Mad Detective Blu-ray Review
PictureEureka's packaging and film notes state proudly that this MPEG-4 transfer has been supervised by the filmmakers, themselves - which is reassuring. The Asian BD has been considerably altered from its original and intended look, so at least we are getting the ral deal.
Mad Detective is presented with a 2.35:1 ratio that mixes up its shots with lots of snarly close-ups of Bun's mush and a few off-kilter longer views of streets and, especially, the forest. In fact, the scenes set in the woods - be they the build-up to the incident that kick-starts the whole thing or Bun and Ho's subsequent investigations deep within them - are quite gloriously filmed and undoubtedly offer some cool depth and detail in this 1080p transfer, even if, on the whole, this is not a particularly three-dimensional image.
The film is deliberately bereft of any vivid colours - other than some deliciously gaudy gore and the odd street sign lit-up in neon - with the image adhering to the maker's stylistic sheen of intriguing midnight blues. The disc caters for this palette quite successfully with a fair degree of saturation and smooth shade transitions. In places, the image looks pretty dour and there are lots of moody, ill-lit interiors that reveal the transfer handles the blacks with strength and solidity. Contrast, on the whole, is good too, with ripples, pools or sheens of silvery light poking stylishly through the gloom, but the problem lies with some excessive noise taking place within some of these darker portions of the picture. This fuzzing-about can be distracting when it comes to shadow-play, although it should be stated that this is not a consistent defect and that there are still plenty of atmospheric dark shots that are trouble-free.
Edges are tight and suffer only the most minimal of enhancement here and there, and even though there are occasional instances when areas of the image - usually at the outer peripheries - become slightly out of focus and softer than the main sections, detail is actually very well presented. The foliage of the forest, the pebbles in the stream as seen in the evocative high-shot looking down, the grains of earth during the burial sequence look fine for the exterior shots, whilst the interiors boast decent - though not great - object delineation on nick-knacks, furniture, clothing, broken glass, items on the shelf in the corner-shop and on weaponry. Skin-tones are natural and convincing and the transfer does not exhibit any nasty evidence of over-zealous DNR having taken place. Grain structure is certainly still there.
Mad Detective does not compete with the best transfers out there and, in fact, its own visual style may appear to downplay its attributes to a degree, but this is still a fine and detailed image.
SoundWow, Eureka really knows how to pack a disc with audio options.
We get a choice of four different tracks, two Dolby Digital - a stereo and 5.1 mix - and both DTS-MA and Dolby TrueHD lossless flavours in 5.1 as well! Naturally, these tracks are all in Cantonese. The Asian disc goes as far as 7.1, but I doubt that it will much of a difference at the end of the day. So, settle back and pick your track of choice. There is nothing in it between the two of them.
Whilst it must be remembered that Mad Detective is primarily a dialogue-driven film and, as such, is largely arranged across the frontal array, there are still some elements that really shine. For a start, the film is full of impacts, both subtle and extreme, and all of them are delivered with style and force. We get bodies hit by speeding cars, vicious head-butts and crashing furniture and even some fantastically rendered openings and closing of vehicle doors that have that deliciously warm and a solid ka-chunk to them. Gunplay, when we get it - and it isn't all that often - is very loud and aggressive, with even the blasts that take place in confined interiors sounding authentically strong, punchy and reverberating. And, adding to the effect of these booms, most of them are followed by some terrifically clear shattering glass - with the hall of mirrors shoot-out proving to be the audio highlight.
Other nice elements besides a reasonably immersive rainstorm - that Bun takes to be a sign from God - are the smashing porcelain of the sink that Bun's head is crashed through and seven-way whistling as Chi-wai and his platoon of inner selves go for a stroll, the audio catering for the positioning of the various lip-blowers. The squealing of car tyres, the roar of Ho's motocycle and the gunning of engines is more than decent too and listen out for the bit when a mobile phone ring-tone suddenly breaks a spell of silence with fabulously nerve-jangling results. But, whilst dialogue is always very, very clear, sharp and natural sounding - especially those screeching ladies - the film doesn't come across as overly dynamic or even particularly sensitive to surround usage. There are effects thrown out to the rears, but they are mainly reserved for added ambience, such as cop-shop hubbub, street-noise and forest atmospherics. Thus, steerage, which is fine and seamless across the front isn't something that sticks in the mind when it comes to full wraparound sonics.
Eureka must be applauded for supplying us with all these options and there is definitely the audio track for you in here somewhere. Both lossless tracks improve considerably upon the DD variations, with much more clarity and detail present. Personally, for the record, I opted for the DTS-MA track.
ExtrasWhilst Eureka should be thanked for taking the time and trouble to source and incorporate some extras for Mad Detective, I'm afraid that, apart from the 16-page booklet delivering an excellent essay on the film from David Bordwell, Prof of Film Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, they aren't actually very good.
Starting with a Q&A Session with Johnnie To at the Cinémathèque Française held in Paris, March 2008 (35 mins), the emphasis is on interviews and overviews rather than anything specifically related to the film in question. This session begins in quite a fawning manner before the audience sees To's film The Mission, and then resumes 85 minutes later, back on-stage, once the film has ended. To explains quite frankly, via interpretor and subtitles, how he makes his films - on the hoof, as it were - and seems quite flippant and arrogant at times. He talks about his methods, the proximity of real-life criminal gangs, about his relationships with actors and other filmmakers, especially Wai Ka Fai but, despite his attempts at humour, I found that I swiftly became bored rigid by it all.
Things don't really improve with the Exclusive Cast Interviews either. We get to meet the star Lau Ching Wan and one of the extras who plays a hidden self, Lam Suet. The session is very informal - on a settee in what looks like a decrepit backroom deep in the bowels of the Italian Film Festival held in April 2008. Lasting for 15.59 mins, this is more conversational despite the fact that the questions are cue-carded for us on-screen, but Mad Detective is barely touched-upon and Lau, who is articulate and full of banter, actually seems thoroughly uninterested. Lam Suet only gets to say a couple of words ... and these are strikingly un-profound or illuminating.
And finally, apart from the UK theatrical trailer, we have another session with that rascally raconteur Johnnie To. Lasting for 20.58 minutes, this is actually a little better than the earlier Q&A, with the filmmaker getting grilled in Paris again. We hear of investments, Hong Kong gangs controlled by the government, the use of humour in his films and his predilection for shooting them at the same time as they are being written. He talks about his working bonds with and respect for Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and, naturally, Wai Ka Fai but, most intriguingly, we hear tantalising snippets about some internet scandal that involves naked ladies and explicit photos. Now, I have no idea what this is all about, but it is clear that despite being all smiles about it, To was happier to discuss the implications of policing the internet. So ... I'm still none the wiser on the matter.
As I said, Eureka have done a fine job getting some extras onto the disc, but they are, unfortunately, something of a let-down at the end of the day.
VerdictIf you like Asian genre cinema then Mad Detective has ample delights on offer. Once again, the conventions of the cop thriller are thrown to the wind and liberally interspersed with witty tricks, visual panache and a left-field approach that pulls the rug from beneath traditional narrative. With performances that are assured and always interesting and a central idea that is novel and daft enough to engage, it is a shame that the script so willingly skips over its own internal logic. Leaving the audience behind and wrong-footing them is something that works well in some things - House Of Flying Daggers, for example - but can prove to be alienating in others. Sadly, Mad Detective ditches coherence a little too early on and never quite regains it. But this does nothing to ruin the engagingly goofy atmosphere of Bun's detective work and the film does hammer home a nicely poignant realisation that, in the right frame of mind, can be quite jolting. Throw in the often clever use of the multiple inner workings of people and a top notch final shoot-out and you have a movie that is never boring and never plays by the rules. Eminently enjoyable hokum from people that take delight in just making the films that they want to make.
Eureka are one of my favourite disc labels and their dedication to releasing World Cinema, art-house and little-seen screen gems is second to none. As such their first fledgling steps in to the hi-def universe is something to be celebrated. Mad Detective may not have been the perfect choice for a MOC 1080p debut - but it is somehow fitting, just the same. Their transfer is very respectable and their packaging is excellently detailed in a way that many other distributors' products aren't.
Worth seeking out for a decidely left-field slice of entertainment.
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