Welcome to Dongmakgol Blu-ray Review
“Welcome to Dongmakgol” is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 with SMPTE VC-1 1080p coding.
The video presentation is for the most part excellent in “Dongmakgol” with only a small smattering of grain present in some of the scenes, which was not overly noticeable and did not distract at any point. Park seems to have implemented a sharp focus technique which frames all objects in shot with a very high level of clarity and definition. During these sequences, which are prevalent throughout, the background almost disappears and becomes a fine layer of grain which enhances the object(s) in shot - a very effective technique. The level of detail on show is very impressive, with small flies visible during some the forest sequences, dirt noticeable on the soldiers' uniforms and worn weapons and individual blades of grass standing out with strong clarity. The definition during the facial close-ups is stunning with facial hair and pores clearly visible. The scenic shots can produce some immense depth, with the bamboo forest scenes standing as fine examples of that sought after 3D pop factor, which is aided by the sharp focus and “Flying Daggers” static shot/moving background techniques. Colouring and flesh tones are also spot on with Park choosing a pastille heavy palette that is complimented by the lush surroundings of the bamboo forests and enhanced by the strong contrast ratio (and solid blacks).
The only aspect of this presentation that I could find fault with was during the darker scenes where the grain becomes much more pronounced and serves to reduce the amount of detail on show significantly. Unfortunately there are quite a few of these scenes throughout the movie which is a shame considering the quality during the remainder of the presentation. Some of the darker scenes, especially the outdoor scenes, are free from this marring effect and demonstrate some superb shadow detail, such as when the bombers are progressing towards the village. A type of dusty mist was also present in some of the scenes. I'm not too sure if this was due to the transfer or an intentional inclusion by the director but it was distracting at times. There were also a few instances of print damage with a few minor white speckles here and there and a tiny whiff of edge enhancement (in some of the foliage), but these are largely unnoticeable. Some of the CGI effects, such as the boar sequence, can be exposed as false by the quality of the transfer, but this is a minor complaint.
Overall this is a very impressive presentation that contains some great scenes to show off the capabilities of Blu-ray. The only downsides, as mentioned above, were the darker, grainy scenes that serve to taint an almost perfect transfer.
“Welcome to Dongmakgol” comes packed with a dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
The opening battle scenes contain some impressive surround activity with some nice LFE interjection as gunshots ricochet around the room. The plane crash sequence, where we're first introduced to Smith, is very well realised with the fighter jet screaming towards the earth with accompanying LFE thud. Dialogue is crystal clear throughout with whispers and shouts equally audible. There are also plenty of nice ambient effects with twittering of birds and chirping of crickets ensuring that the soundstage always sounds full and active during the forest and village sequences. The scenes where rain falls on the village and its inhabitants sounds very realistic, with the sound field narrowing as we switch (from outside) to view the falling rain from the restricted opening of one the villagers' huts. This really demonstrates the thorough sound engineering on this track. The bomber finale is one of the highlights on this track with the soundstage literally erupting as the fleet moves in on the village's location.
The twinkling score sits perfectly in the mix and almost seems to hover above the listening position, coming to the forefront when required with some decent surround bleed and some nice bass tonality and frantic string sections (for example, the boar scene). Although borrowing heavily from his previous effort on “Howl's Moving Castle”, Joe Hisaishi has created a very suitable score that, while enjoyable as a whole, can sound a tad repetitive on occasion, especially the village theme. The “Boogie Woogie” song is also very impressive!
With the perfect balance of score, military action and mystical effects, this is an impressive soundtrack. My only complaint is that at times both the LFE and surround activity can seem a tad low in the mix but these instances are short lived with the other scenes more than making up for them.
Sound Score 8.5
“Dongmakgol” comes with a decent selection of extras but as all features are in Korean, with no subtitles, I had to make my best attempt to decipher what was going on! This release also features two commentary tracks; one from the director and actors and one from the director and staff (I presume that this commentary features some of the production crew).
“Making Film” - (SD 4:3 19mins) - A making of documentary featuring plenty of behind the scenes footage (including some dangerous camera work!) with interviews from the director, cast and crew. There are some English speaking parts featuring Taschler but these are short lived. Everyone seems to have had a good time on set.
“Welcome to Dongmakgol” (SD 4:3 3mins) - This seems to be a short feature on how to write “Welcome to Dongmakgol” in Korean. Not too sure what was going on here!
“Boogie Woogie” (SD 4:3 3mins) - A short segment on the “Boogie Woogie” sequence that features in the movie.
“Fellowship of Dongmakgol” (SD 4:3 3mins) - Test footage (with Chipmunk sound) from some of the sequences that feature in the finished product featuring stand-in actors.
“Computer Graphic” (SD 4:3 5mins) - A montage of sequences from the movie featuring CGI effects with accompanying score. This feature shows how all special effects were layered on top of the blue screened actors. Interesting, but I'd rather watch these scenes in all their HD glory in the main feature.
Deleted Scenes (SD 4:3) - Seven deleted scenes from the movie in unfinished quality. These all seem to focus on the interactions of the soldiers with the villagers apart from the outdoor privy scene which is pretty funny. As these were largely dialogue orientated I couldn't gauge if they added any insight into the story.
“Poster Making Film” (SD 4:3 3min) - Short segment featuring photo shoots for the movie poster. Everyone is uber-polite at the shoot's conclusion.
Theatrical Trailer (SD 4:3) - A short trailer for the movie.
Music Video (SD 4:3) - This not a music video but rather another trailer for the movie with accompanying score.
Photo Gallery (SD 3min 4:3) - A slideshow of stills from the movie with accompanying score.
With a story that combines elements of war, tragedy, love and humour, all wrapped in a sugar coated magical shell, “Welcome to Dongmakgol” is an excellent achievement for first time director Kwang-Hyun Park. With plenty of interesting activity and the type of intriguing plot that feature in the best Asian movies, coupled with a very strong supporting cast, I would definitely recommend this movie to any Asian movie fans or to those who just love a good movie.
Both the audio and video presentations in this release are very impressive. There were few faults with the audio but the video presentation is marred by a muddying grain in some of the darker scenes. In saying that, the brighter, day time scenes can look absolutely stunning, with the remainder of the darker outdoor scenes (that contain a much reduced granular content) exhibiting some nice shadow detail.
As the extras were in Korean, and as I do not speak Korean (or have access to an interpreter), I had to do my best to try and decipher what was going on. Although some of the extras were of poor video quality, there is plenty of content here, although a lot of it is short lived. Perhaps we will see a UK release (where the hell is Tartan BD - roll on April 14th!) featuring English subtitles for this content. Overall this is a very serviceable package that is only slightly let down due to the lack of foresight by the distributors for English subtitles on the extras, because this film clearly has international appeal!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £30.99
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