71: Into The Fire Blu-ray Review
71: Into The Fire comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Showbox Media with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is Region Free.
The stylised image is pushed to-and-fro by cinematographer Choi Chan-min, with some sublimely effective over exposure and shifts from the cold harsh reality of the theatre of war to the gentle and warm image that accompanies heartfelt reminiscences of better times. It is great credit to this disc that the leap from one to the other is never jarring – the colour palette holds remarkably consistent. Whites have a sepia tint that indicates the aged story well without tipping into faux period photography attempts at a flourish. Together with the inky blacks, the level of contrast is superb, creating a tangible solidity.
Detail strives for similar levels of excellence, with shadow detail in particular being noteworthy. Dusk battles and cowering teens in corners are never hard to discern, being realised with the perfect amount of visibility without lightening the image to uncover the proceedings. The first close-up is something of a revelation, with faces indicating all the hallmarks of the characters’ hardships, be it dirt collecting in the lines of the face or authentically textured blood emanating from minor wounds. Pores, hair, eyelashes – you name it, it’s there and not just visible but finely rendered.
Things are generally spot on in terms of delineation, but there are a couple of softer shots, though the cuts away would indicate they are nothing more than slips during production rather than any fault of the disc. A hint of sharpening is discernible in a negligible minority of shots and there’s the requisite couple (and I mean only a couple) of specs.
The intentional blooming of the sun scorched battlefields is held with such a tight rein that it never puts a foot wrong. It is hard not to enthuse greatly about the visual quality of this disc, as it has all the elements of a truly top image and barely a trace of the blights that can hinder the medium. Strong in detail, sharp, exhibiting a stable and stylish colour palette and draped in a healthy but fine layer of even film grain that lends a very necessary cinematic feel to this period tale.
Point of note – subtitles appear over the image and the bottom border.
In a move that is sure to be welcomed by purists all over the country Showbox have seen fit not to include an English language track. Audio options are Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Korean Dolby Digital 2.0. Obviously I opted for the lossless choice.
Audio, like the narrative, throws you straight in at the deep end, with the opening battle sequence proving a perfect indication of just what this track has to offer. Bullets whiz from in front or behind and the directionality is tight and precise, there is no sign of multiple audio cues muddying one another or lessening the potency of the lesser effect. There is a rhythm to the pandemonium and once it reaches a crescendo, typified by a heavy thump from the LFE, there is usually an ebb to the mayhem, a short breather before you are confronted with numerous more discreet projectiles and debris crashing to the ground.
The centre channel is perfect, though I don’t speak Korean I honestly doubt there’s a nuance to a voice or dramatic inflection that is fluffed. Voices are warm, rich and naturalistic, and seamlessly integrate into the soundstage, whether it be times of quiet conversation or rushed panic in the heat of combat. In both scenarios Lee Dong-jun’s score is well placed to add emotion, with some of the crispest multi-layered tunes you’re likely to hear on the medium. The march of the People’s Army resonates in the ears, pounding with depth and the higher frequencies soar without a hint of distortion or clipping.
The audio matches the inventive and stylish image perfectly, with a heady mix of a wide soundstage, potency in explosions and gunfire, well maintained directionality, rears that are more than simply supplemental support and a centre channel that hits, and stays at, exactly the right level throughout.
Audio Commentary By Bey Logan and Mike Leeder
Two men, who between them seem to know just about everything and everyone in the East Asian film industry, combine to keep the information rolling at a steady pace. Everything from similar titles and the personnel of the film, to the issues raised and the social impact of the war on the country are discussed. An informative and insightful listen.
Men of Valour, Personal Reflections on the Korean War – 1080p – 28:20
A CineAsia exclusive feature in which veterans of the Korean War discuss their experiences. Their memories are often touching but the interspersal of clips detracts from the sombre tone somewhat.
Making of Documentary – 576p – 20:22
We join the production during shooting in Hap-chen and get to see how some of the more complex shots were orchestrated. Cast and crew are on hand to relay their experiences and thoughts about the subject material - of particular interest is Lee Jae-han’s explanation of the various visual choices.
Behind the Scenes – 576p – 7:30
A short look at the setting up of certain shots and some fairly standard footage of fiddling with make-up and equipment.
Production Design – 576p – 9:38
This bonus offers an excellent insight into the lengths that were gone to in order to get just the right balance between authenticity and cinematic flair.
Pre-production – 576p – 8:17
The director and cast discuss what drew them to the project, with some surprisingly different takes on why it was important and how the material should be viewed.
Student Soldier Trainees from the Korean War – 576p – 8:16
Veterans from the war who saw combat at the battle of Pohang Girl’s Middle School meet at the location to relay their experiences.
Poster – Making of – 576p – 6:19
Large amounts of footage of the various actors standing still whilst cameras click in the background. A little more information about the composition and design would have been nice.
Premier and Press Interview – 576p – 5:11
The usual filler consisting of the cast standing for pictures and saying a few cursory words for the crowd.
Showcase – 576p – 5:01
The Showcase screening that consists of whooping fans, queues and little else.
Sitting comfortably alongside Taegukgi and Assembly as one of the best Eastern War films of the past decade, 71: Into The Fire takes a powerful true story and adds just enough stylistic flair to grip audiences whilst remaining respectful to the actual events. Lee Jae-han has crafted a visual spectacle of a film; the desaturated hues make the jump into a period conflict easy for the viewer and the tight battle sequences and overall sense of chaos have been finely tuned and exhibit significant polish.
The Region Free disc handles the flourishes of both image and sound remarkably, the standout feature being excellent details in both fields. The extras are plentiful but contain the usual amount of filler, however Bey Logan and Mike Leeder’s commentary counterbalances any fluff more than amply.
An enthralling and moving tale brought to the small screen with aplomb, 71: Into The Fire on Blu-ray is a triumph of the highest calibre.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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