Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Furiously Fisting The Big Boss

THE BIG BOSS Fists of Fury(1971)



FIST OF FURY The Chinese Connection (1972)


Fortune Star released what many fans considered the definitive transfers for 李小龍/Bruce Lee's original Hong Kong films - The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, and Game of Death - on limited edition R3 DVD back in 2004. They were by far the best looking transfers the now nearly 40 year old films had ever seen, and while plenty of purists were less than enthusiastic about the 5.1 surround remixes, it can't be said that these post-dubbed mono films never sounded all that great to begin with, so any complaints are mostly out of principle rather than fidelity.

These titles are now on Blu-ray, and since I'm slowly eating up all of my blog space with massive screenshots, I'll let the above 540p shots do the talking for me. For more, check HERE and HERE at the ever trustworthy mecca of DVD comparison sites, DVD Beaver.

In Brief:
The Big Boss looks fan-fucking-tastic. Fist of Fury... well, not so much. The Blu-ray manages to be both blurry and grainy, which makes me think the problem lies in the negative itself. It's weird that the earlier Big Boss would look dramatically better, but I'm thinking that maybe TBB was shot using typical anamorphic photography, while FoF was shot using 2 perf? It's also possible that FoF was telecined from a non-negative sourced print, but it's so pristine and damage free that I'd be shocked if this were actually the case.

That said, there's ZERO excuse for FoF to look so... well, blue. If you want proof that a color correction would have made a dramatic improvement, behind what a single click in Photoshop was capable of:

Talk to the hand, sister!

That's... probably just a little too pink, but still got to be a heck of a lot closer to how everyone looked on set. I know, color timing is always a touchy issue that every asshole on the planet who had absolutely no involvement in the production of any given film knows everything about once a new transfer comes out, and I'm not above playing arm-chair colorist. What can I say? Bitching about things you don't like is fun!

Still, just look at the above example. Compare it to the Blu-ray shot from the top of the page. Take a minute and really let the colors saturate your brain. Preferably, open them in different tabs and flick between the two. If the Blu-ray shot doesn't instantly look like it was shot in the dark on blue tinged cigar wrappers, briefly consult some handy TEST PATTERNS to make sure your monitor isn't just completely out of whack.

Just for fun, let's see how the Fox/Fortune Star R1 release looks:



As you can see, even the Fox R1 release has a color correction that looks better than the Blu-ray! That said, the Fox transfer appears to be taken from a completely different, far more damaged print than the Fortune Star transfer. Why, you ask? A part of me hopes that somebody at Fox took one look at the Fortune Star transfer and asked "The hell? Why is Bruce's skin green?!" and decided that their old transfer of the English print with the Chinese titles spliced back in would be just fine. I have no clue if this is accurate, but no other explanation makes the slightest bit of sense.

Neither of the Blu-ray include the mono Cantonese/Mandarin mixes, so if (like me) that kind of thing pisses you off, well... it's going to piss you off. The Fortune Star DVDs include vintage mono Cantonese mixes, but being pre-New Wave Hong Kong pictures they were shot without synch sound and then dubbed into Mandarin first. The Cantonese dubs for these films didn't exist until the mid 1980s, they're no more "original" to the film than the English dub is.

The R1 set has both mono Cantonese and Mandarin tracks, but to make up for those positives the vintage English dubs have been given the absolute worst 5.1 mix in the history of shoddy DTS remixes. Those things are so full of analog distortions, god-awful surround manipulation, and such limited range that they make the Mandarin 5.1 mixes Fortune Star pumped out sound positively Godly in comparison. Sure it's in 5.1 surround, but it sounds like you're listening to an array of tin cans on strings hooked up to an 8 track player!

I'm going commit a massive taboo here that willll likely get me barred from any theatrical screening of any classic Hong Kong film for life. But I'll just say it anyway: I vastly prefer the Cantonese dub for The Big Boss. I think the new funky soundtrack and the performances just make the film a bit more exciting and personal than the original Mandarin audio. It's not like any of these dubs features Lee anyway, so while excluding the original Mandarin track would be a real downer for obvious reasons, the fact that the Cantonese track is there fills me with just a little bit of selfish joy.

Anyway, it's a shame that Fist of Fury wasn't given the color correction it so desperately needed, but anyone and everyone who's gay for Bruce Lee still needs these. Being a little expensive for a Hong Kong release I may just wait and see if a third party licensors do some further corrections on FoF, but if these are ever on sale, I think I'll have to wallow in their not quite archival quality goodness first hand.

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