Iron Monkey Blu-ray Review
Iron Monkey comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Kam and Ronson with a 1080p resolution encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a theatrically correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to Region A.
Internet debates about Hong Kong films from yesteryear often rage with the word “upscale” being bandied about, and I’ve often preferred to fall on the side of disbelieving such statements as eager bile spewed solely on the evidence of screencaps. However, Iron Monkey has to surely be a contender, either for being true to the statement or at least mirroring the levels of substandard quality that it represents. It is soft, not merely Hong Kong soft due to a rushed production schedule, poor lighting and film stock, but
DVDupscale soft. A few close ups show some sharpness, but anything beyond arm’s length away descends into distinctly smudged territory. The greater aspect these tight shots show up is the lack of detail. Get caught up in the film and you can almost forget that it’s supposed to be there and that clothes are intended to be made of textures and fabrics. Whether it is an upscale or not is hardly the point, the key aspect is not how it was delivered to us but what condition it is in when it arrives. The Miramax US release was far from perfect, but it is certainly sharper than this.
On the plus side there is no serious print damage, with only the occasional un-worrisome specks popping up sporadically, but no large unsightly hairs or scrapes. Contrast isn’t too bad, as the film progresses the use of boosting becomes more apparent. Certain early scenes are quite washed out and colours are tempered, however later those colours become far more vivid. Blacks are generally quite weak but whites fare somewhat better with only one instance of blooming, but given the overall lack of detail anything lost would be negligible.
This is an image that contains little to recommend an upgrade, it may not suffer from problematic noise, major telecine wobble or light fluctuations (though both are still there), or show large signs of print degradation, but there is a lack of sharpness and detail that goes beyond the usual excuses of the origins of the film. Whether it comes from a 35mm print or is an upscale, this is below par.
The disc presents you with three audio choices – Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and Thai Dolby Digital EX 5.1. I opted for the lossless track.
It’s always a shame not to get a mono track, but if implemented correctly I’m sure the inclusion of a lossless 7.1 offering will ease the pain. There are several key plus points to this 7.1 option, it makes some good use of the rears during fight scenes, pumps out On the General’s Orders that accompanies all Wong Fei-hung’s great cinematic moments with aplomb and generally aims to keep all channels fairly active.
When the bass wants to kick in it does so with gusto, which brings me to my first problem – level consistency. As so often is the case with tracks that find their roots in mono material, remaining consistent with the flashier tricks attempted often highlight that much of what we are hearing was never intended to be more than a 2.0 offering. Here impacts can be shatteringly strong (and I say that in a good sense) or typical kung-fu flick weak and generic in tone. Similarly, the score, when brought to a crescendo, is capable of hitting levels that are out of keeping with the rest of the mix.
The centre is pretty good, with only some of the dubbed voices coming across as a bit tinny and subdued and the fronts remain feeling wide and fairly expansive. There is some directionality and the discreet noises work as one would expect, unsubtle but commendable for their clear presence. If it weren’t for the fluctuations in volume and the general air of inconsistency this would be a perfect substitute for those who would have preferred the inclusion of the original mono track.
Trailer 1 – 1080p – 4:47
Trailer 2 – 480i – 2:02
Iron Monkey is a classic slice of early nineties kung fu cinema. It works not only as a great example of Yuen Woo-ping choreographed wirework (for all those who felt Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon went too far) at its best but also as an excellent prequel of sorts to the many great Wong Fei-hung films that undoubtedly line the shelves of martial arts cinema fans the world over.
The Region A locked disc, unlike its US counterpart doesn’t contain the rejigged subtitles that showed such disregard for the original story, but other than that there is little to truly recommend about it. The image, be it upscale or not, is soft and lacks detail whilst the audio, though taking a fine crack at making use of eight channels, has some level issues. The meagre two trailers on offer are reminiscent of the early days of
DVDand hyping of “animated menus” as a selling point, such is their negligible nature to the disc as a whole.
If fans want the complete package, it looks like they’ll continue to have to rely on multiple discs to do so.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.11
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