The One-Armed Swordsman Blu-ray Review
The One Armed Swordsman comes to Taiwanese Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is region free.
Contrary to most period kung fu films that have thus far appeared on Blu-ray out of the far east, the transfer is not one that shows obvious print damage (especially surprising given this is a fairly early example). The early shock - as the usually scratchy Shaw Bros intro screen has minimal, if any wobble, no massive scratches or blotches - doesn’t subside once the film rolls with what appear sharper new credits. The
DVDwas a good example but this is clearer still. The usual route for such films is to be slung onto a BD25 with minimal, if any, tinkering, warts and all. The One Armed Swordsman on the other hand (sorry) looks cleaned, filtered and sharpened, though the application of which is uneven. The highlights of large print damage being seen as smudges, are negligible by the standards of similar fare.
The blacks are boosted which can take a knock on effect for dark clothing in the shadows, but this, combined with some often less than fine sharpening/edge enhancement, creates a sense of depth that is pretty effective. The entire palette looks perhaps less warm than previous releases have shown the material should be, lacking as it does some of that gentle – almost brownish – tinge, but it’s far from cold. The tiger print of one student’s costume benefits from this contrast boost and the reds of blood are bold to say the least.
It’s not the most natural looking image, but I dare say most will happily accept a transfer that is certainly not just an upscale, having far better delineation (even without manipulation). The added detail is not perfect but also not eradicated wholescale by what appear to have been the necessary steps taken to minimise the effects of age related damage to the print – this still gives the best version of the film visually to date.
Subtitles appear within the frame and display only a few grammatical slips.
There are two tracks to choose from – Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1. I opted for the lossless variant.
Purists may begin to snort as they see the lack of a mono track, but all is not entirely lost as the 5.1 mix is in fact essentially mono from all channels (though I dare say the sub may as well be switched off). It is a strange choice, as likely to entice viewers reading the back of the Blu-ray box as it is to repel diehard fans. A similar scenario on a previous release was supposed to have a few extra cues and the like posted into the mix (if you can call it that), but they were either so faint as to be entirely missable or it was apocryphal, either way it would be hard to praise for an encompassing experience, much like this offering.
It takes a while to get used to hearing all effects, mixed with dialogue and score from all angles. The rears have been put through at a lesser level which does actually minimise the oddity by allowing for a smidge of ambience, but occasional spikes and imbalances mean this equilibrium isn’t maintained throughout. Composer Wang Foo-Ling’s score survives quite well, the deeper strings probably benefiting the most from whatever extra space the lossless track has afforded it, coming across as warm and rounded and with a depth that is lacking in the generally flat aural array that confronts listeners.
The generic sword sounds are handled by the high frequencies well enough, nothing stellar to report on that front being they hardly cut through the score with an impassioned crisp slice, but nor do they dull beneath the rest of the audio. Thankfully there’s no background hiss, no disconcerting pops or crackling underlying proceedings. This is a strangely perfunctory track that didn’t need the extra channels to appeal to fans and probably will leave a few expecting a genuine 5.1 mix profoundly short-changed. My advice would be to change your receiver to 2.0 and have done with it, it’ll make the whole thing far less of an aural oddity.
A mixture of old and new, 1080p and 480p, weirdly the only full HD resolution trailer is a decidedly old unrestored offering for The One Armed Swordsman, the newer version with gaudy titles and flashy editing is still only 480p. The other trailers are for The New One Armed Swordsman, Return of the One Armed Swordsman, Shaolin Temple and 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
Contemporary Styles of Kung Fu – Wing Chun Kuen – 480p – 15:45
Gordon Liu (36th Chamber of Shaolin) introduces a programme about the style of kung fu, wherein we are introduced to various practitioners who explain why the system is unique and effective. English subtitles are available but they do not extend to translating the text.
The One Armed Swordsman remains not only a great example of the more human drama introduced into the realm of kung fu cinema but also a high tide mark that would help mould the direction of the genre as a whole. Jimmy Wang outshines most that share the screen with him, the acting may not be Olivier but the level of genuine pathos mixed with quick fisted fighting abilities made him a perfect poster boy.
The Blu-ray is unsubtle and in many ways uneven, but the image still gives probably the best version of the film to date. The audio confronts listeners with one of the few occasions when they should turn channels off, the 5.1 mix being basically mono from all speakers. Still, this should at least please those aficionados wincing at the thought of a ham-fisted rematrix of the original audio. Extras are brief, and the Wing Chun featurette doesn’t really warrant an inclusion in terms of tying in with the film itself.
Not a ground breaking package overall, but for fans of the material, willing to forgive the disc a few flaws, this is well worth seeking out.
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