Theater of Fury Boxset Blu-ray Review
PictureThe Big Boss
The Big Boss comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Kam and Ronson with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to region A.
Straight off the bat, I should start by saying that just how good you think this looks may well depend on whether you have ever had to suffer one of the sub-par DVD releases. For those whose first purchase was the Fortune Star DVD there may be less of a jump in quality than for others as that particular version used a restored and remastered print. Don't for a second believe though that there is a lack of improvement with the shift to a greater resolution.
The contrast was the first thing that struck me about this disc. Even the aforementioned restored DVD lacked a certain punch in this regard. Now whites are notably whiter, with Lee's shirt being one particular example. This doesn't appear to be simply artificial boosting though, as there is now significantly more detail visible in the fabric texture and in some scenes makes it look decidedly grubbier than it has before due to sweat and dirt etc.
Colours have taken a nice turn, though I'd be hard pushed to say they are more in keeping with the original release (I'm not that old!), I can say that I found this slight shift in balance to be pleasing to the picture as a whole. The bright polyester shirts of the cartoonish baddies now have a boldness to them that doesn't dwarf all the surrounding areas, but instead just seems vibrant in a realistic way. Skin tones have moved from the orange/yellow of the various DVDs to a warmer tan which at first may seem unusual but in fact helps to highlight far more facial details. Talking of which, detail overall has been raised somewhat, so now even the small pimples and moles that had previously been hidden are now distinguishable on Lee's face in what would become the obligatory close up of his eyes during an altercation.
There's some light manipulation going on but it never intrudes and this is exactly the sort of title that correctly used processing effects were designed for. Specks of dust and dirt aren't the blight of this film anymore and the grain structure hasn't been eradicated. As such, I can only applaud the efforts that have gone into this. Colours are now far richer, in a manner that isn't bordering on the artificial, but instead adds depth and gleam to them when analysed in close proximity. On a small screen it may not show up the improvements in comparison to the remastered DVD, but when blown up to a decent size, they become as evident as the limitations of the source, which is something of a double edged sword. It still contains some soft shots and the delineation isn't sublime, but in terms of offering the best visual presentation this film has been treated to, then look no further than this Blu-ray.
Individual score: 7
Fist of Fury
Fist of Fury comes to Blu-ray sporting a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC coded and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is region A locked.
Unfortunately, this seems to display little in the way of leaps in visual presentation its stable mate The Big Boss was treated to. The improved colourisation of the aforementioned title was perhaps its main draw, but that is not something which can be said for this title. The same realistic hues have not been replicated with this transfer, leaving it with the familiar, almost painted look. Most, if not all colours look to have been artificially boosted, and both Lee's white suit and the host of black apparel shows little in the way of detail, being prone to blooming and crushing. Flesh tones don't fare much better, being very similar to the previous Fortune Star DVD (though that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing when compared to other releases). Faces can vary from washed out and jaundiced, which actually results in the bruising make-up being more visible and therefore less subtle, to an even greater degree of ruddiness on the Japanese fighter Yoshida's chubby cheeks.
The print shows some extra detail in some scenes, with close-ups benefiting from the move to Blu-ray as shown by the drops of rain on the instruments at the funeral scene and the obligatory push in on Lee's eyes, but these are very much the minority. Mid to long range goings on are still held back by the blurriness that has always accompanied such period fare and, if it weren't for the increased crispness of The Big Boss, one would wonder if it could ever be overcome to any real degree. Still, at least the print is cleaner than many previous versions, although it still shows a fair degree of specks and scratches. This is certainly a worthy upgrade from the poorer DVD iterations of the film, but I doubt anyone watching the Fortune Star DVD release on a smaller screen by way of a decent upscaling DVD player would notice any significant jump in quality to make this a definite purchase. There's improvement, but just not a tangible amount.
Individual score: 5
House of Fury
House of Fury comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC coded and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is region free.
There really is very little to criticise about the image on display here. The colours are naturalistic when needed to be so, with the dream sequence showing a touch more of a heightened stylised look to its hues. Contrast stays pretty much spot on throughout, with it being strong and consistent, with only the odd instance of a flatness creeping into some shadows. Flesh tones are even harder to fault, as not once did they drop below their high standard of appearing realistic and life-like.
Detail is good, with the splintering furniture and clothing textures both showing a nice amount of intricacy in them. Objects are well delineated, with only a few slightly soft shots to note. Any similar flaws such as minor instances of noise and the like are very much the exception rather than the rule here, with the overall visualisation being essentially a very solid performance that scores well in all areas and has to rank as one of the upper echelon of Hong Kong Blu-ray images.
Individual score: 8
SoundThe Big Boss
Audio options are; Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital 6.1 and Thai Dolby Digital 6.1. For the purposes of this review I focussed on the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track.
The first thing many will note is the complete lack of any English dub. Now usually I'd be the first to advocate watching foreign films in their native language, but for particular genres I think deviating from this rule is allowed. For many, the wonder of the classic 70s kung-fu flick will be synonymous with a certain hammy style of voice acting. This may not be the prime example of where it should have been applied, but it would have been nice in a nostalgic sort of way for viewers to have been given the choice of realism versus kitsch. This is especially true when confronted with a piece that is dubbed anyway, such as The Big Boss albeit in its own dialect.
The mix itself, like the image, won't lift beyond the glass ceiling imposed upon it by its meagre roots, but it does make definite strides in the direction of competence. For starters, the large amounts of hiss, crackle and pop that used to frequent home releases is gone. The dialogue is clear (to an Englishman's ear) and stays rooted to the centre channel. This, along with the two front speakers, makes for a fairly front heavy mix. There are moments of steerage and some separation in the soundfield, but overall it feels to be exactly what it is - a 7.1 track engineered from a mono original recording. That's not to say that it isn't arguably preferable, but that the limitations come to the fore. Punches and kicks seem to change in their intensity without reason, though this makes for more varied fight scenes without stock noises at one level being overused, it does become slightly grating. Similarly, the score can assault you with a deep and reverberating guitar and then fade in volume just as quickly.
Overall, the clean nature of this mix has to be the main selling point, but just don't expect miracles with regards an enveloping and consistent soundfield and you'll enjoy the experience far more.
Individual score: 6
Fist of Fury
Fist of Fury comes to Blu-ray with the same audio options as The Big Boss, that being either Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital 6.1 or Thais Dolby Digital 6.1. For the purposes of this review, I focussed on the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track.
This is far more in line, in terms of overall quality, with The Big Boss than the image was, though in different areas. Whereas the previous title had a slightly uneven score but solid dialogue presentation, Fist of Fury turns this system around. Here, the score is notably rousing, with its obvious homage (to put it politely) to the musical vocalisations of Ennio Morricone's Spaghetti Westerns. The speech though wavers in places, with it generally being solid, but it protrudes from the frontal array at times, pushing past the other channels, and there are further instances of a tinny resonance behind the voices which thankfully tends to go as quickly as it comes. The rears get a fairly decent workout during the action sequences, particularly now that we have moved squarely into the 3D era of Bruce Lee fight scenes whereby he is encompassed by opponents and strikes come from all directions.
Some effects are still jarring, such as various footsteps that overlay the rest of the mix to the degree of almost resembling a comedy radio play, but there is also subtlety to a lot of the ambient noises, with the dog barking in the background being pitched with a degree of delicacy. Ambience isn't really the order of the day for this track, as the strong cracks of punches and kicks and the soaring vocals of the score with the accompanying thwacks of wood are the key elements, and they don't find themselves lacking in terms of depth. All have a strong presence and partly counterbalance the other areas which are slightly lacking.
Individual score: 6
House of Fury
House of Fury comes with Cantonese LPCM, Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Vietnamese stereo 2.0 sound options. For the purposes of this review I focussed on the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 option.
From the outset, it becomes very obvious that the result that has been aimed for by the makers of this film, with regards audio it is very much in keeping with the overall atmosphere of high stylisation and as such lacks a touch of delicacy. The naysayers would argue that this approach lacks finesse but personally I feel it is entirely fitting with the plot and, in particular, the over-the-top action sequences.
Some pans seem like they've been telegraphed but when you place this in the realms of a film for all ages that's full of fun and may have a less than silent audience, it makes perfect sense. There are few such genre flicks that place audio subtlety at the top of their list of priorities. As such, the crashes of furniture have a nice multi-layering of splintering wood fragments with a not overwhelming, but sufficiently potent rumble of LFE. Glass smashes and tinkles with reasonable tightness to the higher frequencies and the score keeps a consistent theme in the background, mixing well with the different effects and crisp dialogue.
The rears are given a decent amount of action, as they are handed the task of filling the viewing area with a myriad of ambient noises, which they do capably. You could argue that there should be more weight behind the punches or a greater degree of finesse to the pans and the like, but the fact that this is clean, crisp and offers enough impact for the action scenes without prioritising it over the character's speech or ambient effects has to make this a success for a family friendly action film.
Individual score: 8
ExtrasThe Big Boss
Tung Wai interview - 2:36
Tung Wai tells us a brief anecdote about the first time he met Lee with numerous details that are hardly worth mentioning.
Individual score: 1
Fist of Fury
Yuen Wah interview - 9:39
This is a little trip down memory lane for Yuen Wah, who tells us how he came to be involved in the action film industry as well as how hard the old school training regimes were. It's padded out with clips but it may be of some interest to those who have not heard such stories before.
Individual score: 1
House of Fury
Behind the scenes - 45:02
A series of non narrated clips from the production of the film. There is lots of footage and, although it lacks any sort of coherent commentary that might better inform the viewer of the settings and the like, it makes a nice change simply to be a fly on the wall and watch from a crew member's perspective without being held by the hand when what is happening is abundantly clear.
Cast interviews - 56:28
The list of those spoken to includes Daniel Wu, Gillian Chung, Josie Ho, Michael Wong and Stephen Fung. Perhaps in an effort to cut down on time, the interviews have most of the questions from the interviewer (who is off camera) excised. This leads the segments to be more like a speech describing the making of the film as opposed to a question and answer session. The various cast members talk about their characters and how they found the rigorous action sequences and working with Yuen Woo Ping. There are no great revelations but it is still surprisingly packed with their thoughts. The only great pity is that Anthony Wong doesn't appear
Making of - 10:02
This essentially re-uses various snippets from the cast interviews and the behind the scenes footage, as well as some fresh shots of the production.
These include 30 second, 1 minute and 2 minute television promos for the film in both version A and version B varieties as well as 30 second and 1 minute options for version C.
Three House of Fury trailers, marked “Teaser” (0:46), “Trailer” (1:55) and “US Trailer” (1:34).
Individual score: 4
In total, this is a fairly meagre set of extras for a boxset, but it hardly needs me to point out which titles are pulling their weight and which are not. I had thought we'd reached the stage where Bey Logan commentaries were mandatory with such releases, and the lack of any kind of retrospective for the Lee films certainly holds them back. The small interview that is placed on each is hardly worthy of the disc space, but at least House of Fury gives us enough behind the scenes production footage to get a vague idea of what the filming process must have been like.
VerdictIt is hard not to like any boxset, whether production or retailer created, which gives you two classic Bruce Lee films. The fact that for a little more than the price of the two Lee Blu-rays, we get House of Fury makes this good value, but on the condition that you are a broad minded fan of such kung fu films. Many will find themselves gravitating towards the realism of Lee's adventures or the fun based antics of the modern Jackie Chan produced offerings, and there are fanbases for both who refuse to cross over. Personally I found the light hearted more family friendly House of Fury a perfect pick-me-up after the darker brooding tales of doomed heroes that Lo Wei offered us and I remain a firm fan of both styles of action film-making.
The disc itself is likewise a mixed bag. The picture is a notable improvement over the DVDs, but by very differing degrees. The Big Boss looks every inch a restored classic, whereas Fist of Fury has the soft look and unrealistic colours of a print that either hasn't had the attention it deserves, or (and I hope this isn't the case) one that will never likely look that much better. Given the varying film stock used in the region at the time and the treatment such films received by way of storage, it is hard to gauge which is the case. Whatever the reason, it simply fails to prove as revelatory as its preceding Lee outing. Thankfully, House of Fury is every inch a modern Hong Kong Blu-ray, with all departments up to a fairly high standard. The sound options on all discs waver in a likewise manner, but all offer something in their lossless formats.
The extras are paltry to say the least, but I doubt this will matter a great deal to fans. I would have assumed most of those interested in Eastern action films would have already made their minds up as to whether this set was for them, long before they glimpsed what featurettes, commentaries and interviews were to be packed in as added incentives, myself included. The films may be a matter of taste, but for fans of the genre, this set offers plenty of action, enough variety and at least one must have kung fu Blu-ray.
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