GALLANTS dvd review

Hong Kong Region-free NTSC dvd

Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

Cantonese DTS-ES 6.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 10

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 8

EXTRAS: 7

 

Crouching Tiger, Shaolin Soccer, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Kung Fu Hustle, Ip Man, and now…Gallants. That’s how it’s going to be – the best Chinese martial arts films of this decade.

This review is going to be short and sweet. It’s probably best not to read too many reviews of this film since Gallants is the most creatively-made, contemporary martial arts movie that has a great story from beginning to end, has awesome music and soundtrack, has amazing acting, is funny and touching, and has some of the best filmed old school Shaw Bros-style fight choreography with no CGI or wirework.

There’s good news and bad news concerning this movie for home theater viewing. The bad news is that there is no Hong Kong Blu-ray release of this film. The good news is that it doesn’t matter because the KAM & RONSON DVD is excellent quality. Even if this company did release a blu-ray, it probably wouldn’t be such a huge upgrade since they are a company that is known to release their blu-rays with video quality that has been comparable to an upscaled dvd.

The KAM & RONSON Hong Kong NTSC All-region DVD is excellent. The anamorphic video is great and not problematic at all. And the Cantonese DTS-ES 6.1 just rocks and is mixed perfectly. The English subtitles are pretty good with some mistakes here and there. The extras are very nice too – an anamorphic, DD 5.1 trailer, a very good letterboxed DD 2.0 music video, and a really good letterboxed 50-minute in-depth making of the film subtitled in English.

I’m sure this will get an eventual Blu-ray release, but this DVD will be good enough until it’s time to upgrade.

If you are a true martial arts movie fan, you will love this film!

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PROJECT A blu-ray review

Hong Kong Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Mandarin: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (dub)

Subtitles: English

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 7.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 7

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 7.5

EXTRAS: 2

 

As expected from Fortune Star catalog blu-rays, this blu-ray looks like an upconverted DVD. Now that I have the typical bad news out of the way, this blu-ray is at least a pleasure viewing experience. Even though the image is soft and not eye-popping, the video quality is totally clean, has nice detail in the bright scenes, has acceptable contrast levels, and does not have any motion blurring at all. Most of the time it looks like an upconverted DVD, but later on in the film, there are bright scenes that look very blu-rayish. So overall, I’m happy enough with the video quality that it lets me enjoy the film without any weird video glitches. Just don’t expect blu-ray quality. Expect DVD Plus!

The Cantonese DTS-HD 7.1 is just a Halloween costume – for it really is nothing more than a “Two Point Half Dolby Stereo” sountrack. I say Two Point half rather than 2.1, because the subwoofer is sort of disappointing. The opening credits and an explosion got the most subwoofer power. Usually these Fortune Star blu-rays give a little power to the punches and kicks in their other catalog titles, but not in this blu-ray. The sound during the action scenes are dull and unimpressive. Whenever some sort of subwoofer is used, it feels artificial and not natural to the film. Dialogue is perfectly clear and all good – you just may need to crank up the volume so that the voices can reach you. Don’t expect to be enveloped – the whole audio experience of this blu-ray is that it stays right in those speakers and don’t come out at us! But pickiness aside, It’s a solid audio for this type of Hong Kong film from the early 80s. Overall, the audio is just a Dolby Stereo soundtrack with the subwoofer flicked on and off once in a while throughout the film.

The English subtitles are not that bad – it’s still basically Chinglish, but I’ve seen worse!

I’ve never seen the remastered Fortune Star DVD version nor the remastered UK PAL Hong Kong Legends DVD version, but I’m assuming that this blu-ray is more or less an upconversion of those two DVDs. So if you have a blu-ray player that doesn’t upconvert well, then buy this blu-ray. If you have a blu-ray player that plays DVDs beautifully, then most likely keep either of those two DVD versions.

I can’t confirm it, but it’s possible that the Hong Kong Legends remastered DVD has an edge over the blu-ray due to its extras and also because I’ve read more positive reviews about its audio rather than the audio on the Fortune Star DVD. It all depends what you like best – video, audio, extras, subtitles. I personally would rather choose the blu-ray over the Hong Kong Legends DVD because I don’t have the greatest blu-ray player that makes DVDs sparkle. But for others, I’ve seen the Hong Kong Legends DVD sold used for around 14 bucks.

KRAY blu-ray review

Russia Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

Russian: LPCM 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 7.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 8

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 6

 

Kray (aka The Edge) was Russia’s submission to the Best Foreign Film category for the 2010 Oscars. It’s a decent film, but it’s a “good film see-once” kind of film, not worthy of any major awards except for Best Train scenes at the Trains-In-Movies 2010 Awards which will be seriously competing against Tony Scott’s Unstoppable.  The acting is very good, but the story doesn’t really kick in until the 30-minute mark when the German girl shows up. And when that story kicks in, it’s not as developed as it could have been.

Chinese action movies may have a kung fu scene once every 10 minutes.
Italian movies have characters screaming at each other once every 10 minutes.
French movies have characters sitting around the house in the city or country talking about philosophy and relationships once every 10 minutes.
Dutch or Danish movies may have a sex scene once every 10 minutes.
Indian movies have characters breaking out into song-and-dance once every 10 minutes.
And what I love about Russian movies is that they make sure to have a “drinking alcohol” scene once every 10 minutes. Those Russians love filming drinking!

For a train movie and by the looks of the flashy blu-ray cover, I was expecting a pretty intense ride, but instead this movie movies along at a leisurely pace. There are some pretty exciting scenes in this film, such as the main character and German girl working together to fix a broken bridge and then crossing that bridge, an all-nude female cat fight, and a couple train racing scenes.

The Russian blu-ray is labled as Region A, B, and C. The blu-ray video quality ranges from fair to excellent. The dark, dimly-lit scenes have DVD quality (3 out of 5), while the bright day scenes really look awesome (4 out of 5). And the Russian LPCM 5.1 is really a powerful force since the star of the audio are the trains – with the choo-chooing, the chug-chuging, the sound of the fire in the engine room, the screaching of the breaks, and so on. A very nice audio mix! There is only one funny thing with the soundtrack – whenever the German character speaks German, there’s a female Russian voice-over because Russians don’t like subtitles – they love their live-translations. But it’s not that distracting, and the German character doesn’t speak that much, so it wasn’t a big deal. The English subtitles were translated excellent eventhough they were a bit on the small side. The extras are a bunch of making ofs (non-subtitled).

If you like movies about trains and if you know what to expect from the typical pacing of Russian movies, then I recommend this film. Others expecting an intense action train movie may be disappointed.

KOOKY blu-ray review

Czech Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

Czech: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 7.5

 

Kooky is a great film for children as well as adults. It’s basically a combination of:
1. Toy Story films
2. Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are
3. that Bjork forest video
4. Hayao Miyazaki
5. Jan Svankmajer

Jan Sverak’s movie is about cuddly lost Kooky, Czech’s most famous toy doll, and his adventures to get back home. Along the way, he meets up with forest creatures, animals, garbage creatures. Some are nice and some are out to catch him. This movie is almost like a children’s version of The Road Warrior with plentiful car chase scenes (the forest creatures have their own little organic vehicles). Even though the story is a little bit similar to the ones in the Toy Story movies, this movie is like the anti-Toy Story. In Toy Story, everything is spotlessly clean, shiny, and bright. Kooky the movie is the most organic earthy film I think I’ve ever seen. The audience is face to face right in the nature, in the dirt, mud, water, dust, insects, but in a charming, cheerful way. This movie is an uplifting charming film. The direction in this film is just amazing, some of the best nature cinematography I’ve seen all year.

This movie also stars the director’s usual go-to-leading man Zdenek Sverek (the father of the director), who starred in Empties, Kolya, Accumulator 1, and Dark Blue World. If you’ve seen any of these good films, you’ll definitely recognize his voice as one of the forest creatures.

The Czech blu-ray is very solid. There are a lot of browns in this film (creatures and forest) and the video handles the very organic colors of the forest and the creatures very nicely. The Czech audio is very engrossing and you feel lost in the forest along with Kooky. A very impressive mix. The extras are all not subtitled – there’s a making of the film, two trailers, some photo galleries, and my favorite extra was a 3-minute making of how the factory workers make the actual Kooky doll. I wish that featurette would be longer and I would have loved to have seen a more in-depth documentary on the pop culture based around this popular Czech toy.

A very nice movie. Since it’s subtitled only, it’s mainly for older kids (and anyway there is one mention of sex in the movie and there’s a character named Captain Goddamn), so it’s definitely for those European kids more than the conservative American kids. But this film is a work of art and it’s worth seeing!

ROBO blu-ray review

India Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

Telugu: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 7.5

EXTRAS: 0

Non-Indians may think it’s a bit peculiar that a chubby, bald, out-of-shape, 61 year old Joe Pesci-look-a-like is not only South India’s biggest star but has been cast in huge action films from South India. Why would movie producers not cast a young hot stud in the lead role for India’s most expensive action movie which cost around 30 million dollars? It’s because the star of Robot (“Enthiran” in its original Tamil language and “Robo” in this dubbed Telugu blu-ray version), Ranjikanth, is a real-life transformer. Once he’s on screen, he doesn’t just put on his costume, wig, and make-up, he actually becomes an impressive charismatic leading man – transforming into a cinematic superstar. During his transformation, he becomes a highly entertaining, likable actor and a very believable action hero. I just watch him with a smile on my face being aware of his real-life schlubiness.

I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed by director Shankar’s Robot since I perceive him as the James Cameron of India, and his films have always blown me away. Although a native Indian may disagree, Indian action movie cinema is quite a few steps (or years) behind the standards of what we would expect from a Hollywood or Hong Kong action film. So whenever director Shankar makes a film, he raises the bar for special effects and action choreography in Indian films. Robot has some truly “Holy crap!” Matrix moments, especially during the climax. The creativity (and most of the money) in the climax of this film is totally original – I don’t want to give away any of the movie’s creative scenes, but I thought I was watching a wacky Japanese action movie directed by Takashi Miike during many of the truly visually amazing action scenes. The action choreography not only involved India’s most respectable action choreographer, Peter Hein, but The Robot also involved the master – Woo Ping Yeun – the action choreographer for The Matrix trilogy, Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Fist of Legend, Once Upon A Time In China, and Iron Monkey. I don’t know how much of the movie he was involved in, but it showed. Even though the movie cost around 30 million dollars, Shankar didn’t totally balance out the spending. Many action scenes look like money well-spent and at the same level of the effects in a Hollywood action movie (mainly in the climax), while other scenes look like CGI from the early 2000s. For example, there are some baby scenes in this film – one scene has a real baby, another scene has a CGI baby, and in another scene, the baby is totally cartoon (well, it’s not a big deal since this one is from the 3D image of a baby in the womb of a pregnant woman, but it’s still unintentionally funny). Also, there are exoskeleton robot scenes of impressively built robots, great CGI robots, to early 2000s CGI robots, to a dude wearing a tin man suit. Some people may not like that. I personally love that combination – I see these faults as a charming characteristic of the film and a reminder of the way action movies used to be made, instead of being so perfectly clean and sterile, as well as being CGI overkill as in most action movies today.

I’ve seen my share of the few sci-fi/fantasy films that India has released, such as Mr. India, Anniyan, Krrish, Drona, Love Story 2050, Rudraksh, Kanthaswamy, Aladin, and Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic. Although some of them were good for India standards, the majority of them are not so good for the rest of the world standards when it comes to a well-written sci-fi/fantasy film. But I was totally surprised by the screenplay for this film. Even though Robot is a mainstream bright colorful Masala film (an Indian film that mixes genres in one film, such as action, comedy, drama, romance, melodrama, and music), this movie is crammed with everything that you would want to see in a movie about a robot that gets artificial intelligence. The best characteristics of Wall-E, Terminator 1 & 2, Westworld, Blade Runner, A.I., Isaac Assimov & I Robot, Osamu Tezuka & Astro Boy, and RoboCop are in this film. The screenplay sticks to the basics of how to write an intense, interesting mainstream action movie. Keep the action moving and have no filler whatsoever. The first hour of this film feels like that only 10 minutes went by. I do understand why the whole movie feels like that, because the screenplay has established conflict in every scene – conflict that leads from conflict to conflict to conflict – straight from the opening scene of the movie and all the way to the end credits. That’s how you write a movie. That’s basic quality screenwriting. If no conflict is established, you don’t care for the characters, the movie gets boring and feels long, and you just want the movie to end. Robot is a beautifully written mainstream action sci-fi film. Remember that I just said beautifully written “mainstream” action sci-fi film. Those expecting something deep, dark, and analytical may be disappointed. What’s surprising about this film is that this film ain’t some PG-rated Bicentennial Man film – Robot is as R-rated as it gets. There is violence in this film – bloodygraphic violence in this film.

And by the way, one of the best looking actresses in the world, Aishwarya Rai, is in this film. Even if the main robot character in this film didn’t have artificial intelligence, I’m sure it would still fall in love with her. She has that power.

A.R. Rahman, the greatest contemporary composer out of India, did the music for this film. Regardless of the funny and goofy lyrics, every single song is catchy in Robot. The score is also very impressive during the action scenes, probably the most epic-sounding score I’ve ever heard for action scenes in an Indian film – it’s like a Tony Scott or Michael Bay score with an Indian twist.

The Sri Balaji blu-ray (All-Region Telugu version) is awesome!
The video quality is eye-popping amazing. Colors look good, blacks are spot on. The aspect ratio is correct unlike some rumored cropping (which can only be found on the awful cropped Hindi DVD version). Skin tones looked good. This blu-ray is just another impressive Indian blu-ray. Since I’ve been selective with my Indian blu-rays (owning about 5 Indian blu-rays), I’ve only seen one disappointing blu-ray (Kites), but every other Indian blu-ray I have bought is extremely impressive. The video quality is a huge, huge massive upgrade from the respectable Tamil DVD. The CGI and special effects look amazing on this blu-ray.
The Telugu dubbed DTS-HD 5.1 audio is excellent as well. Since I’m not Indian, I heard practically no difference between the way the dub sounds compared to the original audio on the Tamil DVD. The voices sound exactly the same. If any one is concerned that it’s not in the original language, you have nothing to worry about. And I’m a person that hates dubbed movies. The soundtrack is mixed beautifully, very active and sounds just amazing during quiet scenes, intense action scenes, and during any songs.

The only negatives of this blu-ray are:
1. there is a Sri Balaji logo that very subtly pops up during the beginning of each song. But it’s so small and vague, one can barely notice it. It’s no way as noticeable as the logo that popped up all the time on the Tamil DVD.
2. The English subtitles were good with some awkward translations, but overall, the English is good enough. The Tamil DVD had better English subtitles.
3. No extras
4. If you are a Tamil-speaking Indian, then it sucks that there isn’t a Tamil blu-ray yet. But for anyone happy with reading English subtitles, the audio is amazing and doesn’t sound dubbed (to me).

Robot may not be the best science fiction movie ever made, but it’s pretty safe to say that Robot is the best science fiction musical movie ever made.

A CHINESE TALL STORY dvd review

Hong Kong Region 3 DVD

Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1

Cantonese DTS and DD 5.1, Manderin DTS

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 7

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 8

EXTRAS: 8

 

I feared that A CHINESE TALL STORY was going to be a really disappointing Hong Kong fantasy film. Fortunately, this Jeffrey Lau film is an entertaining but flawed movie. Unlike THE PROMISE, the visuals were the best aspect of A CHINESE TALL STORY. The visuals were amazing to look at regardless of the lousy screenplay. The movie probably would have been better to watch without the English subtitles, and just watch the film and figure it out, which I sort of had to do anyway. Most of the time, I had no idea what was going on, because Jeff Lau can’t write. The comedy bits were funny, but the overall screenplay didn’t flow at all. I couldn’t even get through his previous Monkey King movies, A CHINESE ODYSSEY PART 1 & 2 (The subtitles on those remasted DVDs were impossible to follow – but I have a feeling even if the subtitles were good, those movies would still suck). I was sort of able to understnad the gist of the movie – it’s a cross between LEGEND OF ZU, Monkey King fairytales, and SHREK – Some futuristic kingdom gets attacked by evil monsters so the kingdom looks for help from this Shrek-type girl. But the only way for the Shrek girl to stop the monsters is to get Tripitaka (Longevity Monk from the Monkey King fairytale) to fall in love with her. Tripitaka’s boys, Monkey King, Pigsy, and some other guy are kidnapped by the bad guys on the way. That’s the story. When I was a kid, I read the nicely illustrated Monkey King cartoon books, and then when I got older I read the Monkey King adventures. Reading the books, I always fantasized about seeing live-action or animated films of the Monkey King. When I got old enough to became an Asian movie fan, I checked online and looked around in Chinatown to see if there was a good movie/tv adaptation out there. After seeing some of the different movie/tv adaptations that has existed since the 1960s, I’m still pretty disappointed. The Monkey King film/tv adaptations are like the Adam West/Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batmans. I have yet to see a MONKEY KING movie at the level of BATMAN BEGINS. Someone really needs to do one MONKEY KING movie right, whether it be live-action or animation. Even as I write this, there’s another Monkey King live-action film in production. So until that happens, I can only enjoy a Monkey King vibe from only three movies – ZU WARRIORS, LEGEND OF ZU, and now A CHINESE TALL STORY. All three of those movies reminded me of the vast world of the adventures of the Monkey King. The ZU movies aren’t Monkey King movies, but they certainly captured the vast world and creativity of his adventures on earth and in the heavens. All the other Monkey King movies that I’ve seen are claustrophic and amatuerish.

The only real problem I had with A CHINESE TALL STORY was the story, not the special effects. After reading many bad things about the CGI and special effects, they turned out to be pretty solid. Some effects looked like from Playstation 2 effects and some effects were awesome. The characters are in a creative vast fantasy world – it’s okay if there are some video game-looking characters in there (as in France’s IMMORTAL). It didn’t bug me at all and I didn’t feel like I was watching a blue screen movie set as I did with THE PROMISE or any of the STAR WARS prequels.

I got the regular 2-disc NTSC Region 3 DVD version of A CHINESE TALL STORY, not the AVANTE GARDE version with the supposed better DTS. The first disc has the movie with Cantonese DTS and DD 5.1, Manderin DTS, andEnglish subtitles. The anamorphic video was extremely nice. The audio was very active with surrounds going all over the place galore, very appropriate for a wild and crazy fantasy fairytale movie. The extras were quite good too, extremely thoughtful to English speakers. There are audio commentaries which have ENGLISH SUBTITLES!!! That’s amazing and worth a lot of bonus points. There are a bunch of extras – a music video, photo gallery, trailers for this and other movies, anamorphic outtakes, anamorphic deleted scenes, interviews, behind the scenes – all ENGLISH SUBTITLED!

If anyone is a fan of Monkey King, you’ll get a kick out of this film, especially with the amazing scenes with Monkey King’s transforming pole which is actually one of the main reasons to check out this movie.