|Written by Mark Botwright|
published 2nd September 2011
Supplied for review by
John Woo’s star may have plummeted from the heavens of cinema for fifteen or so years (I still don’t rate Face Off!) prior to his resurrected glory with Red Cliff, he languished in the doldrums of run-of-the-mill-Hollywood-thriller-land. It says something when a director can fall so far from grace, even going so far as making a much vaunted Hollywood debut with Jean-Claude Van Damme as his first big budget American production, yet still come out the other side with a loyal fanbase. Stinkers are one thing, but few rarely care for profound mediocrity, yet such was the power of Woo’s Hong Kong legacy he was forgiven: The Killer, Bullet in the Head, Hard Boiled and, most importantly, his 1986 heroic bloodshed epic that helped kick-start an entire genre, A Better Tomorrow.[Read the complete movie review]
An emerging talent would become the next big Hong Kong superstar, as 31 year old Chow Yun Fat, thanks to suave looks, charismatic...
A Better Tomorrow arrives on Hong Kong Blu-ray courtesy of Kam and Ronson with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the AVCcodec and framed within a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to region A.
The films have already been released in Japan via Paramount and it appears as if the same master (possibly the old Fortune Star one that has been used before on DVD) was employed. Those hoping the jump to high definition would treat us all to greater definition, detail and clarity may be in for a disappointment.
Proceedings are soft, I wouldn’t like to say on par with DVD but there is no instantly apparent increase in the Blu-ray’s delineation over what has been seen before. It is a film that has never looked wonderful, but it has a few good close-ups that are handled well here, and exterior scenes are passable, but only in comparison to the alternative. Take a step into the middle distance and Chow’s suit and trenchcoat combo crushes into one lumpy indistinguishable black mess, whilst all but the closest camera and the brightest sunshine leave his slick hair without the ability to highlight natural separation of locks. Luckily he has some product in there to help him, Ti Lung is not as fortunate and more often than not has a Barnet that resembles that of a Lego figure.
Contrast wavers, with some shots being washed out and others excessively bouncing to the opposite end of the spectrum, with less than desirable results. The aforementioned dark suit and coat ensemble picks this shift out and indicates that sometimes it’s better to have wan than the other (apologies for the pun). The boosted reds are even more eye popping than they have been on DVD, the taxis and the theatre seats during Kit’s girlfriend’s musical audition sear into the retinas.
There might be a smidge more depth to a few frames, but generally anything with complexity, such as the office shots or other interior scenes, blur and fuzz in all the subtle niches. The greatest disappointment is the subtitles, which unfortunately are poorly timed (requiring a few pauses to read) and range from the grammatically unsound to potentially plot spoiling. If you know the film you’ll get on fine, if not there’ll be more than a few “what?” moments.
Interestingly for those looking to compare this to the UK Optimum DVD, whilst both have 16:9 aspect ratios, the Blu-ray appears to have more information around the edge of the screen. The comparison may indicate a slight superiority in terms of clarity as well, but it is negligible and far below what a reasonable upgrade to the high def format should entail.
Picture score : 4
Two tracks to choose from: Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital EX 5.1. I focussed on the lossless option.
Key to the film’s success, and its lasting appeal, was the score by Joseph Koo. Whilst it is not ruined by this track, it is certainly not shown off in an entirely complimentary manner. The high frequencies are crisp, but not in a nuanced fashion, sounding somewhat forced. There’s a nice pop to the music and drums have a more mellow, vaguely organic tone to them, but that only lasts so long. The main problem is the imbalance of the centre channel. It is too low in comparison to the score, meaning if you have everything set to normal levels the dialogue will come across as muddy and poor. If you choose to crank the volume, then the inadequacy of the track’s handling of the music will come to the fore: clipping and distortion.
The surrounds are imprecise and lack a sense of a virtual soundscape, with gunshots placed at the rear speakers in an almost timed fashion with little in the way of consideration for the viewer’s perspective. They are also too loud in comparison to the fronts; a healthy crack is expected from behind the listener’s ear, but when it is a bang that outweighs to some degree what is emanating from the fronts then it is less than agreeable. This haphazard use of surround sound extends to the point where a phone on the left of the screen will come distinctly from the left rear speakers.
Some effects work quite well, the glass shattering is quite piercing and is reasonably well layered over the rest of the track, but it is one or two instances that display subtlety rather than it being the rule. When the final scenes roll, the LFE will pitch and the fronts will grunt, but it has all the imperfections of either a low bit-rate offering or one taken from poor material that hasn’t been aided in the transition to a home format. The cardinal sin is the distinct lack of a good multilayered “crack” to go with the breaking of Mark’s leg, which even on DVD was a solid “ouch” moment.
Some of the synth may be passable, but the rest of this track underperforms in terms of polish in all areas.
Sound score : 4
Trailer 1 – 1080p – 4:33
Less a trailer and more a vignette coming in at four and a half minutes. No English subtitles, but the LPCM 2.0 sound gives an indication of how the film should sound
Trailer 2 – 1:53
Again, 2.0 LPCM, no subs and standard definition this time.
Tsang Kong Interview – 8:33
KentTsang, who plays Ken, gives Chinese speakers an interview. No English subtitles.
Waise Lee Interview – 8:33
Waise, who plays Shing, gives his thoughts on the film. No English subtitles.
Codes of Bullets – 9:10
A featurette showcasing the veritable arsenal that was used in the film. No English subtitles.
Extras score : 3
A Better Tomorrow remains one of the original and best of the heroic bloodshed genre. Chow Yun Fat is as effervescently iconic as Mark as he was when he first strode onto the screen twenty five years ago; matchstick in mouth, trenchcoat on and a gun in each hand, he epitomised “cool” in every way. Ti Lung is the perfect foil for this debonair uber-gangster who falls from grace, exuding pathos and a sense of regret through his every pore. Woo’s direction may never have been subtle but he takes what could have been a clichéd tale of brotherhood and honour and freshens it with the lure of hyper-stlyised action galore.
The disc is unfortunately not worthy of the jump from DVD, being that it contains marginal improvements, if any, in the key areas of picture and sound. The extras are not English friendly, and given the sorry state of the subtitles that accompany the main feature that may almost be a blessing. Grammatical errors are acceptable, but blink-and-you’ll-miss-it text that garbles the script borders on the point of spoiling the film, and may indeed do so for those who’re not already familiar with the plot as most fans will be.
Woo aficionados eager to don their eighties shades and trenchcoats will have to wait a little longer for the Blu-ray release this film truly deserves.
Overall score : 5
1,297 word review written by Mark Botwright.
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