Friday, July 24, 2009

Dirty Deeds Done For Free

Like what you see? Want to see it in action?

Tell me that's not an awesome function. Go on, leave a comment if you want. Oh! Better yet, scream it really loud at your monitor. "YOU SUCK, FUNCTION! I DON'T LIKE YOU!" Even if you do, you can't shake its' fearsome power... this thing is bigger than all of us.

The only sad part is, even with this showing me just the modified "dirt" pixels being erased, I settled on the same setting I'd used just eyeballing the clip. Oh, well. It still came in handy for showing me exactly what to look for in terms of dirt removal artifacts, which - due to the older filtering this poor DVD went through - were pretty rampant at any setting than the 4 used above.


I'm tempted to say that this test on the Mya release of HORRIBLE is even more successful, even with the higher setting of 5. I could have nabbed a lot more dirt at around 8, but once more, static geometric patterns - this time the circles that our heroine is busy doodling away on - suffer badly the more dirt I try to kill. It also had the unpleasant side-effect of warping the hell out of all the already-blurred trees in those running shots at anything over 12. Once more, a little dab will do you. It's far easier to fix minor specs by hand than major artifacts, trust me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DeScratch Fever

While I was - and in many ways, still am - quite satisfied with the results I got from playing with The Untold Story, I may have just found a valuable new tool in my fight against god-awful telecines. This is still on a trial basis, mind you, but I think the following results speak for themselves:

Old Frame
(Note the glue in the upper right corner)

New Frame

The RemoveDirtMC function has the somewhat pleasant side-effect of subtly de-noising the image, interpreting compression garbage (or, if the source had any, film grain) as "damage", but with The Untold Story being a heavily DNR'ed master devoid of natural film texture in the first place it's only serving my bottom line to get rid of a little bit of the random noisy crap hiding in each and every frame.

The only flaw I'm finding is in that little hole in the wall to the right of Wong's shoulder. Since the camera moves several times in this sequence, any automated program will interpet it as "damage" when it really is not. Unfortunately, the spot disappears and reappears even before I use any dirt removal filters, so merely enhancing the damage that was already done seems a very small price to pay for a chance to automatically remove the larger, more obtrusive spots of film damage from a telecine crawling with it.

Also keep in mind that I'm using very conservative strengths to get rid of what - mathematically speaking - is "clearly" damage. I can crank this thing all the way up to 255, but a setting of 4 (shown above) works pretty well. Setting it up to 10 can do wonders on getting rid of obvious film damage, but it's also hell on the gridwork behind Wong. I'd much rather have to paint away film damage by hand than destroy camera pans, though had this scene involved a plain white backdrop, I probably could have cranked it up with impressive results. A pity.

Special thanks goes to Lyris, who's endless patience with my rambling questions has given me more answers than I probably deserve.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mya is Horribly Absurd

Confession time, dear readers. A while back, I was working on a secret Kentai project that I never posted about here, because when it was done, it was completely irrelevant. For reasons I just can't explain, I love a terrible movie.

It's awful. It's ridiculous. It's...

STILL banned in Britain uncut, baby!

My love for Aristide Massacessi trash is hardly a secret; I've affectionately thought of the man as Joe D'amato for a decade, and even before I'd seen any of his films I'd fallen for his lurid charm. Regularly combining sex, violence, and whatever was in season, he may as well be the poster boy for the so-called grindhouse era; he simply copied whatever was big in Hollywood at the time with more over the top stupidity and a tenth of the budget. Beyond the Darkness, Emanuelle in America, and Caligula: The Untold Story prove that he was capable of great works of horrific nature, though he was just as prone to creating total crap, too. Anthropophagous, for all its' infamy, is somewhere in the middle... truly terrible D'amato pictures like Raptors and Erotic Nights of the Living Dead are, however, so devoid of shame and reason that they're worth watching (once) strictly to rot your brain. Unlike some other now legendary Italian genre film makers, D'amato was rarely boring, and when he saw that making exploitation films for video was simply a dead end he did the smart thing and switched to directing now legendary XXX features, based on Shakespeare, historical figures, and yes, the holocaust. May he rest in peace.

One of his terrible films was originally called ROSSO SANGUE (Blood Red). Sometimes marketed as a sequel to Anthrophagous: The Grim Reaper, the film follows George Eastman (born Luigi Montefiori) who plays Nikos, an unstoppable and mute killing machine, who - with a madman who knows his dark past hot on his heels - stalks a babysitter and the children in the house on a dark night while blinding fast piano music plays... stop me if you've heard this one...

Mya can use photoshop? We're all fucked now.

In no uncertain terms a rip-off of John Carpenter's infinitely superior HALLOWEEN (and its' sequel!), right down to its' blatantly derivitive musical score, Rosso Sangue didn't make much of an impact when it came out in 1981. It wasn't until a few years later when it was re-released as ABSURD that people began to take notice, largely because of its' subsequent banning in the United Kingdom as one of the so-called "Video Nasties" in 1983.

While a rehash of better material, the film is still a lot of fun, parading around more head-based injuries than any slasher film I know of. Most of the draw is, I think, Eastman himself. Even without wearing a mask or the deformed make-up of its' psuedo predocessor, the man is a hulking mountain of a character, possessing a unique intensity that makes him perfect in the role of a mindless killing machine. The fact that he's about 10 feet tall and build like a brick shithouse sure didn't hurt, either.

The film is dreadful, but watching it still makes me happy. Why? Beats me. I don't question why I like good movies too hard, either.

Less than a year ago I asked a friend of mine if he could send me the German DVD he had access to, from the infamously terrible Astro Filmworks catalog. The disc was infamous for several scenes being sourced from VHS, and while all of that restored footage was in English, the rest of it was dubbed in German only. It so happens that this friend also found me the original audio from the uncut UK pre-cert VHS (shown above), and so I spent 48 hours cutting the English audio to the German video. It was a messy patch-work affair, but the results were as good as could be expected.

Sadly, I made it whilst my PC was ailing pretty heavily, so in the end, the work was lost.

I began working at it a second time (once my computer had been put down and resurrected Passion of the Christ style), and had roughly the following conversation with a friend of mine.

Me: "So I'm putting the English audio on the Astro DVD of Absurd."
Him: "Why are you doing that? It's coming out on DVD in July."

This video box is lying so goddamn hard to you.

So I decided to wait the few months and see what Mya could do with the title. With the Ass-Tro DVD being tinted green, crawling in chroma noise, and littered with print damage, I didn't think it was possible for a newer release to be any worse.

It's rather fitting that Mya Communications decided to call their release this film under the French title "Horrible". Not only is the film just as the title describes (damn it, I make no apologies!), but their release is only a marginal improvement over the Astro DVD from Germany released several years back.

When this disc looks good, it's pretty good:

And when it's doesn't, it's fucking awful:

To help show you that all Mya (or whoever) did for the "restored" footage was crop an already pan-scanned VHS copy, I've included the following comparison using two frames from the DVD:

And you guys didn't even have the good sense to upscale the footage that didn't suck? Fuck you, Mya Communications. No, seriously. My English track on the Astro transfer was never going to look perfect, but even I knew how to make a mother fucking 16:9 transfer from inferior PAL materials! It's 2009 and we're still getting letterboxed 1.66:1 DVDs from labels who know better? What the hell...

At least the Mya DVD isn't tinted green, covered in chroma noise, and full of burned-in German subtitles, so it still beats the old Astro DVD, which up until now has been its' only competition. All of the crap footage matches the VHS sourced misery from the Astro DVD, though this release includes a couple more restored clips (such as D'amato's cameo as a sloppy drunk) so I can only assume that both DVDs were mastered from the same print, perhaps even the same PAL telecine. The print hasn't been remastered, and thus is littered with minor dirt specs and film scratches. It is progressive, barring the VHS sourced footage, which is deinterlaced and has plenty of ghosting. It isn't ever particularly sharp, there's nothing resembling natural film grain, there's an odd green stripe on the right hand side of the transfer, and the compression is average resulting in plenty of mosquito noise and mild blocking.

It's a mediocre DVD even when it's not completely screwed up... but, considering the lineage and fame this film has in these United States, I guess it got exactly what it deserved. The VHS sourced footage doesn't have any Italian audio, by the way, but as the disc doesn't include English subtitles to begin with I doubt anyone in North America actually gives a goddamn.

We aren't through yet, though. The English track has been pitched down too low, just like their mishandling of FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET from earlier this year. The Italian track (again) sounds fine, but the English audio simply sounds wrong, with sound effects having a dull THUD when they should be a click and the Halloween "inspired" soundtrack now completely off. I'll admit that I don't care about ABSURD quite as much as Dario's "lost" film (which never was...), but at least that was restored in HD from the negative, and included several bonus features. Flies is still a bit of a mess, but the massive effort that went into making it happen was almost worth the $30 Mya is asking for it.

This piece of crap comes in an ugly box for $25.

All right, Hostel 3! ...wait a second...

Special features? Surely you jest. They couldn't even include a gallery of video box art, so this blog has more extras than the disc itself. They couldn't even steal the original UK trailer from YouTube? Why the hell not, they did for Four Flies on Gray Velvet!

This is a real disappointment, and while I don't directly have any ill will towards Mya, I do wish they'd get better at what they do. I know that being the only game in town they'll still sell plenty of copies, and for the love of all things D'amato, I guess that's a good thing. Seriously though, Mya Communications, PLEASE get a quality assurance team who's not deaf and blind.

Blurring the Line Between Improvement and Insanity

THE GUYVER: OUT OF CONTROL (or "Out of Standard" if you prefer the original Engrish title) is kind of a neat summary of the way in which the anime industry repeats itself for the otaku of each concurrent decade. This hour long OVA from 1986 was a fast paced and exciting adaptation of Bio-Boosted Armor GUYVER/強殖装甲ガイバー manga series created by TAKAYA Yoshiki the year before. It loosely followed every page of the story published up to its' creation, takes quite a few liberties both stylistically and with the plot, but it's an intense, exciting adaptation full of over the top violence and gratuitous manly pop music videos. It's the sort of awesomely ridiculous trash that could have only have come from the Japan in the mid 1980s... it's a period that will be forever missed.

1989. Bandai figures enough time has passed that they can take a second whack at the franchise, and start the OVA series which would be known as The Guyver: Bio-Boosted Armor. A total of two "Acts" were created, each compromising 6 episodes, released 2 per tape. This take was less over the top, and clearly produced on a smaller budget, but it was a more faithful adaptation of the material targeted squarely at fans. The franchise runs for 3 years, which under the circumstances is quite respectable. It also fails for not including bio-rape, but that's a given.

1991. Hollywood takes a crack at the franchise. I'd talk about "The Guyver" (or Mutronics, as our British readers may know it), but I think it's more fun to let YouTube do the talking for me:

Yeah... the fact that this was co-directed by a special effects guru named "Screaming Mad George"is probably cooler than anything that actually happens in the film. But that's all right I guess, it's still better than the live action Devilman movie. (As is a brick to the skull.) Shockingly, this thing got a sequel in 1994, but direct to the Sci-Fi Channel where it could stew in its' own shame alongside the similarly themed Fist of the North Star "inspired" train wreck.

Finally the franchise is dusted off again in 2005. The latest incarnation is darker, more pensive, less graphic than any other incarnation, and features some fascinating use of CG. It also starts with the first chapter, yes, again, and fails to adapt all of the now-epic 25 volume original manga as hard as the last two tries did.

All of these adaptations were drastically different, though I'd argue that all hold their unique charm. Regardless, my favorite was the furiously creative original OVA. And guess what I just recorded fresh from the Japanese LD? Go on, guess!

As I've mentioned in the past, the ultimate difference between a video bitrate of 6.3 mbps with PCM and 9.1 Mbps with AC3 is largely negligible, and the real difference is in how the two store their data. The lower bitrate tends to be blocky, as you can see in the explosive clouds, but the higher bitrate tends to be noisier, since it's trying to preserve the source as-is. Of far more importance is wither or not we're looking at an I-frame (less compressed) or a P/B-frame (more compressed), though as those are generated randomly by the real-time encoder there's nothing I can do to control them. 5 years ago, I would have killed for LD capture quality half this good, so I think it just might be time to acknowledge that I'm quite thuroughly licked. Still, wither I want to admit it or not, there's a very slight increase in both sharpness and compression quality using AC3 audio... so, why bother using PCM? For the CD quality audio, right?

I give you the ultimate test: a short music video from this OVA, featuring both PCM (uncompressed) and AC3 (1:6) audio. You can open this in Media Player or PowerDVD or whatever and decide for yourself if the audio quality is substantially different. Honestly? I'm not feeling it. I know my current cheap-ass-earbuds are hardly reference, but they're sufficient to tell the difference between a 320kbps MP3 and a lossless WMA, so I'm going to consider them "good enough". I'm using Windows Media Player, FFDShow Tryouts and AC3Filter. Seriously, you should too.

Actually getting PCM audio from my recorder is a chore anyway; once recorded and demuxed I have a file that claims to be 64kbps and running several hours long. The flags are just flat out WRONG, and I can't just re-write the flags and wind up with a working file, I actually have to re-encode it using BeSweet. I then have to re-encode the audio a second time in MPEG Video Wizard, for when I remove the extra frames (start/end of a side), for a total of two minimum re-encodes to get what should have been standard goddamn audio in the first place.

Now, re-encoding WAV to WAV is uncompressed to uncompressed, so there shouldn't be any audiable problems (though if there were, I'd never know.) Perhaps the bigger problem is how I'm getting that audio in the first place. LD players only had "digital" audio outs in their later and more expensive incarnations, requiring guys like me using middle of the road players to access the player's DAC, or Digital Analog Converter. It takes the digital PCM audio encoded on the disc and spits out an analog wavelength roughly equalling 48kHz, which my DVD recorder can capture as wither PCM or AC3. But not all DAC's are created equal; not only am I converting the digital signal from analog to get it out of the player, but I'm converting it back to digital once it's going in to the recorder. If either one of the DAC's in the chain is cheap - and God knows they both probably are - that means the sound quality is going to get gimped. By how much? Who knows? But even IF I could output digitally it would be at 44.1 kHz, which is the synch rate used by CD, rather than the 48 kHz used by DVD. In short, it's impossible to keep the synch 100% while keeping the chain digital all the way through, and I'd have to slow it down slightly to match the source video. Doing that would probably eliminate whatever minor audio upgrade I'd have from going "all digital" to begin with.

Much to my disappointment, the glory of uncompressed audio on a DVD recorder isn't all that and an angry H.J. It's still nice that Toshiba included it, and on paper it's a no-brainer, but real-world usage only degrades the video quality slightly and gives only the slightest increase in audio quality.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Sticky Sides To One Rotten Problem

The hideous image you see above is a screencap from the 1987 supernatural horror epic, MARYUU SENKI 魔龍戦記 , a moniker that translates to "Demon Dragon War Record". It's at once the third (and final) episode of the Pink Noise OVA series that AIC produced through the mid 1980s, and the first chapter in an original anime trilogy, which continued with Maryuu Tenjou and concluded in Maryuu Shinden, in 1988 and 1989 respectively.

As is customary for a great many mid 1980s horror OVAs, it's about an attractive he-bitch and his hot dead girlfriend demon trying to reign darkness and ruin upon all mankind, and so it's up to the rag-tag team of drunken ninja/half-oni/onmyoji bikers/latent teenage girl esper, who must find a way to stop him from reaching his goal. Sure, I'm over simplifying things, but that should be enough to tell you wither you'd be interested or just insulted by this bit of unpretentious and largely forgotten trilogy gory, sexy anime fun.

Speaking of gory and sexy, you'll probably notice that the above screenshot looks like a bad stretch of asshole. By and large, the disc doesn't look terrible, and I'll prove it:

You just know he's thinking "Vaginas are gross... I wish I had one."

The problem is the last 5 minutes or so of this 30 minute LD got pretty badly borked by the disc literally ungluing at the edges. I'm serious! I Switch On, Disc In, Hit Play all Gekiganger 3 style, walk away to make a sammich or whatever it was I decided was a good idea, and come back when it's about through half an hour later. When I come back, I notice that the player is vibrating, and that the disc suddenly looks kind of terrible. Hrm... that's probably not a good sign. But there's only about 4 minutes left, might as well wait it out, right?

I hit eject, and I'm greeted with two halves of a giant shiny sticky laserdisc oreo, which I could literally press back into a single piece. Episode 2 and 3 were recorded after this without issue, so I can only chalk this up to being nothing more than a positively epic instance of LD layer seperation. What you see at the top there is the early stages of laser rot, though thankfully I got to this shortly before the entire disc became a half-hour of brightly colored digital slow. I've had a couple discs like that over the years... it ain't pretty. Though I guess neither is that first screen shot.

The funniest part is that even The All Mighty Wiki says that inferior adhesives and laser rot were only an issue on double-sided discs. Well stuff it, anonymously submitted second hand information! Episodes 2 and 3 are basically pristine, aside from being noisy 80s video transfers littered with film damage: No laser rot, no magical layer separating magic tricks. Just good old noisy-ass NTSC analog video.

Once again I wonder if investing in a better LD player would do me any good in the long run, since even the "good" parts are none to pretty compared to the relatively noise-free VHS caps I've been doing for a while. But then I remember that I'm broke and doing all of this archiving stuff for no cash involved. Then you all laugh and have that "oh, Kentai!" face. Freeze frame! Cut to commercial. Come on, you know how my life is.

I do believe that these were fansubbed back in the VHS days, but I have no clue by whom, or what title they released it under, so even if you could still get VHS fansubs (you can't) it'd be a bit of an ordeal to find. I guess I can worry about all of this after I've experimented further with the automated dirt removal script I've been shown can work wonders...

Ah yes, a friend of mine pointed out that while there is an LD sourced DivX file floating around on the internet, it's so awful that he couldn't make out any of the kanji in the opening. To prove that this DVD will be a step up, enjoy this impregnable wall of evil text!

This is the source, rather than the final DVD encode, but I'm still tweaking it. The encode shouldn't look any different anyway, since this is a totally static shot and I'm not using either dithering or vertical filtering.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Untold Damage

If you see something horribly awry with the raw meat in Wong's right hand, congratulations! You've just earned yourself a fresh steamed meat bun!

The Untold Story DVD is really a piece of work. Non-anamorphic, composite artifacts, heavy DNR, wonky color values, cranked contrast, and rampant film damage. I thought to myself, "at least they didn't try to remove the film damage and just fuck it up worse". Silly me, of course they did!

As you can see, the automated film damage hardware Tai Seng used wasn't able to filter out a drop of glue used to physically restore this bit of juicy footage, but it was more than capable of finding a fast moving part of the original film and needlessly replace it with an earlier frame. As John K. once said, "Wow! It's the wrong colors and everything!" The little black hole in the middle of a tile also plays peek-a-boo during this shot, disappearing and reappearing whenever the scratch repair assumes it's a spec of dirt on the film. It isn't, but I'll admit that it sure looks like one.

This is exactly why I've been nervous about any sort of automated scratch repair. Like a blind pig tripping over a truffle, you'll occasionally get rid of scratches and dirt and whatever else litters your source print, but odds are you'll fuck up anything that moves in the process. And no, the above artifacts aren't all that rare. If you start finding them, you may never stop, so observe, laugh, and for the love of God don't try to find any more. You might hate what you see in no time.

That said, I've seen some very impressive results coming out of some automated AVISynth functions, so I've decided to experiment further and see what's possible with a little careful tinkering. I've got one animated candidate in particular which could use a film damage face lift, but apparently I've managed to record the damn thing in mono thanks to an overpriced cable popping out when I wasn't paying any attention. Seriously guys, never use anything but the stuff on - each and every one of those cables kicks ass. Wish I'd known about them before I spent a small fortune at Radio Shack...

Expect more anime LD recordings to happen in the very near future.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Kentai Films' Archive Fire

There, I knew that completely retarded UK title wasn't just my imagination!

Well... fuck. Up until recently, the high price of DVD+R DL media had convinced me to back-up dual layer DVD images as a pair of DVD-R discs containing the ROM data. All I'd have to do is put both discs back into the same folder on my HDD, and then either watch, burn, split, or recompress as needed. Seemed like the perfect crime...

Until I realized that I'd not burned one of the VOB files for Demon City Shinjuku. D'oh!

I still have the R2 DVD, I still have the English subtitles I prepared, so creating a new English subtitled version wouldn't be very hard. It just sucks to finally have a couple spare DVD+R DL kicking around and then find that you don't actually have the data I wanted to burn in the first place. So, consider Demon City Shinjuku a Kentai Films title that's currently MIA. And no, the ADC version isn't quite the "final" version, though the differences between the two are minimal if I remember right.

Who wants a hug?

But on to happier news. I've just patched the 55 minute long monster movie 餓鬼魂 GAKIDAMA, a hungry spirit evidently based on the Buddhist legends of the Preta, or Ravenous Ghoul. It was released by Video Search of Miami as "The Tasty Flesh" (LOL WUT? indeed VSoM!), and even had a non-English subtitled VCD in Hong Kong ages ago with the English subtitle THE EVIL WITHIN. But, yeah, just call it Gakidama. Decent little flick, with a lot more psycho-sexual subtext and plot twists than I'd have expected. Yes, I'm talking man-throat-birth. Enjoy that.

Expect another psuedo-horror patch by the end of the week.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Untelling a Story

八仙飯店之人肉叉燒包 The Untold Story ("Eight Immortals Restaurant: Human Meat Buns" - 1993, directed by Herman Yau, starring Anthony Wong and Danny Lee) can be seen as the brutal Hong Kong opposite of Hollywood's own The Silence of the Lambs (1991, directed by Jonathan Demme). Both were modern day police pictorials about tracking down a murder, both featured a respected actor turning in an award-winning perfomance as a deranged serial killer, and both were massively influential on what would be viewed as a more modern - not to mention legitimate - form of horror cinema.

The parallels in terms of their cultural impact are certainly there between Anthony Wong's portrayal of Wong Chi-Hang ("The Bunman") and Anthony Hopkins' now totally iconic Hannibal Lecter ("Hannibal the Cannibal"), and yet the characters themselves couldn't be more different.

Largely because of their literary and journalistic roots respectively, they occupy totally separate ends of the cinematic universe; Thomas Harris' already over the top novel gave birth to the charming and scheming Lecter, an amalgam of all of the charismatic qualities in the long and colorful history of American serial killers wrapped up in the guise of a James Bond villain. Lecter was a misunderstood monster, a man so smart and so privileged that he found himself to be better than the world, and began destroying the parts of it that displeased him for lacking the class he demanded from his surroundings. He was a sociopath, but he was also a gentleman; a cultured, quick witted, and in the context of playing mind games with Jodie Foster, downright seductive. He was the unsettling embodiment of carefully measured pure evil that everyone loved to hate. He wasn't a serial killer, he wasn't even human - he was a fallen angel who delivered gruesome justice however he saw fit, and who are we mere mortals to judge him for it?

Audiences loved him so much that Hopkins not only came back for Ridley Scott's sequel in 2001, simply called "Hannibal", but even remade Lecter's first cinematic appearance in Brett Ratner's "Red Dragon" a year later. This effectively rendered Brian Cox's competent (if unmemorable) turn on the character in "Manhunter" back in 1986 little more than a curious foot note. While both Red Dragon and Hannibal are certainly decent films in their own right, only Silence of the Lambs netted Hopkins an Oscar.

Wong's character (of the same name, convieantly enough) was based on a genuine murder case that happened less than a decade prior in Macau. Director Yau even got to hold an interview with the convicted killer, trying his best to understand the kind of person that the so-called Bunman of the Eight Immortals Restaurant really was. Wong himself was no stranger to playing the heavy; being half English he found himself typecast as the villain, typically hot headed gangsters. Ironically it was only in the sequel to The Untold Story that Wong would get a chance to branch out into a sympathetic, comedic role... but Yau and Wong worked together on one more grotesque masterpiece in Ebola Syndrole, a film which not only topped The Untold Story in sheer nastiness, but it simultaneously mocked it, and its' flood of generally less interesting immitators.

Yau and Wong put their heads together and created not a caricature of evil, but a character who's utter lack of distain for his fellow man made him more monstrous than any masked zombified bogey-man. Wong disappeared completely into the persona of a selfish sociopath obsessed with gambling, cheating, rape, and inevitably murder. Nothing and no-one is spared by Wong, and that selfless and completely believable portrayal of a dangerous thug deserves every accolade its' ever been handed, including the 1993 Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Hong Kong horror films have the nasty habit of flipping between savage exploitation and zany comedy at the drop of a hat, so much as I wish I could play this film up as the Cantonese equivalent of Bad Lieutenant, it's really more like somebody constantly flipping the channels between Henry: Potrtait of a Serial Killer and one of the Police Academy films. You'd think that combination of retard humor (the cops) and unpleasant psychopathic behavior (the Bunman) would make the film incomprehensible... but, honestly, this sort of ADD shift in tone is one of the things that makes Hong Kong "Cat III" (18+) films so unique and amazing. If you can't handle a film jumping from a dead serious scene of a girl being raped to death with a fist full of chopsticks to a gag about a lady cop dressing like a hooker to impress her girl crazy boss, you should just stay the hell away from Cat III films entirely. They are simply not made for you and your Hollywood palette. Hey, that's fine - more Cantonese for me!

The best source out there (despite Raptor's claim) is still the Tai Seng R1 DVD, if only because it's a native NTSC transfer. It's non-anamorphic, has poor contrast, is smeared with noise reduction, littered with print damage, and has a funky blue-green tint that covers the entire film. If this had been a port of an older LD I'd be slightly impressed, but this was a brand new transfer Tai Seng put together in 2004! At least it comes with not one, but two commentary tracks with director Yau and star Wong, both in English. No English dub for the film seems to exist, which strikes me as almost a shame. Much like Men Behind the Sun, its' wretched awfulness could have given us all sorts of unintended hilarity.

Tai Seng R1 NTSC

There's only been one attempt to "remaster" it so far. That was courtesey of Raptor, an Austrian label who released a special limited version of The Untold Story featuring a brand new German dub, as well as all of the commentaries from the Tai Seng transfer. It's the only dual-layer release with English subtitles, and it came in a kick-ass digipak designed after a Chinese resturaunt menu. Each set was numbered, and even included two pairs of chopsticks and replica Human Meat Buns! Now that's service. So, how was the new transfer?

Raptor R2 PAL

As you can see, Raptor figured that tinting the film blue and cranking up the contrast constituted it being "Remastered". I'll give them one point, the sky looks great, but what about the fact that Wong's white shirt is now blue, and his face a freakish shade of purple? Well, that didn't seem to bother Raptor one bit, as the entire Austrian DVD looks like this. It's also an old-fashioned NTSC > PAL conversion, so expect ghosting galore. If you speak German or only have PAL/R2 equipment it's your only option, but that doesn't make it much good.

"So what?" I hear you thinking. "It's easy to sit there and bitch about a crappy looking transfer. But what are YOU gonna' do about it, huh?"

Kentai Films

Obviously none of these transfers look perfect, all being from the same worn out 35mm telecine, but I do believe this beats out the competition by a wide margin. Wong's face looks almost human in color, his shirt a dingy shade of white, and the contrast hasn't gone completely haywire - you can still see the power lines in the background and everything. It's as good as the film has ever looked, and with the Hong Kong release being 4:3 pan-scan after the titles, odds are it may never look much better on DVD.

There's a lot at play here: cropping, scaling, color correction, derainbowing, deinterlacing, deblocking, and even re-graining. I know, I've complained about it as a practice in the past, but my beef is with people who start with perfectly good film, degrain the hell out of it, and then add it back in later. Why would you do that? Why? I'm starting with a degrained and heavily compressed source to begin with, so adding a little bit of luma dithering isn't going to hurt anything; if anything, it's going to hide some of those ugly compression blocks by helping them blend in to their not-so-static surroundings.

There are a few scenes so out of whack in times of their (lack of?) color timing that I may go back and tweak them... only time will tell how anal I get over projects I'm only doing for fun, and to educate myself on what I'm capable of in terms of film restoration. Don't misunderstand me, this will be available on DVD one of these days. It's just officially going on the back burner now that I'm satisfied with how 95% of the film looks.

Let it be said that while I have nothing against Hannibal Rising - I haven't yet seen it, so I certainly won't condemn it - it bears no more relevance to this discussion than does The Untold Story 3.