PictureBodyguards and Assassins comes with a solid if perhaps unexceptional 1080p video presentation in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1. I think you really have to take into account the budgetary restrictions and the period style they were going for when you consider how it ends up looking presentation-wise, as the necessary grain and faded setting is probably totally in line with the aforementioned period look. Detail is generally very good, but not superb, with a few of the digitally rendered effects shots looking outstanding, and some of the grander moments also raising the bar, but much of the movie given a fairly average level of detail. Defects are kept to a minimum, but there are a few noticeable problems, with softness and edge enhancement at the top of the list. But it should be noted that there isn't anything here that really detracts in any significant way from your enjoyment of the movie. The colour scheme, as stated, perfectly suits the period, with nothing garish or out of place, and skin tones fairly authentic, even if this does not particularly seem like the most vibrant of eras from what is seen on offer here. Black levels do occasionally come across as variable, but for the most part get the job done and overall this is a perfectly serviceable but far from exceptional High Definition rendition.
SoundThings are much less forgivable when it comes to the mess they made in regards to the audio. Sure, the release has no less than four tracks. You want DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1? You got it. You want Dolby TrueHD 7.1? You got it. And you even have a couple of Standard Def tracks, nominal Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks for those whose equipment won't cater for the other variations. Now, you may ask, where's the problem with all of this? Well, the movie's spoken language is Mandarin. And all of the High Definition tracks are in Cantonese. This is not the first time that I have noticed this being done for releases in Mandarin, and I don't get why it isn't balked at, the same way you would criticise an English movie being dubbed into Spanish rather than just subtitled? Ok so Mandarin and Cantonese are somewhat hard to distinguish for us Westerners, but the whole point of avoiding dubbing is surely the fact that viewers want to hear the real actors emote with their real voices, their mouths and facial expressions totally in-synch with the words spoken. Well I certainly do. I want to watch a movie where they speak in Mandarin, in Mandarin, not any other language. And it's not like I don't have to read the subtitles anyway, so why not just have it in Mandarin? I can't answer that, but the only Mandarin track on offer here is a standard def Dolby Digital 5.1 track, the kind of which you'd be pleased with if it adorned one of your SD-DVDs. On Blu-ray it does what it can, but rarely brings life or depth to the affair, offering up plenty of action, clear dialogue and decent representation of the strong score, but little in the way of nuanced effects, dynamics, clever surround usage or significant bass. It's a strictly by-the-numbers offering on a format which promises to be much more. What a disappointing effort on the parts of the studios. Sigh, at least the English subtitles seem to be professionally done.
ExtrasThere are a few limited extra features with this release - a short Making Of Featurette, a Trailer and a TV Spot - nothing particularly worthy of note but thankfully at least they all have English subs.
VerdictBodyguards and Assassins is a prime example of a period-set martial arts epic that amounts to far more than just its - undeniably entertaining - action sequences. Setting up a powerful backstory of a Nation on the brink of Revolution, we get an ensemble cast coming together to provide myriad characters that we actually care about, and once all the pieces are in place, we get an hour of non-stop action. Fusing elements of Seven Samurai and 16 Blocks, throwing in nods to classics in the genre, and giving us some excellent martials arts action to boot, this is a thoroughly engaging action-epic.
On Blu-ray the results are somewhat less spectacular, the video is acceptable if you take into consideration the budget and the look that they were going for but the audio is both unforgivable and positively insulting. The movie is in mandarin, and the only High Definition tracks that adorn the release are dubbed into Cantonese. If you want to listen to the original language track you have to step down a level to a standard DD5.1 mix more typical of the SD-DVD era. Honestly, this is a quality movie that fans across ages and countries should find interesting and entertaining, whether for the historical setup, the character depth, the star talent or the martial arts action, and it is a shame that I have to recommend you look out for another version which sports a High Definition Audio track in the native language. However, until that day (which may not be very long in the UK) those who want to check out this movie will have to put up with this release. A recommended film on a lacklustre disc.
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