Reign of Assassins Blu-ray Review
Reign of Assassins comes to Blu-ray courtesy of MegaStar with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc is locked to Region A.
This is very much a stylised image, with a notable blue tinge that both helps the contrast remain strong as well as giving an intentionally cool aura to proceedings. Blacks are pretty strong and the colour palette does fall towards the gaudier end of the spectrum with regards how some of the primaries are displayed, but thankfully they are pretty consistent and there is no problem with bleed.. Unfortunately lighter tones can bloom a bit, it is obviously a somewhat artistic choice and as such it is hard to mark down for, but the implementation I dare say goes beyond what was intended and does, on occasion, take out facial detail and the like under brighter lights.
Delineation is generally very good, with the obvious few softer shots being cinematography rather than disc based errors. It doesn’t quite shade the best in terms of sharpness but it is still exceedingly pleasing, though sharpening does creep into frame occasionally. Fine detail, as mentioned, can suffer under certain conditions, but when focussed the disc is able to replicate a good amount of textures, fabrics etc.
Everything is clear, with no signs of smearing during the copious fast pans, no obvious artefacting or overly-liberal EE (though it is undoubtedly there). The darker scenes hold crush away remarkably well, but there is one very minor (and I can’t stress the word enough) instance of banding. The only true gripe with this transfer lies with the storage techniques of Hong Kong films as a whole, as it is hard to forgive any such recent example of cinema that has print damage. There are only a couple of occasions where it will likely be seen, but the first is so glaringly obvious as to be positively deplorable by its very presence.
This doesn’t detract too much from a punchy, stylish image that is simply let down by a couple of inconsistencies.
Audio options are fourfold – Mandarin Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 and Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1. For the purpose of this review I focussed on both lossless variants.
Quite early on you are confronted with the main difference between the two tracks, and what will likely be the crux of the choice made as to which you prefer. It all hinges on the centre channel, as the Mandarin track implements some fairly excessive environmental effects. At a more tempered level and with some refinement it would likely have worked well, but to my ears it was closer to ham-fisted than downright stylish. It is a shame as the Mandarin is by far the more natural generally of the two (as one would expect given it was the original language). The Cantonese, being dubbed, never sits quite perfectly in terms of integration with the fronts, being a tad too pronounced.
Other than this there is little to choose between the two tracks. Both are strong, vibrant and focus their energies on the action set-pieces and boy do they deliver. Rears are well utilised for almost any object making its way across screen, and there are more than a few. It’s a real whoosh, bang, smash of an experience as all speakers are given a healthy workout. Moments like the throwing of needles and the clattering of swords highlight the directionality and precision in the high frequency.
The LFE is strong, though it seems a bit heftier in the Mandarin track, and aids impacts reasonably. Subtlety wasn’t the order of the day here, and the score could have benefited from a slightly more consistent level, but whether you consider this approach gimmicky “throw everything and the kitchen sink at the viewer” or not, it does a fine job of bringing a fight-centric film to life.
Trailer – 1:41
Self explanatory. English subtitles.
Making of – 22:29
Some nice shots of the production, but unfortunately no English subtitles.
Reign of Assassins is a perfect example of taking the tried and tested fundamental elements of a genre and injecting just enough originality and flair to get noticed. The two central performances of Michelle Yeoh and Jung Woo-sung span a range of emotions and keep a tether on the sometimes flyaway ideas that flit around the edges of the narrative. A cast of identifiably maniacal villains always makes for a good action flick and thanks to some tight choreography and the sign of a helping hand from Woo there are some memorable set-pieces.
The Region A locked disc is good, but could have been spectacular were it not for a couple of minor issues. The extras are negligible, with only the trailer coming with English subtitles, but it is still a solid effort. Much like the film itself, the disc has a few areas that could have been improved upon, but the charm and potency of the feature should be ample enough to draw the eye of any fan of epic kung-fu swordplay.
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