PictureThe image presented here in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is an anamorphic transfer. Surprisingly, given that the movie runs for 140 minutes, it's been split across 2 discs, with the final 40 minutes or so being on the second disc. Frustrating for those who hate the idea of their movie being interrupted, but equally this does ensure that the image presented is second to none (though I must confess this also smacks of an excuse to sell this as an unnecessary 3-disc, “more expensive” edition).
There is a great level of detail on offer here, from the dirty, pocked faces of soldiers, to the blood soaked battlefields, to the ashen skies and ruined cityscapes of Korea. Colour balance is good, with natural looking palettes which swings from the lush greenery of of the Korean countryside, to the brown, blood spattered murky tones of a ravaged ground.
Black levels are consistently good, coming across with depth but without killing the detail, and edge enhancement is pleasingly absent. There's also little in the way of compression artefacts that I could detect - a couple of scenes containing smoke betray a few gremlins (which DVD is notorious for), but this is a largely excellent video transfer.
The subtitles themselves are obviously DVD-player generated, and aside from the occasional spelling or grammatical error in the translation, are as unobtrusive and easy to follow as subtitles can be.
SoundPresented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps), I was expecting Taegukgi to offer up a sound-mix as visceral as the movie itself is, and surprisingly it's actually a mixed bag to be honest, though it always hovers in the “above average” category.
Steering and imaging are excellent, with a really solid front soundstage, backed up by good use of the surrounds during the combat sequences. Bullets tear around the room, shells explode over your shoulder with a shower of earth or flesh, screams will harry your ears and goes a long way to reinforce the terrible act of war as it unfolds onscreen.
Dialogue is reasonably intelligible, though no doubt a grasp of the language would help! - it can become a little muffled during the action (or maybe it's just that much of what's said sounds the same, even though different subtitles accompany the words), but it generally holds up well despite the maelstrom that's often assaulting you.
Where I was surprised was the amount of bass present. Or rather, the lack of it. On a calibrated system, the bass seems decidedly light in places. There are several moments when the LFE channel pounds out some low bass waves, but compared to something like Saving Private Ryan in DTS, this mix sounds on the light side. Bass can really add menace to any scene, and though being overcooked is often as bad as being underdone, I couldn't help but wish that the bass was a little more thunderous. Still, that's coming from someone who's a bass freak, so perhaps I'm being a little picky. A competent mix regardless.
ExtrasExtras here are rather difficult to navigate as everything's in Korean language, with no useful English present and no subtitles. From the audio commentary on the main movie discs to the extras on disc 3, everything is in Korean and only the most patient will bother to spend any time here. That said, however, there are a couple of interesting extras; storyboards are easy to follow as the images tell the story themselves, with a couple of key scenes played out in storyboard form accompanied by sound from the actual film.
Of more interest, however, is a timeline/location tour, whereby if you move the cursor to a particular part of Korea on an interactive map, the DVD will play snippets/stills of the part of the movie where the events took place; for those who are interested in the history (or if you were a little confused by the timeline and events within the film), this is quite an interesting watch. But finding it amongst the menus is an effort in itself...
As I say, awarding a score for extras is difficult and as far as English viewers are concerned, this scores poorly; but don't let that put you off, this should be seen for the film alone.
Special mention must also go to the packaging of this Special Edition; the gatefold style pack is contained in a rugged metal and canvas tin, with a monochrome image of each of the brothers printed on the back and front, along with the film title in silver. Contained inside in addition to the DVDs themselves is a full colour booklet of stills from the movie, and also a set of postcards. Unnecessary? Undoubtedly. Nice to have? Collectors will love it.
VerdictThis is a punishing movie of war, but with an emotional story of brotherhood, loss and unquestioning love at its core. Unrelenting, brutal and with some graphic violence, this DVD package should be considered essential for any war movie fans.
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