another great entry into the respectable “mentally-challenged” film list that includes Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Being There, Awakenings, and Temple Grandin. Wisely, the performance from former-Miss World Priyanka Chopra playing autistic Jhilmil goes for the “less is more” style of acting mentally-challenged. While many popular Bollywood actresses such as Aishwarya Rai and Kareena Kapoor typically act the way a glamorous star should act, Priyanka Chopra has been surprising everyone with her skillful acting chops to a point where this “Charlize Theron of India” has turned into one of the best actresses in India – she has been choosing all kinds of roles in her last bunch of films – I would have never guessed that she would become such a good character actor with diverse roles. Usually in Bollywood films, the actress is just there to support the main actor who is basically the cocky superstar athlete on a basketball team. In Barfi!, the two leads support each other equally. While we aren’t talking Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep here, it’s pretty close – Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra give outstanding performances and work together perfectly as two superstars on the same team. Ranbir Kapoor’s Barfi is pretty damn amazing. Inspired by Charlie Chaplin, his performance as a likeable baffoon is quite special to watch. When most Bollywood movies are plagued with infinite filler and awful dialogue that bloats the running time to over three hours, Barfi! has accomplished something never before in a commercial Indian film – the two main leads rarely talk. When Barfi speaks, he only says his name. When Jhilmil speaks, she only says his name. All the communication is visual as if the audience is watching a silent film starring Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard. Never did I feel bored watching this 151-minute film that featured plenty of scenes with no dialogue. The only thing that made the movie seem longer than usual are the many musical montages of the characters getting to know each other. But if there weren’t those musical montages, then Barfi! would have trouble showing time passing for the characters. So actually, I don’t even think that trimming the montages would have made the film better. Yes, the movie is long but no scene is wasted.

The most impressive aspect of Barfi! is the greatest direction I have ever seen for an Indian film. If you have ever seen films from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) and Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Miral), you will be very pleased with the direction by Anurag Basu. I’m not just talking about the beautiful cinematography of Calcutta, Darjeeling and other landscapes – the way he frames each scene is a total work of art. I’ve been intrigued with Basu’s past films as he has been one of India’s controversial directors. In 2004, he directed a remake of Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful called Murder. I checked it out because it included infamous kissing scenes (naughty for Bollywood). In 2006, he directed a crime film called Gangster that was very popular in India. And in 2010, he directed Kites which had an interracial romance of an Indian dude falling in love with a Mexican girl, and it took place in America. All three films were worth checking out, but nothing really memorable. I thought Basu was a controversial director – nothing more. But after watching Barfi!, I would have never guessed what a talented director he is. After Barfi!, Hollywood will be contacting him!

The Region-free Blu-ray from UTV/Reliance Home Video is as good as it can get for a Blu-ray from India – excellent 2.35:1 1080p video quality, engrossing Hindi DTS-HD 5.1 that highlights the film’s catchy music and Amelie-esque accordian score. The English subtitles are perfectly translated, the Blu-ray menu is pretty to look at, and there a couple of extras such as a 50-minute making-of, a short featurette, and some deleted scenes. This is a perfect package that comes with a Blu-ray slipcover as well. I would like to note that there are just a few minor distractions with the video. First, there’s a “cigarette cancer” warning that pops up in the corner when any character smokes. Second, there are two very quick instances of macroblocking during two separate scenes. Both last a second, but they are there and should have been caught by quality control.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the best “European” film of the year!

MIAMI CONNECTION blu-ray review

miami

USA Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

IMDB

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 8.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 8

EXTRAS: 8.5

There have been films that have been critically bashed when initially released in theaters – sometimes they need to age over time to be appreciated and even be considered masterpieces. Historically, a negative reviewed B-movie or box office failure can evolve into a respectable art-house film over time. There have been films that changed the typical pattern of what audiences expect to see when they come to the theater such as with the French New Wave style that popped up in the 1960s. They too have been labeled as art-house films. Pretentious films always have the advantage of getting graded as art-house much quicker than a B-movie that eventually gets respect. Why should a film with beautiful cinematography, pretty actors, meaningless dialogue (or even lack of dialogue), and an unconventional storyline that does not follow a traditional three-act setup get more respect than a B-movie that evolves into an art-house film over time? For example, art-house film fans love directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, and Wong Kar Wai. Their films are obviously respected and loved in the art-house world. But they are an acquired taste – try watching Pierrot le Fou, Last Year at Marienbad, and In the Mood for Love and you’ll know that they are the prototype films to be appreciated by art-house film lovers due to them being pretentious, pretty looking with polished cinematography, and/or many people just naturally connecting to these films. I really wish I could connect to these New Wave films but I can’t. I’ve tried to force myself to watch them over the years and at different ages, but I still can’t get into them and can’t connect with them to really see how special they are to others. In the opposite spectrum, I connect more to the critically-bashed B-movie that evolves into a respectable art-house film over time. These films may get their own special label such as “pulp, exploitation, cult, or camp” which still is basically another way of saying “these are special films but they are still inferior to traditional art-house films respected by most famous critics.” A pretentious art-house film loved by many should have equal respect as a campy B-movie that ages well, turns into an admirable film, and is also loved by many. Call it what you want, Y.K. Kim’s Miami Connection is actually a work of art.

After reading reviews online before watching Miami Connection, there seems to be general consensus on the internet that you can just automatically accept it as bad film or you can choose to watch it as a “so-bad-it’s-good” film – the type you watch in the theater or at home with a bunch of friends and laugh at it because everyone else is laughing – the “contagious laughter” factor. I expected Miami Connection to fall into the “so-bad-it’s-good” category, but actually I ended up watching this film quite seriously even as it had a bunch of those unintentional laugh-out-loud moments. I was mainly mesmerized by what a unique 1980s film this is, which is why I consider Y.K. Kim’s creation a very special art-house film.

If you have read up about this film, you should expect to see a wacky film about an ass-kicking rock band that beats up drug-running ninjas and gangs on the streets of Orlando, Florida. The negative characteristics in Miami Connection, such as the bad acting, cheesy dialogue, funny line delivery, and hilarious bloody action, all work just fine because the dedication that all the actors put into this film seems totally genuine. While the acting may seem amateurish at first, I quickly forgot about this negative trait once you see how all the actors have chemistry with each other. The big laughs in the movie mainly come from the token black actor who has the honor of delivering most of the unintentional funny lines.

For a film that had mainly non-actors and a crew that never wrote or directed a film before, I was surprised to think about directors Walter Hill, John Carpenter, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Robert Altman as I watched Miami Connection. Plenty of famous directors have made cult-type films as their first movies. For a person who never filmed anything before, Y.K. Kim’s direction is actually quite good. All of his shots are visually pleasing and the editing was fine too. There are some funny slo-mo shots and awkward cuts, but his direction was much more professional than I expected. The martial arts scenes are generally choreographed very nicely too especially since 1980s Hollywood is infamous for cheesy martial arts scenes. Fight scenes are exciting and usually funny due to the hilarious reactions of the non-actor goons who get their butts kicked, as well as Y.K. Kim doing a funny-as-hell impersonation of Bruce Lee during his fight scenes. How unfortunate that Kim did not make any more movies since Miami Connection is his only film.

The main attraction of Miami Connection is its generous portion of pure 1980s magic. We have actors that look 40 years old playing kids, an absolutely awesome soundtrack with catchy tunes, hairy gang members, ninjas, cheesy action, memorable dialogue, breasts, and so much more! The 1980s was a bizarre time period and has been a challenging era to copy in contemporary movies such as The Wedding Singer or American Psycho. Filmmakers try but cannot match that dreamlike weirdness of the 1980s, which is why many 1980s films are now aging well.

The Region A Blu-ray from Drafthouse/Image is quite impressive. Restored to 1080p 1.85:1, the video quality looks very good with some scratches in the beginning and grainy night scenes. Still, the video is very pleasing with crisp detail in most scenes. This Blu-ray is definitely HD-quality! I’m sure most fans used to watching the VHS will be extremely happy once they see this Blu-ray. Audio is decent. Music rocks and dialogue is clear but make sure to ignore the DTS-HD 2.0 listing on the back cover because the only audio mix offered on this Blu-ray is Dolby Digital 2.0. I would have loved to hear this movie in DTS-HD 5.1 with the plentiful action and memorable music, but the DD 2.0 is perfectly fine. After all, Drafthouse got lucky with finding a decent print to restore onto Blu-ray. English SDH subtitles are an option – especially if you want to remember the great songs in this film. Drafthouse has also provided an extremely generous amount of extras: a booklet about the film (similar to what Criterion does), an audio commentary with the director and writer, deleted scenes, making of, a reunion concert with the band, a featurette on Y.K. Kim, movie trailers (for Miami Connection and other Drafthouse film releases) and an extremely funny 30-minute infomercial. Also offered is a reversible cover as pictured to the right, but I’m perfectly happy with the regular beautiful-looking cover art by artist François Simard.

Art-house film or cult film, Miami Connection is totally entertaining and transports the viewer into the magical and dreamlike world of the 1980s. It’s too bad this film didn’t get turned into a cartoon series. The Blu-ray is a definite blind buy if you are curious to see a truly unique action film from the 1980s!

EEGA blu-ray review

India Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

Telugu DTS-HD 5.1, DD 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 7

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 6.5

EXTRAS: 7

Once you get past the first thirty minutes of the Indian stalker-romance presented in Eega (which translates to “Fly” in Telugu), you will then be rewarded to an hour and half of the most creative revenge scenes put on screen that features a fly versus a man. By the time you reach the credits, you’ll forget that Eega had a cliched beginning and you’ll realize you just watched one of the most entertaining and original Indian films of 2012.

Eega’s first thirty minutes focuses on an annoying good guy who stalks a hot girl who is pretending to not like his creepy advances, but actually his buzzing blabbermouth makes her fall in love with him, even inspiring her to make micro-art necklaces shaped like vaginas. Also stalking this gorgeous girl is a psychotic criminal boss who is wooing her with his creepiness. Even if this evil Fonzie can’t seduce her with his smooth talking, Plan B is to rape her and most likely kill her, possibly not even in that order.  If the whole movie was about two creepy dudes courting this one woman, that would be your typical clichéd Indian romance film. Thankfully, director S.S. Rajamouli turns Eega into an absolutely entertaining movie with creativity that is rarely seen in Indian films. Out of jealousy, the creepy criminal kills the creepy good guy who is then reincarnated into a cute little CGI fly. While the CGI isn’t up to speed and reminds me of the Hollywood computer effects of 2004, the usage is charming and makes exciting cinema. The “birth” of the fly is one of the most beautiful, dreamlike scenes I have ever seen in an Indian film. As the fly pops out of his egg and remembers that he was once a man, we are treated to one of those Marvel superhero moments when the superhero first discovers his powers and practices using them. Instead of Spider-man, we get to watch Fly-man learn how to be a fly – practice using one’s wings, don’t get stepped on, stay away from hungry birds, and try not to fall into the criminal boss’ drink no matter how thirsty you are. I’ve seen a lot of insect documentaries over the years, but this 10-minute scene was certainly effective and I’ll think twice now about killing a poor ol’ stressed-out fly.

Once we see that the main characters are a fly and a villain, the movie instantly shifts into “Original Indian Film” mode. Remember those very satisfying revenge scenes in Jerry Zucker’s Ghost when the Patrick Swayze ghost starts scaring the shit out of Tony Goldwyn and Willie Lopez? Those were great moments in Ghost but those scenes were too short. In Eega, we get the majority of the film with those very satisfying revenge moments. While that may seem like overkill, it’s not, because this director has skills and keeps the story exciting and funny until the end. How can a fly take revenge on the criminal who killed him in his previous life? I’m not going to say – that’s the whole fun of this film.

The tone of Eega is an action comedy with some drama, which probably was a smart move for repeat viewings, but I would have been curious to see this type of film presented as an action drama. Had the first thirty minutes featured a likable leading man who had chemistry with the girl (as Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore had with each other in Ghost), the movie would have been more emotionally powerful. I couldn’t wait for the good guy to get knocked off because he was unrelatable, annoying and creepy, probably which explains why he was reincarnated as a fly. Once he is reincarnated as a fly, he becomes more human and likable. Sure, we root for the fly to cause havoc on the bad guy, but his thirst for revenge would have had a greater emotional impact if the audience actually felt sympathy for the human good guy who was murdered.

The uniqueness found in this Telugu film is not just in the beautifully-filmed action scenes starring a fly but also in the superb performance from actor Sudeep who plays the main villain (who’s also named Sudeep). Besides the rare factor of a villain getting a lot of screen time, Sudeep did some amazing work as he evolves from a cocky, sauve man into a raving lunatic. Sudeep reminded me a lot of Bruce Campbell’s comic and physical acrobatics in Army of Darkness. He had to act with nothing in front of him. The CGI fly was added in post-production. Theatrical and humorous it may be, his performance was not easy – especially since he had to convince the audience that a CGI fly was turning his life into a nightmare.

The Telugu Region-free Blu-ray from Aditya Video is a fair yet satisfying Blu-ray. The 1080p 2.35:1 image quality has quite a few issues – the contrast is quite off at times, which makes some dark scenes lose complete detail. DNR seems high as well but not to the point where faces look plastic. Day scenes and CGI fly scenes are bright and exhibit detail, but to be fair, the Aditya staff certainly needs some professionals to show them how to properly master Blu-ray video. At least this doesn’t look like an upconverted DVD – it just looks like an amateurishly-mastered Blu-ray. I’ve seen worse and I’ve seen quality that was distracting. Fortunately, the video quality did not distract me from enjoying this film. The DTS-HD 5.1 Telugu track however is awesome. Aditya got that right. Eega is action-packed with some cool sound effects since much of the movie is from the perspective of a fly. What bugged me more than the fair video quality is the watermarked company logo that pops up on and off through out the film on the bottom right side of the screen. Even worse are the sloppy English subtitles. A shmuck was hired to create them – it’s not my fault that reading the English subtitles was like listening to a narration of an Indian man negatively portrayed as a taxi driver or 7-Eleven cashier in Hollywood movies. Indian Blu-rays rarely have extras so I was quite surprised to see over two hours of extras on the DVD that comes with this Blu-ray. While not at the same level of extras found on videos from other countries, I was impressed. We get two hours of the making of the film, non-subtitled, but no subtitles are necessary. The audience gets to see how this film was made from many perspectives. Isn’t that a good extra? Also on the DVD is one of the film’s music videos and film trailers. Not bad and all Anamorphic Widescreen!

Director S.S. Rajamouli seems to excel in making movies about reincarnation. With Indian blockbuster Eega added to his resume, his other crowd-pleasing hits – Magadheera and Yamadonga – also dealt with reincarnation – a very cool niche for cinema. I hope he keeps up the good work and inspires more mainstream Indian filmmakers to put original ideas into their films. Eega is a definite must-see!

THE MONKEY KING: UPROAR IN HEAVEN blu-ray review

China Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.78:1

Mandarin: Dolby TrueHD 7.1

Mandarin: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, Mandarin

IMDB

MOVIE: 9.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 10

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 0

America has Walt Disney. Japan has Hayao Miyazaki.  France has Michel Ocelot. Czech Republic has Jan Svankmajer. Which animator does China have? That’s an easy answer because there is only one famous animator from China and his name is Wan Laiming. Laiming made the first Chinese animated film with Princess Iron Fan in 1941. Twenty years later, he made his second and last film, The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven, a film that is basically the Snow White or Princess Mononoke of China – in other words – an absolute Chinese animated masterpiece. How ironic that The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven was not only his last animated film, but is still China’s last respectable animated film. I guess the Chinese film industry focused all their time making martial arts films after the early 1960s, but come on, not one high-quality animated film for the past 47 years? I have seen a few other Chinese animated films over the years such as Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, Secrets of the Heavenly book, The Golden Monkey Conquers the Evil, DragonBlade, and Storm Rider Clash of the Evils, but they are all fair and forgettable, far from the high-quality production of The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven.

In Wu Cheng’en’s classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, Sun Wukong aka Monkey King is a brave yet mischievous monkey that goes on tons of adventures in all the realms – earth, heaven, and hell. Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven depicts one of the most popular Monkey King stories. We learn about the origin of the Monkey King and how he causes problems for the Jade Emperor. After obtaining the invincible staff of Yu from the Dragon King, Monkey King proclaims himself the “Great Sage Equal to Heaven.” Disturbed by Monkey King’s power and cockiness, the Emperor tries to recruit him with different jobs such as taking care of his horses and peach garden, but Monkey King doesn’t take crap from authority and ends up infuriating the Emperor even more. Since Monkey King has no desire to join him or the rest of the gods, the Emperor sends out his powerful goons and army to stop the Monkey King from causing serious stress to his heavens! Don’t expect to be blown away by the story. Just expect to be blown away by the magical quality of this film.

As popular as Mickey Mouse or Superman, the Monkey King character is one of the most iconic pop culture characters in China, with plentiful movies, tv shows, comics and video games about him. When you watch this movie, you’ll see how it has shaped so many other Chinese fantastical action movies. The animation in The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven makes the heavens and mythological world come to life. So many other movies have tried to capture the magical essence of the book, but this animated film did it best so far and without CGI!

Let me clarify what exactly is presented on this Chinese Region-free 3D Blu-ray of The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven. This Blu-ray allows the viewer to watch this movie in 2D or 3D. I don’t have a 3D HDTV or 3D Blu-ray player, so I am only reviewing the 2D. So yes, this Blu-ray will play in your regular Blu-ray player. The new version features a slightly longer edit that stays true to the spirit of the original film, as well as a new soundtrack that combines the original’s traditional Chinese opera arrangements with a symphonic score. Most importantly, the 3D remake introduces all new voices and an amazing cast to play them, including film stars Yao Chen and Chen Daoming. The voices of famous directors Chen Kaige and Feng Xiaogang also make an appearance, in homage to Sun Wukong and Wan Laiming. In other words, this 3D version is not the exact same film as it was in the early 1960s. But don’t panic! This new version is not a George Lucas tamper, but more like Apocalypse Now Redux or Blade Runner Final Cut. Besides the updated remix of the audio and dubbing, this new version is still the original animated film with some newly added “blink-and-you’ll-miss” 3D show-offy scenes for the kiddies. For example, in the original version, when Monkey King is stuck in a bad guy’s huge umbrella, he uses his staff to poke up and pop a hole through the umbrella. In the new version, the filmmakers stealthily changed some animation around to make Monkey King poke his staff towards the viewer as if we are getting poked in the face. No one will notice the difference unless you have watched the original film over and over as I did. I have the original film on English-subtitled Taiwanese DVD. As good as that original film version is, this new film version is 100 times better. Just because the info is not out there, the producers of this re-release absolutely restored this film onto Blu-ray! The video and audio are incredible! Instead of the original film split into two parts (with two sets of end credits), this new version merges the two parts together as one movie, as it should be. Instead of the original film having crummy Chinglish subtitles as on the Taiwanese DVD, this new version has perfect translated English subtitles. I have never seen perfect English subtitles on a video from China in my life until this Blu-ray (Usually, Hong Kong videos have better English subtitles than Chinese videos). Even though the original film was filmed at 1.33:1, the new version cropped to 1.78:1 looks amazing! I noticed a head getting cut off twice due to the cropping, but other than that, the 1080p video quality is a revelation!  This Monkey King Blu-ray is a beautiful work of art come to life in high definition. The colors may seem washed out, but that’s the style of the animation. The colors and detail are absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking, especially after watching the messy Taiwanese DVD for a while now. The Mandarin 7.1 Dolby TrueHD is just unbelievable. Along with the stylized animation, the drums and percussion accompaniment used in this film are heavily influenced by Beijing Opera traditions and they just rock on this Blu-ray. This audio is a new remix and the dubbing is much more intimate and better than the cold dubbing of the original film. The music just sounds totally better, and the surround sounds and subwoofer envelop the room just like a new film. I can’t believe that this Blu-ray is one of my favorite sounding Blu-rays I have heard this year, from any country! Even though the 3D producers tampered with the animation, soundtrack, and dubbing of this old movie, the changes have only left advantages for the viewer. If you really want to see the original film as was shown in the 1960s, then just check out the Taiwanese DVD with crummy English subtitles, fair video, muffled flat audio, and worse dubbing. Furthermore, the original film was censored: In the original, Monkey King finds a gourd full of magical pills (aka drugs). He licks one pill and then the scene awkwardly cuts to another scene. In this Blu-ray version, we have the uncensored version. After Monkey King licks one of the pills, he chugs down the rest of the pills and starts hallucinating. This is one of the few obvious changes I noticed between the Taiwanese DVD and the Chinese Blu-ray. So technically, the Chinese Blu-ray is more of a Director’s Cut than the censored original version shown on the Taiwanese DVD.

Overall, this Blu-ray is the only way to watch this film! A+ for the video, audio, and English subtitles! This Blu-ray also comes in a metal case for people who love fancy packaging. The Blu-ray for The Monkey King: Uproar In Heaven is one of the most impressive Chinese Blu-rays I have seen yet. What an amazing restoration! Buy this Blu-ray before it becomes out of print!

RIGHTING WRONGS blu-ray review

Hong Kong Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

Cantonese: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (original)

Mandarin: Dolby Digital 6.1 EX (dub)

Subtitles: English, Mandarin

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 8.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 8.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 8

EXTRAS: 1

Has anyone seen this movie? I never even heard of Righting Wrongs until I saw the Blu-ray release news. How is Righting Wrongs aka Above the Law not considered a classic Hong Kong action film? After watching a lot of Hong Kong action film classics from the 1980s-1990s, I have noticed that most are missing one important aspect – an equal balance of action, screenplay, and character development.  After watching all these early action movies starring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, I don’t remember too much about the stories or about all the characters because the screenplay and depth of characters are just filler for the main attraction – the amazing action. The stories are usually just background to set up the action. The characters are usually just there to be beat up or to be laughed at. Righting Wrongs is probably the first 1980s Hong Kong action film that had a complete balance of action, story, and character depth – with all three working together in harmony to make it an absolute complete film. I have never seen a Hong Kong action film from this time period that totally had an interesting story with characters we care about from beginning to end until watching Righting Wrongs. A classic Hong Kong action film like Rumble in the Bronx isn’t a complete film – I love the movie but the movie is just a showcase for Jackie Chan’s talent. The story and characters are totally pointless, but this film is considered a Hong Kong action film classic. When one watches a Jackie Chan movie, usually you watch the movie because you are in the mood for a Jackie Chan movie.  Righting Wrongs is the type of film you can watch and not be in the mood to watch a “Hong Kong action movie” – this film is just a good movie that does not need to be categorized as just another martial arts film. But I would definitely classify Righting Wrongs now as a Hong Kong action movie classic from the 1980s.

Righting Wrongs is like a blend of Marvel’s Daredevil and L.A. Confidential. In her greatest role, the amazing Cynthia Rothrock stars as a police officer investigating the corruption in Hong Kong. As a police officer who goes by the book sort of like Guy Pierce’s character from L.A. Confidential, she is faced with issues from all sides – her partner is a slobby, sexist goof, her captain (Melvin Wong) is a corrupt cop working for Hong Kong mafia, and she has to deal with a lawyer (Yuen Biao) who brings justice to freed criminals with his fists a la Daredevil.

From the trailer, Righting Wrongs may seem like a typical Hong Kong action movie, but the story is surprisingly interesting from beginning to end. The amazing action scenes with Rothrock, Biao, and Wong are just icing on the cake. The martial arts in this film, directed and choreographed by the great Corey Yeun and Tsui Hark, are astounding. One of the greatest cat fights between Cynthia Rothrock and Karen Sheperd is one surreal experience. With the mixture of their 1980s fashion style and unathletic-looking bodies, watching Rothrock and Sheperd fight is like watching characters from Sex and the City or Real Housewives of New Jersey duke it out kung-fu style. Righting Wrongs may be my favorite Yuen Biao film as well because he gets to showcase decent acting chops as a public prosecutor when he’s not secretly bashing criminal heads.

One surprise in the film is that I can’t believe the scrawny little teenager was played by Siu-Wong Fan, who later starred as Ricky in Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky and the intimidating Jin Shan Zhao in Ip Man. There’s no way that one would think this kid would become such a tough and intimidating actor and impressive martial artist.

The CMS Media Limited Blu-ray is better than I expected. The 1080p Widescreen 1.85:1 is clean and is a totally pleasant viewing experience. Those expecting a huge restoration will be disappointed and may feel like they are watching an upconverted DVD, but the picture looks good since most Hong Kong 1980s films don’t look fabulous on Blu-ray. I never watched the many other DVD versions, but I’m assuming the Blu-ray transfer here is a slight upgrade from the best DVD version. As typical of Blu-rays of old Hong Kong films from CMS Media Limited or K & R, the audio sounds like a mono track with subwoofer action. With that in mind, the Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 is a very satisfying 1.1 audio experience. All the thumps, smacks, screeching cars, explosions, and other loud sounds make the subwoofer pretty active. The English subtitles are quite good with smooth translation with some spelling mistakes and missing words here and there, but definitely not Chinglish as on other Hong Kong Blu-rays. The only extra is the original trailer.

Fans of engaging police corruption stories, Cynthia Rothrock, Yuen Biao, and Corey Yuen/Tsui Hark action choreography are going to love this film. I absolutely recommend this Hong Kong action classic and this Blu-ray is one of my best blind-buys I’ve had in a long time!

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