THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE blu-ray review

Hong Kong Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

Mandarin DTS-HD MA 7.1 (original)

Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 (dub)

Subtitles: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 9.5

EXTRAS: 2

 

I’m glad I ignored all those people who criticized The Sorcerer and the White Snake for having poor CGI special effects. I got excited for this movie when I watched the trailer and was pretty amazed by the special effects. It’s a good thing I reminded myself that a lot of people grade CGI special effects on the effects themselves, regardless how they mix with the movie as a whole. I care about the final product – how everything merges together well. I don’t remember anyone criticizing the Star Wars prequels due to poor special effects. But the Star Wars prequels are the worst kind of awkward mix of CGI special effects and live actors I’ve ever seen. Those movies have three levels – live actors, CGI characters, and green screen backgrounds. None of them work together well and none of them even work well with each other at their own levels – the live actors can’t act with the other live actors. The CGI characters have no chemistry with the other CGI characters. The live actors don’t have any connection to their CGI green screen backgrounds. Make any combination you want – the Star Wars prequels are the best example of awful CGI special effects not working in harmony. To name a few more, think of Sky Captain, The Spirit, or the Spy Kids sequels.  The Sorcerer and the White Snake not only has beautiful special effects (I’ll get to the “quality” of them soon in this review), but it’s another good example of CGI-galore movie that has all those parts – the live actors, the CGI special effects, and the green-screen backgrounds – all working together in harmony, just as in films like Sin City, 300, and Immortals.

Regarding the “quality” of the special effects is something to talk about. The director, Tony Ching Siu-Tung, made this epic fantasy film for twenty-five million dollars. Give the guy a break. Polished special effects for the kind of epic visuals shown in this film would cost over hundred million dollars. He did a fantastic job with the budget he was given. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jet Li got most of the money from that budget. Either way, The Sorcerer and the White Snake has various degrees of CGI quality. It ranges all over the place from excellent to almost cartoonish. But that’s the charm of the movie. The director put most of the money into more visually important scenes. When the two female leads play green and white snakes slithering in a graceful and dreamlike way like mermaids, the effects look good. But when they transform into total creatures, the snakes do tend to look cartoonish. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a distraction. Remember that everything works well together. All the actors are excellent. The CGI characters have great chemistry with the live actors. And the CGI backgrounds seem real to all the characters. Even though I thought some of the CGI special effects looked cartoonish, I was not thinking to myself, “oh, they are just acting in front of a green screen” (which is all I could think of when watching the Star Wars prequels). The CGI special effects also are creatively done. I cherish creativity more than polish.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a totally visually creative and mesmerizing fantasy film based on a famous Chinese folklore. As CGI special effects get better, I’m so happy that China can now make more impressive visually epic fairytale films. For anyone that’s ever read a Chinese fairytale book, they all need to be made into movies. For example, Monkey King is the most famous Chinese fairytale (with tons of movie and tv adaptations the past fifty years). The Sorcerer and the White Snake has three interesting stories going on – a duo of demon busters preventing and catching demons from roaming the Earth, one snake-demon sister who falls in love with a human, and the other snake-demon sister who questions one of the demon busters to why he is even capturing demons at all. The story is exciting, has good acting by all the leads (Jet Li, Shengyi Huang, Raymond Lam, Charlene Choi, and Zhang Wen). The movie definitely belongs to Shengyi Huang, the hot actress who plays the white snake-demon. Although she isn’t the next Zhang Ziyi, her acting skills are quite impressive and she has great chemistry with all the actors she plays off of. It’s a simply fairytale story. It would be a shame to criticize the film for not having depth or substance. First of all, there aren’t too many fantasy films with serious substance from any country. There’s Lord of the Rings and that’s about it. People looking for substance in fantasy films are in denial that most of the highly entertaining fantasy films that have existed for so many years usually have more style and creativity than substance.

I have always loved this director, Tony Ching. He’s my second favorite Hong Kong director after Yimou Zhang. He not only directs entertaining Hong Kong films, he’s also one of the best action choreographers. I prefer his style over Woo Ping Yeun, Tsui Hark, John Woo, Corey Yeun (whom I all like as well).

The K & R Region A blu-ray does not disappoint in the video and audio department. As expected for a Chinese fairytale flick, the video quality is a beautiful tapestry of crisp, bright colors which is clear and sharp. As I said earlier, the CGI effects blend nicely with the live actors – the video quality of this blu-ray shows off how everything merges together nicely. Blacks and contrast come out with impressive results as well. The DTS-HD 7.1 is just about perfect for this type of film. Surrounds are incredibly active, with one of the most impressive audio mixes from a Hong Kong blu-ray this year. The musical score (which at times reminded me a bit of the awesome score from The Fountain) sounds great on this blu-ray too. The English subtitles were practically perfect except for one spelling mistake. The translation was surprisingly good for a Hong Kong blu-ray. I wish K & R used the translators for their older films released on blu (K & R or Fortune Star stick with the old Chinglish subtitles when it comes to their older films released on blu). The only extras were a trailer (English-subtitled and 1080p) and an 18-minute making-of-the-film (also English subtitled).

I’ve been pleased with the few Hong Kong movies I’ve seen in 2011 – if I had to rank them from great to good, I would say, “Detective Dee, Gallants, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, and then Reign of Assassins.” The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a totally entertaining fantasy film with very creative special effects (with varying degrees of quality). The movie is sexy, exciting, and even a bit touching. I needed to see a highly satisfying fantasy film after seeing crap like the new Conan the Barbarian and Priest.

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SIVAJI: THE BOSS blu-ray review

India Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

Tamil: LPCM 5.1, DD 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 10

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 8

EXTRAS: 0

 

I knew this was going to be an Indian masterpiece when I saw the trailer for this crazy, live-action, political, cartoon movie. Kollywood movies usually suck ass, but if there is one Tamil movie to see, go see SIVAJI THE BOSS! The character Sivaji is played by India Tamil’s biggest star Rajini (equivalent to Jackie Chan of China or Sharuhk Khan of India Hindi), who does one movie once every 2 years (extremely impressive for Bollywood actors whom usually do one movie every week) and he just whoops ass throughout the whole flick. Like all flamboyant Bollywood actors, who think they are cool just because they are aware of current western trends, speak some English, and act like they are so hot, watching Rajini is like watching a serious version of Austin Powers. You can’t help but like him. SAVAJI: THE BOSS can be interpreted as a perfect spoof of a Bollywood film or as a perfect update of the 70s/80s Bollywood action movies which star old, not-so-sexy, hairy moustached Indian dudes in the lead. This totally entertaining three-hour film is about a rich American Software Systems Architect who returns to his homeland India to try to open up free hospitals and free colleges for the people. All he wants to do is to do good, but he is prevented from doing so by corrupt dirty officials. After unsuccessfully struggling to get things done the lawful way, he takes matters in his own hands and kicks the crap out of the corrupt officials to do his good deeds for the nation of India. Along the way, he stalks a 20-year old hot Tamil girl hopefully to become his wife. (wow, “courting a girl” is so passe, but “stalking a girl” really works in India – such slick Cassanovas). The film is also riddled with some great songs created by the famous A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire, Bombay Dreams).

Shankar, the director of SIVAJI, is one of the most ballsy Bollywood directors for consistently criticizing the corrupt Indian government in most of his films (Deepha Mehta and Mira Nair are controversial Indian directors as well, but they ain’t Bollywood). Shankar is also famous for making the biggest budget Bollywood flicks and using the most current special effects that are found in other Western action movies. He made the first Indian martial-arts film – ANNIYAN, as well as the best Indian sci-fi action film ROBO, which I both recommend. He’s still a bit obsessed with the Matrix movies, as many of the action scenes are inspired by those flicks as well as Robert Rodriguez. For a Bollywood film, his movies have pretty sweet action scenes (no comparison to a western film, but he’s getting close). SIVAJI: THE BOSS has tons of well-choreographed action scenes, martial arts scenes, and one pretty damn original and intense car demolition derby scene. The movie is worth it alone just to see this goofy nerdy leading man transform into a goofy version of Matrix’s Morpheus in the climax. Rajini has a stunt double, sometimes obvious in some of the action scenes, but overall Rajini seems to move pretty damn well for a 50-year old.

SIVAJI: THE BOSS is a great film for anyone who has fantasized of a really honest politician or philanthropist taking the law in his own hands to help one’s own nation. It’s sort of like Charles Bronson’s Death Wish only on a more epic scale. It’s a wacky cheesy film of course, so you should know what to expect for anyone who has ever seen a Bollywood flick.

This is one of the best video and audio quality blu-rays I have ever seen. The video looks practically three-dimensional with colors and depth pooping as if this was a three-dimensional film. The LPCM 5.1 audio just rocks – dialogue was clear and the action in this movie used all the speakers and subwoofer perfectly as one would expect from an awesome surround sound movie! No extras on this blu-ray!

Highly entertaining film – two of the best Tamil films are on blu-ray, ROBO and SIVAJI, both starring Rajini too!

SINGING BEHIND SCREENS dvd review

Italy PAL DVD

Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

Italian DTS 5.1, DD 5.1

Subtitles: English, Italian

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 8.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 9.5

EXTRAS: 8

 

Cantando dietro i Paraventi aka Singing Behind Screens is a very special, dreamlike film about Chinese pirates. I know how people like to say that Pirates of the Caribbean are the best pirate movies, but there have been others over the years which are just as entertaining, such as Roman Polanski’s Pirates, The Goonies, Muppet Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Planet, and The Black Pirate. Singing Behind Screens can now be added to any respectable pirate movie list. This film, directed by Ermanno Olmi (famous for Il Posto and The Tree of Wooden Clogs) is basically about a beautiful Chinese woman who becomes one of the most terrifying pirates after her pirate husband gets killed. But that’s just on the surface. Imagine a pirate movie co-directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, Yimou Zhang, and Julie Taymor – this is Singing Behind Screens. Over the years I have seen a bunch of movies that try to combine theater into cinema, usually unsuccessfully, but in this film, the theatrical elements blend perfectly. From the opening scene, you know you are watching a unique film. I have never seen anything quite like this film, which could almost be considered an art-house film, but it’s more than that – Singing Behind Screens is like a work of art come to life. Movie directors, such as Terrence Malick, that are good at mixing poetry and visuals into one entertaining, unpretentious way are rare. Ermanno Olmi has created an entertaining pirate movie with a very dreamlike pace, good acting led by Bud Spencer and Jun Ichikawa, unique music, and some intense pirate ship scenes. For anyone that thinks that the coolest ship is the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean, wait till you see the main military ship pimped up with cannonry in this film.

The 2-disc Italian PAL DVD is quite a package. The anamorphic widescreen video quality is really nice –  sharpness and detail are good, with all day and night scenes very well-defined and crisp, with fine details often apparent. The picture otherwise appeared smooth, with no instances of pixelation and a print that appeared in first-rate shape, with no dirt or debris. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate. Although this isn’t a big-budget action movie, you will be impressed with this very active Italian DTS 5.1 mix. Even during dialogue scenes, there is always some type of music creating a great experience for the audience. Surrounds are almost constantly alive with the sounds of water, nature, cannon fire, pirates screaming, and other sound effects. Whether calm or intense, there always seemed to be some background details present in the film’s sound mix. I’ve been spoiled with blu-ray sound for a while, but the DTS 5.1 track on this DVD is as impressive as any DTS-HD 7.1 track of a blu-ray. The movie and extras are all English-friendly – everything English subtitled! The extras are plentiful – with a trailer, interviews, and making ofs. The English subtitles for the film are excellent as well with maybe one spelling mistake. This is a complete package for a very unique film.

Fans of pirates should certainly check out this cool film. While the movie is very poetic, don’t expect to be too moved. The film may be lacking emotion, but it makes up for it by the creative direction and overall dreamlike experience of watching this film.

7 HUSBANDS FOR HURMUZ blu-ray review

Turkey Region B blu-ray

1080i Widescreen 1.78:1

Turkish: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1,  LPCM Lossless 7.1, DD 5.1 EX

Subtitles: English, Turkish, French, German, Dutch

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 7

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 6

EXTRAS: 2

 

After watching the trailer for this 7 HUSBANDS FOR HURMUZ, I thought it would be a fun, visually entertaining eye candy-type comedy. And I wasn’t disappointed in that respect. What I liked about the film is that the majority of the film showcased extremely hot Turkish ladies. This is one of those movies that proves that if you don’t have an extremely good story, just fill up the screen with a lot of hot actresses. I was even surprised that this movie is also a musical. There were about seven to nine very catchy rewatchable songs in 7 HUSBANDS FOR HURMUZ.

Here’s the kicker – it’s hard to tell if this movie was horribly written or if the English subtitles were awful. I’m leaning towards the subtitles problems. Even though the English subtitles were pretty much grammatically correct with good spelling, the subtitles were not translated well. I really had no idea what was going on in this film. It’s like everyone was double-talking or babbling. While the screenplay may have been witty and funny, there is no way to figure that out if you don’t speak Turkish. I did read other reviews of this film and it did get mixed reviews with people criticizing the screenplay.

From what I could make of the story, I couldn’t figure out if the main girl, Hurmuz, was looking for 7 husbands, had 7 husbands already, was hiding from all 7 husbands, or if she was trying to hook other hot Turkish ladies up with the 7 husbands. I would have to probably watch this movie two more times to figure out the gist of the film. But in the meantime, damn this movie had great music and extremely attractive women.

The Turkish blu-ray is of excellent quality. The 1080i is just awesome. The colors stand out, they pop with amazing clarity. The audio is just about perfect as well – perfectly mixed and really comes alive during the songs.

The only extras are a trailer, teaser and photo gallery.

This mainstream Turkish movie is worth watching for a change from the usual art-house Turkish film that gets exported to other countries. It’s just too bad the English subtitles on this blu-ray sucks.

SIXTY MILLION DOLLAR MAN blu-ray review

Hong Kong Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

Cantonese: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (original)

Mandarin: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (dub)

Subtitles: English, Mandarin

IMDB

MOVIE: 7

VIDEO QUALITY: 7

AUDIO QUALITY: 6.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 5

EXTRAS: 1

 

60 Million Dollar Man is recommended for very serious fans of Stephen Chow only. I was happy to see it since I have never seen this movie, but the film is all over the place. But Chow is still funny as hell in it. He has such a gift for humor. I’ve seen better Chow films, but this movie had at least one scene out of all of his films which made me laugh til the tears came – it involved a parody of Pulp Fiction, an injection, and Chow’s crotch – this scene was just pure comic genius!

I loved the special effects in the film though – some may think it’s dated. But I prefer these old school special effects rather than newer films with CGI overkill.

Stephen Chow is just so damn funny and he works his magic in even mediocre films such as this one. I normally can’t stand comedy films from China, but Chow seems to be the only one that can make a good comedy from his native country. He is right up their with comic geniuses such as Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin, and Jacques Tati.

As for the blu-ray, I’m going to state my usual disclaimer about Kam & Ronson HK blu-rays:

Lower your expectations. People say that these blu-rays from this Hong Kong company KAM & RONSON are just upconverted DVDs. Maybe so, but they still look and sound better than previous dvd versions, even if the difference is slight and not a huge upgrade. Don’t expect them to be reference blu-ray examples.

This Kam & Ronson blu-ray is fair as expected. The video is full of scratches, dirt, and white specs popping up all over the place, but it looks really good during bright scenes and decent during darker scenes. The colors did pop out and I’m sure this blu-ray looks better than the best DVD version regardless or not if this blu-ray is just an upconverted DVD. I was happier with the video more than with the audio. The audio basically sounded like a 2.1 Stereo soundtrack, only that it sort of had a muffled sound which hadn’t been on previous K&R blu-rays. It didn’t ruin the movie-watching experience though. I was more focused on trying to interpret the English subtitles on this film. Even though there are no spelling mistakes, these were Chinglish subtitles. I don’t think they remastered the English subtitles as I was hoping they would. If the subtitles were translated correctly, I probably would have rated this movie higher because I do sense the movie had a funny screenplay, but I was too distracted by the poor translation. There were tons of witty lines in this movie that did not get translated properly.

The only extra is the trailer to the movie.

If you don’t care about the slight upgrade or if you already own this on DVD, then I wouldn’t buy this blu-ray. But I never owned this movie on DVD before and this blu-ray is selling for 5 dollars more than the DVD, so the blu-ray is worth it then, especially if you love Stephen Chow.

SOLOMON KANE blu-ray review

UK Region B blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

IMDB

MOVIE: 8.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

EXTRAS: 8

 

This movie is awesome! One of the best action films of 2010! I first bought the dvd, and then I was so satisfied with the movie that I decided to upgrade to this UK blu-ray. It’s definitely Region B. I had to switch regions on my multi-region blu-ray player.

Solomon Kane is like an old-school hard R-rated film. There are some seriously messed-up deaths in this film! The filmmaking was sort of like a cross between Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro. And i’m going to be looking out for James Purefoy now – he’s sort of a cross between Gerard Butler and David Wenham. He seriously kicks ass as an action-hero leading man!

It’s too bad that Marvel couldn’t buy the rights to this film and just slap their production label on this film. If this was a Marvel film, it would have been one of the best Marvel comic book-to-film adaptations.

The video quality is excellent – the 2.35:1 aspect ratio looks really nice, much better than the DVD. I would like to note that the aspect ratio is incorrect on the back of this blu-ray. It says 1.85:1 on the back which is not true. The DTS-HD audio is pretty damn amazing as well. I felt like I was listening to a Lord of the Rings movie. And the extras are pretty generous as well: an intro by the director talking about how good the film looks on blu-ray, 2 commentaries, some making of featurettes, a great deleted scene which was unfortunately cut from the film (it’s an action scene of Solomon taking out a whole group of bad guys in a cave, which is in widescreen HD as well), a trailer, and some art images. This is a very generous blu-ray package and a fantasy film that is totally worth buying!

SOLDIER BLUE blu-ray review

Germany Region B blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (original)

German/Italian/Spanish: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (dub)

Subtitles: German, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

EXTRAS: 0

 

Soldier Blue is a fictional re-enactment of the infamous 1864 Sand Creek massacre in Colorado by the U.S. Cavalry on a Cheyenne Indian village and the events that lead up to it. It’s a pretty decent movie with a pretty violent ending that is considered shocking and controversial. Although it was pretty sad to see the Indians get massacred at the end of the movie, the whole tone of the first and second acts weren’t serious or focused enough to make the ending as powerful as it should be. The acting by the leads, Bergan and Strauss, is certainly interesting. I’m not sure it’s good acting, but it’s got that 1970s vibe. This was the first time I saw Candice Bergan as a young woman in a movie. She’s got great hair, but other than that, she really isn’t such a good actress. She sort of reminded me of Sarah Palin in the movie – she’s got this “okee dokee” tough attitude about all the traumatic events going on in the film which was sort of off-putting. Peter Strauss was a bit better – when his whole world falls apart in the film, he sort of goes Planet of the Apes bonkers. And Donald Pleasence pops up in a really bizarre awkward role. Eventhough he’s trying to hunt down the two main protagonists in the film, he just doesn’t come off as scary or intimidating – just more like a joke. The best actor in the film, John Anderson, plays the Colonel that is in charge of the massacre of the Indian village. He’s sort of similar to Patrick McGoohan’s Longshanks in Braveheart. It’s too bad that his character wasn’t developed and only pops up at the end of the film. Furthermore, the Indian characters should have been developed more as well. If this was a longer, more epic film, with the villains (cavalry) and the victims (Indians) developed, it could have been much better. The music of the movie even has an interesting dated 1970s soundtrack.

The Region B German blu-ray is excellent – popping colors and great sharpness. There is high detail in foregrounds and backgrounds, and there is a very tiny amount of original grain which flatter the image. The DTS-HD audio is very solid for a 1970s film – it’s mixed well and the action scenes do provide a good enough punch. There are no extras on this blu-ray.

The only thing funny about this blu-ray is the cover – I don’t know why they chose such a generic looking cover. The cowboy on that cover is not even in the film. This is one blu-ray that can certainly get a custom cover!

I’ll take Dances With Wolves over this film any day, but Soldier Blue is still an interesting, bizarre, violent, and historical film worth checking out.