SHADOWLESS SWORD blu-ray review

Taiwan Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

Korean: LPCM 5.1, DD 5.1

Subtitles: English, Mandarin

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 8.5

EXTRAS: 1

 

SHADOWLESS SWORD is surprisingly a good wuxia/swordplay movie with great action, a decent story and good acting! I was expecting it to be like the awful SHINOBI or fair AZUMI, but I got just the opposite. It’s basically about a female warrior who goes on a journey to find a prince from a falling empire and talk him into becoming the new king. During this journey, they are chased by the bad guys. It’s sort of like THE TWO TOWERS and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS in which they are always on the run, trying to reach a destination, and the prince is dealing with some Aragorn issues a la LORD OF THE RINGS. It’s a simple story, but done very well. What makes this different from the usual wuxia bunch is that the director throws some humor in the film. In the film, there are some low-class scum criminals that are all imitating and look like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN – they all do a great impersonation too! There is also an assortment of interesting villains in the movie. The main villain played by Hyeon-jun Shin (who was the protagonist in BICHENMOO) is quite an interesting actor. Throughout the movie, his subtle style of acting makes it hard to figure out if he is really bad or good – sort of a dark character a la Christian Bale style, like a vigilante, but can’t really tell if his character is going to do something heroic or something totally demented.

The action in this movie is pretty sweet! Although it’s quick cut, it’s done in a tasteful way to appreciate the choreography. The scenes are long enough to build intensity as well. The two best scenes in the movie are a rooftop chase in the dark (sort of like a cross between the cops chasing Trinity at the beginning of MATRIX and the rooftop night chase from CROUTCHING TIGER) and an extremely original scene with the main two characters avoiding the baddies underwater in which the baddies (above ground) are throwing Chinese Stars into the water at such a rapid and massive attack, they probably killed all the fish in the water. It is then followed by a underwater swordfighting scene which I haven’t seen in martial arts movies before. So, there is some pretty cool choreography and some tricky wirework. There was definitely a lot of work put into the moves.

SHADOWLESS SWORD is the fourth best Korean wuxia/swordplay/martial arts movie that I’ve seen. The only other three that I have found to be the only good ones from Korean cinema are BICHENMOO, MUSA, and THE LEGEND OF EVIL LAKE. These four Korean movies have been the most balanced period-piece action movies that actually have a decent story, good acting, and are touching films.

I used to have the Korean DVD of this film (not the USA DVD), and this Taiwanese Region A blu-ray is a big upgrade! The 1080p video is very crisp. There were many night scenes and it looked very nice – just a bit more grainy during night scenes. The movie has a good balance of jumping to very dark claustrophic night scenes to very bright open-spaced day scenes. So it made me appreciate the video quality more since it wasn’t just sticking to one color tone. The Korean LPCM 5.1 is just awesome! There are many scenes with flying daggers, flying swords, flying spears, arrows swishing all over the place. It was a really nice mix. The English subtitles are very solid as well.

Pretty good movie! This director Young-jun Kim, who also did BICHENMOO, might be on his way in becoming the Yimou Zhang of Korea.

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ANNIYAN dvd review

India Region 1 NTSC dvd

Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

Tamil DTS 5.1, DD 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 7.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 8

AUDIO QUALITY: 8

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 8

EXTRAS: 2

 

ANNIYAN is a Tamil movie (South India) made by one of the best special effects director, Shankar, in India. His movies are usually expensive, polished, and have pretty good special effects for a Bollywood-type film. ANNIYAN is basically a musical version of “The Punisher or The Crow Travels to India to Whoop Ass Kung Fu-style on Unethical People.”

I had been in a phase of watching Hindi Bollywood movies and I can’t stand watching them anymore, because they make crap after crap. If we are lucky, there is at least one good Bollywood film a year. Not an amazing film, not a great film, just a 3-star good film. That’s if we are lucky out of the thousands of low quality Bollywood films made in India per year. Whenever I get fed up to Bollywood movies, I have no choice but to turn to Tollywood or Kollywood films and I end up being more satisfied.

Shankar is one of the rare Indian directors that is more creative than all the other worthless generic Bollywood directors. The repetitive theme in most of Shankar’s films is that he’s pissed with government corruption and he always seems to have his protagonist whoop ass on everyone that gets in the way of progress for the community. Shankar’s got issues with India, but for some reason, I can’t believe that he is not aware of the cheese romance factor that plagues Bollywood. The male leads acting like desperate shy psychopaths out of a Shakespeare play or male leads acting like cool, stylish, flamboyant, sexist stalkers is not the way normal men are. I know it’s a movie, but the romance stories have got to take a more realistic direction already. It is not attractive for the man to act desperate and expect the girl to fall in love. And in the other extreme, Bollywood portrays the confident male leads as pushy, obnoxious, aggressive, sexist and flamboyant. This is not attractive too. Bollywood romance movies are created from the fantasy world of male geek minds. Let women write the romance storyline already. In ANNIYAN, im not sure if Shankar is criticising the unrealistic way men approach women in Bollywood movies or if he actually sees that as the norm.

The action scenes are not bad compared to a Hollywood movie – they could have polished the wire work better and they should have hired a Hong Kong action choreographer already instead of copying direct scenes from the Matrix movies.  Out-of-sync sounding fight scenes should not be allowed ever again in a Bollywood film. The punch and kick sound effects in old Shaw Bros films were at least in synch with the action on the screen (maybe not the old dialogue dubbing though). But other than that, ANNIYAN moves along at an entertaining pace and is not boring at all and doesn’t have much filler as other Bollywood movies.  The story is quite interesting because the bad-ass character kills people we all dream of being killed. As I watch this movie now, it makes me think of this character killing irresponsible corporate bosses. It’s like the bad-ass character was inspired by Michael Moore and took action into his own hands in an extreme way. ANNIYAN is similar to THE CROW and THE PUNISHER (definitely better than all the Hollywood versions of THE PUNISHER).

The AYNGARAN Region 1 NTSC DVD of ANNIYAN is pretty good! The anamorphic video quality and the Tamil DD 5.1/DTS audio is very nice. It has scratches and such, but it’s not that distracting. The audio was very immersive with active surrounds and rumbling subwoofer (with some weird sound issues here and there throughout the movie, but not enough to be a big deal or ruin the experience of hearing the movie). The English subtitles were good as well.

Overall, Shankar always tries to make somewhat unique blockbusters and he made another highly entertaining movie with ANNIYAN. The movie is worth seeing just for a knock-off scene of the “Burlyman Brawl” scene from MATRIX RELOADED.

KIRIKOU ET LA SORCIERE blu-ray review

France Region B blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

English: DTS 2.0

French: DTS-HD HR 5.1, DTS 2.0

Subtitles: French (removable)

IMDB

MOVIE: 10

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

EXTRAS: 7

 

KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS is a great animated film in the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki. French Director Michel Ocelot chose the legend of the little Kirikou, which he heard in his childhood, when he lived in Africa. In a little village, a pregnant woman hears her unborn son asking: “Mother, give me to birth!” After the initial surprise, she says calmly that if he can talk, he can be born by himself. The tiny boy, basically a super fast baby, crawls out of her, stands and says: “I am Kirikou.” He’s told then that almost all men there, including his father, were devoured by Karaba, an evil sorceress who oppresses the rest of the tribe. After saving the other children and his own uncle from her and making the local fountain run again, Kirikou runs off to see the old Wiseman in the mountain, the only person who knows how to defeat the witch.

In his movie, Michel Ocelot tried to reproduce the African art style. The result is gorgeous and plenty of color. The animation is a bit simple, but it’s still beautiful to look at. It’s mainly a 2-D animated movie with some use of CGI during Kirikou’s super-speed running. The women’s nudity and kids’ nudity might shock conservatives, yet they’re shown naturally, so don’t worry, it’s not a big deal. Since the movie takes place in an African village, conservatives always accept that it’s okay to see nude Africans a la National Geographic, but not nudity in other countries, which is hypocritical. The main reason this movie didn’t get released in the USA is the nudity. And we all know what a ridiculous prude country the USA is when it comes to nudity, but violence is okay.

As in Hayao Miyazaki movies, the protagonist doesn’t have to kill the villain to reach his goal. The movie’s message is that cruelty produces more cruelty, and that we should learn to forgive – since we aren’t so great ourselves.

The African-French music is excellent as well, with an unforgettable theme song that you will be humming to yourself after the end of the movie.

This Kirikuo character has franchise all written over it in a good way of course – a la Tintin or Asterix. The director has already filmed another Kirikou adventure, KIRIKOU ET LES BĘTES SAUVAGES, which is on France Blu-ray as well but no English subtitles. There is an English-subtitled NTSC Region 1 DVD of this one though.

I have had all the DVD versions of Kirikou: the letterboxed NTSC Region 1 DVD and the French anamorphic PAL DVD. The blu-ray is a big improvement over the anamorphic DVD. The blu-ray is brighter, crisper, and shows more detail. This movie needs to be seen on blu-ray! The English DTS 2.0 audio is excellent as well. There are some extras but don’t have English subtitles.

Excellent touching film. It’s a must buy, and totally entertaining for kids and adults!

THE VALLEY blu-ray review

UK Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

French: LPCM Mono

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 8.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 8

 

I love discovering these directors that started started as experimental, art-house film directors in the 1970s yet I had only really known them as mainstream film directors since I only watched their later films in the 1980s til now. I had always seen the newer films of directors like Nicholas Roeg (The Witches), Peter Weir (The Truman Show), and Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Kiss of Death), but only recently I had no idea that they started with more art-house, underground films (Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Valley) until seeing their filmography online.

After reading many reviews online about The Valley, I was a bit discouraged from blind-buying it because this film has many mixed reviews. I had never seen it before but the trailer for this film looked very interesting. The involvement of Pink Floyd didn’t hurt as well. Knowing this film was from the 1970s, I expected a lot of psycho-babble (in the negative way). The only psycho-babble I’ve loved from an underground 1970s film is Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. Fortunately, The Valley unfolds as a very straight-forward road trip movie with not so much psycho-babble. The small amount of psycho-babble in this film isn’t even annoying or obnoxious. As drugged up as the characters may be, they don’t seem that out of it. The Valley is basically about a small group of fun-loving, open-minded hippies seeking out a paradise somewhere in a hard-to-reach valley in Papua New Guinea. A conservative gorgeous woman from the city, played by Bulle Ogier, tags along. She starts out as a b*tch, but as their adventure gets closer, she evolves into a very open-minded regular gal. Bulle Ogier is not only amazing looking in this film, she’s totally likable even when she’s playing unlikable. She is the audience. She is playing the role perfectly of how an outsider would be by just joining some quest in the middle of nowhere. As a viewer, I really connected to her sense of curiousity and fears that she experiences on the way to the valley. I had seen her only as a middle-aged woman in French films from the 1990s, so it was great to see her in her gorgeous-looking prime.

The movie is totally entertaining from beginning to end. I usually don’t like road trip movies, but I do love nature/tribe people movies…and The Valley does not disappoint. The cinematography by Néstor Almendros (Days of Heaven) is beautiful and for anyone that fantasizes to leave the real world to go live with nature, this movie is like a fantasy film. And the audience gets to learn a bit something from these Papua New Guinea tribe people from the movie and the three short documentaries that are extras on the blu-ray.

Pink Floyd fans are known to be disappointed with The Valley because the movie is not filled with tons of Pink Floyd music. They basically score one awesome sounding song that plays at the beginning and the end of the film and it is a pretty memorable tune. It sort of reminds me of the music from an early John Carpenter movie.

I also enjoyed the male lead in the film, Michael Gothard, who I had only known as one of the villains in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. He does a good job playing a guide, lover, and guardian angel to Bulle Ogier’s character.

BFI Video has released an excellent quality blu-ray. The video of this blu-ray shows off amazing colors, it’s clear, crisp and totally clean. And it’s got a nice amount of grain that would normally be removed and DNRed if this was an old Hollywood film. So BFI did as perfect job as they could do on the remastering of the video. The French PCM mono is excellent as well – dialogue clear, and the sounds of nature and Pink Floyd score sounds great on this. When watching this blu-ray, you feel like you are actually there in Papua New Guinea.

The extras are pretty decent as well – there are three short full screen documentaries about the tribe’s pork preparation, make-up preparation, and tribal ceremony. All are very interesting and informative and looked great on blu-ray as well. There are 3 more of Barbet’s trailers in HD (More, The Valley, and Maîtresse). And there is a very informative booklet that comes with the package.

Great underrated movie and an almost perfect blu-ray/DVD (Pal) package. Highly recommended!

COEUR FIDELE blu-ray review

UK Region B blu-ray

1080p Full Screen 1.33:1

Music: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 8

VIDEO QUALITY: 10

AUDIO QUALITY: 10

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 7

 

I’ve been on a role with old films – City Girl, Boudu Saved From Drowning, French Cancan, and now Sunrise. I was hoping 5th one would be a charm with COEUR FIDELE but unfortunately I wasn’t blown away with this Jean Epstein film. All I can say is that this film is one of the most creative edited and directed old films I’ve ever seen – I give credit to that, as well as the beautiful scenery of good ol’ France. But the story is really not that interesting. This movie is a rather depressive melodrama with a very bland storyline. The whole movie focuses on a dreary woman with amazing eyes, caught between an a-hole who likes her and a nice guy who likes her. The whole movie is just her moping around town. It’s too bad the story was not stronger because it would be so much more rewatchable.

As usual, Eureka did a perfect job of remastering. The video quality is so crisp, clear, and fresh, it’s like watching the movie in 1923. The audio is perfectly mixed too – with a very interesting dark soundtrack. The only extras are an interesting 44-page booklet and photos.

If you want to see an old film with very creative and original direction/editing, then check out this film.

FOREVER ENTHRALLED blu-ray review

China Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

Mandarin: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English, Mandarin

IMDB

MOVIE: 8

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 8.5

EXTRAS: 2

 

Forever Enthralled is a biopic of the famous Chinese opera singer Mei Lanfang. This film follows a similar pattern to Milos Forman’s Amadeus – a lot of great Peking Opera scenes mixed with a strict jealous mentor who doesn’t let him live a life that he wants. Forever Enthralled is a very good film for a biopic – it’s long, but it covers pretty much his whole life – very epic. Kaige Chen is a great director and his film moves along at a very entertaining pace. The acting by everyone is excellent as well. The scenes with Leon Lai and Ziyi Zhang, as well as the scenes with the young Mei and old master, are really exciting – great chemistry from the whole cast.

The Chinese blu-ray is excellent. The video is clear, crisp, and colorful. Outdoor day scenes as well as indoor dark scenes are equally very good. The presentation really enhances the rich detailed fabrics of the costumes, make-up and scenery. Sharpness is very solid from the close-ups to the long-shots.

The DTS-HD 7.1 sounds great as it fills up the entire soundfield with excellent depth and clarity. Dialogue is also perfect and nicely balanced throughout. Surround use is used nicely. Discrete effects are common in just about every scene with audience chatter, applause, rain, street scenes. This audio is perfect for this type of epic biopic.

The only extras are a widescreen trailer (English subtitled) and a short featurette on the real Mei Lanfan (non-subtitled).

I was a bit worried that the English subtitles were going to be poor since this a mainland Chinese blu-ray, but fortunately the English subtitles were very good – better than a lot of the English subtitles on current HK blu-rays.

Forever Entralled is an entertaining, epic biopic with great Peking opera scenes – it feels like a long movie, but it’s never boring. Kaige Chen delivers another solid piece of filmmaking!