Sunday, August 29, 2010

Red to Thrill

HK Video/Metrofilm (PAL 16:9)

Universe Laser/Tai Seng (NTSC 4:3)

Kentai Films (NTSC 16:9)

Not quite exact frames, but I think they'll do for the time being. None of the transfers are totally perfect, but it probably goes without saying that I'm happiest with my own work in the end.

Most of the CAT III Collection titles require some extensive work, but I'm happy to report that RED TO KILL/弱殺 just needs finished menus and it's ready for the big time.

...well, I guess this'll just have to do.

Sadly I can't find an original Hong Kong trailer anywhere, so we're just going to have to deal with the video trailer HKV made. There's no deleted scenes or lobby cards or anything else I can really put on the disc, but at least the transfer and audio presentation will be top-notch, and as one of the finest features from Billy Tang's catalog of atrocities against good taste, I think it'll be a good start for the Kentai Films' CAT III Collection.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Attention Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock Blu-Ray Customers:

Full Size HERE.

KITAMURA Ryuhei's action-satire masterpiece VERSUS, just like Ichi the Killer before it, is an SD upscale - despite the US Blu-ray having been in production limbo for nearly two years. It's also the (preferable, I think) original Japanese theatrical cut from 2000, not the "ULTIMATE VERSUS" redux from 2004. As with Ichi the Killer, this remains the best looking and sounding release, but only by default. If you already own the R1 Special Edition DVD, there is no way I can recommend "upgrading", since even with the the increase in compression efficiency the original transfer is so old it looks nothing like 35mm film to start with.

John Sirabella and company, I don't know if you're just taking the piss here or if you literally can't tell the difference between a 1080p transfer and a 480i master. Either way, knock it the fuck off and release REAL HD content from now on. Queen's Blade, Death Kappa or A Lizard in a Woman's Skin would all be a fine start. I guess Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police are a pass, since they were shot on SD Video. But if you aren't going to get 35mm print when one exists, just stick with DVD. You fooled me once for all of five minutes, and I'm not going to fall for it again.

That is all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

R.I.P. Satoshi KON (1963-2010)

Not just Japan, but the entire world has lost one of its' most fascinating animation directors. He will be sorely missed by myself, and surely anyone familiar with his work.

Paranoia Agent and Perfect Blue will always remain my favorite Kon works for reveling in the thematic and aesthetic end of the psychological horror film, but there aren't enough kind words to be said for the cyberpunk science-fantasy Paprika, the charming and bittersweet humanity of Tokyo Godfathers, and the sweeping love of Japanese film found in Millennium Actress. I'll forgive people who can't stomach these genres on their own terms, but it's almost impossible to hold his broad interests' against the visual and narrative skill he brought to each and every project. A man like Kon only appears once in a blue moon, and the fact that he only had the chance to direct four feature films* and one 13 episode television series before his death is nothing short of heart-breaking.

I'll be very curious to know how close to completion his 2011 children's film The Dream Machine was, and hope the finished film is every bit as full of his spirit as the works completed while he was alive all were.

*Perfect Blue was originally going to be an OVA, as I understand it, but with the length and scope of the picture this is largely irrelevant.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grain Invaders

For those who don't want to sit through through the whole 7 minutes of Dances with Smurfs* talk and just want the meaty Giger-related center, here's the important part:

"I just did a complete remaster of ALIENS personally with the same colorist that I worked with on Avatar - and it's spectacular. We went in and we completely de-noised and de-grained it, uprezzed it, color-corrected it (and) every frame and it looks amazing. It looks better than it looked in theaters originally - because it was shot on a high speed negative that was a new negative that didn't pan out too well and got replaced the following year, so it was pretty grainy. So we got rid of all the grain - it's sharper and clearer and more - more beautiful than it's ever looked, and we did that to the "Long Version, you know, to the [air quotes] "DIRECTOR'S CUT" [/air quotes] or, the extended play... yeah, I call it the FM mix. [laughs] That's dating myself! "

The fact that he's using incorrect terminology like "uprezzed" proves that this is the quick-'n'-dirty explanation for average folk who don't know what words like telecine, 4k, DSR and DVNR mean... but this is still disheartening. Prior pieces released around Comicon suggested that all four of the Alien films had been restored by Lowry Digital, the same clods who basically created the DVNR > Scratch Repair > Simulated Digital Grain combo for 35mm film that I simulate on VHS... the trouble is, if I had access to 35mm negatives I wouldn't stoop to those methods in the first place.

I've said before - and stand by it - that Digital Video Noise Reduction is NOT a quick-fix for grain. The best you can hope to do is temporally smear all the grain into a static blob, which affects not only the "crawling" grain, but also smooths out fine detail as a side-effect. If the grain is fine, such as the grain found on the 70mm feature PATTON, the result is a very smooth and seemingly sharp - but ultimately waxy and lifeless image:

The problem here is that Aliens was shot using cheap, gritty film stock that Kodak themselves thought was such shite they discontinued it a year later. So Aliens has always, always been an extremely gritty affair. And just what happens when you try to use noise reduction on stuff that doesn't already have a fine grain-structure to work with?


Granted, Lowry probably has better DVNR algorithms at their disposal than Anchor Bay ever did, but my point stands; "de-graining" doesn't work without having detrimental side-effects. It basically can't. You can't remove film grain without further damaging and manipulating the underlying image, and so your best bet is to simply leave the grain as it is.  Analog video noise (sadly) has much the same problem, but at least we KNOW analog chroma noise shouldn't be on DVD. Natural film grain as found on the negative or interpositive should be, and if it's there in the source, by crickey, it should be left as-is.

Here's the rub, though: James Cameron has known since 1986 that the film stock was utter crap. Reportedly he was never happy with it, and was pushing for it to be removed going back to the days of laserdisc! This isn't Cameron actually having a revisionist lighbulb go off over his head or Michael Mann revisiting his work every couple years the way he's prone to do, this is Cameron using modern tools to fix a problem the film has always had - and a problem he literally couldn't fix when the film was made. So do we applaud Fox for listening to the guy who ultimately created the film, or do we scorn Cameron for doing it in the first place? Or, if you'd rather show weakness on the internet, do we just look the other way since it's "supposed" to be grainless?

I'm frustrated to say that, I guess, the proper answer is a mix of all three. I don't like DVNR - I understand that it's used in Digital Intermediate workstations and is thus "baked in" to the film from the start. I also understand that it can be used to achieve a certain 'look' when film stocks or available lighting made that particular effect impossible. There's even instances where lousy telecine or optical works done in post have to be accounted for, and using DVNR is the only way to get the negative "back" to the state it should have been in to start with! There are absolutely times when DVNR is the only tool that'll fix a certain problem... I just don't think removing all of the grain from an entire movie is the way to approach it. If your film is grainy, it'll always be grainy; learn to live with it and either love it, or watch something else, for goodness sake.

With this in mind, I'll wait for screencaps before knee-jerking one way or the other... but who the fuck am I kidding. I'll buy the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY box set the second its' available, and wither the first two films look phenomenal or like scabrous ass, I'll be happy to have them in HD. In the end I may disagree with what Cameron thinks his film should look like now, but it's not really "my" film to dictate those matters to. All I can do is get my hands on older transfers that don't have DVNR and be happy with them - various HD broadcasts of ALIENS reportedly have a naturally grainy texture, but I'm sure they're also littered with MPEG-2 artifacts and probably have all sorts of problems the new remaster will not. So pick your poison, ladies and gents; it's really just a question of which type of video error you personally find the least offensive.

*I liked Avatar. No, I did. (I mostly liked THE SPIRIT too, but that's yet another ball of poprocn wax.) Go ahead collective internet hate, call it a pile of goofy 3D Tech Demo crap all you want - because deep down you know that it's still a much more sensible and exciting film than THE TERMINATOR.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Raped by Taiwan

The Hong Kong surge of CAT III rated "True Crime" films in the wake of Dr. Lamb (1992) and Eight Immortals Resturaunt Human Pork Buns: The Untold Story (1993) spawned a number of imitators, trying to find that sweet-spot that combined crime and punishment, sex appeal and graphic violence into an irresistable cocktail of exploitation euphoria.  I don't think any franchise was quite as prolific as Wong Jing and Andrew Lau's sleazy tale of fetishized obsession, legal manipulation, and often only half-related sequels...

RAPED BY AN ANGEL/香港奇案之強姦 ("Hong Kong's Legal Rape")  is a 1993 film that was, at least in Taiwan and the United Kingdom, pawned off as a sort of sequel to the totally unrelated feature (with the same stars) NAKED KILLER/赤裸羔羊... confused yet? I hope not, because it's not going to get much simpler.

The single best bootleg cover I've ever seen!

Five years later the franchise was resurrected with RAPED BY AN ANGEL II: THE UNIFORM FAN/強姦2之制服誘惑 ("Rape 2: Uniform Fetish"), which had its' own individual sequel in 2000 as RAPED BY AN ANGEL V: THE FINAL JUDGMENT/制服誘惑2地下法庭 ("Uniform Fetish 2: Underground Court" ) That's right, it's a sequel to RBAA2, but not a part of the RBAA series... at least not if you speak Chinese.

1998 also saw the release of RAPED BY AN ANGEL 3: SEXUAL FANTASY OF THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE/強姦3OL誘惑  ("Rape 3: Sectetary Fetish"), complete with the fugliest box art known to man.  By 1999 the death-knell of the CAT III exploitation was already hacking from theater marquees, but that didn't stop them from releasing RAPED BY AN ANGEL IV: THE RAPISTS' UNION/強姦終極篇最後羔羊 ("Rape The Final Chapter: The Ultimate Lamb"). Let's see Wal*Mart crush that union!

Just for added confusion, a shot-on-video sequel surfaced in 2003 under the title RAPED BY AN  ANGEL 5/強姦5廣告誘惑 ("Legal Rape 5: Advertisement Fetish"). Once again, RBAA "V" is the Billy Tang rape-epic about the Millenium Rapist. RBAA "5" is shot-on-video softporn that was evidently so terrible that Hong Kong never released it nationally. Mei Ah just spit out a PAL disc with Chinese subtitles for the main land to jerk off to and then pretended that the whole thing was a weird tequila fueled fever-dream.

But all of this is kinda' useless trivia, at least for the time being. The important part is I finally got my grubby mits on both the remastered French version of RBAA, and also the "Extended" Taiwan cut. The French print runs 95:42 while the TW print runs 97:48 (both NTSC speed), but since there's several minutes of footage on the Hong Kong version that was not included in the Taiwan print, there's probably a good five minutes worth of never before seen footage compared to the Hong Kong CAT III releases most fans are likely familiar with.

Of course, neither print is particularly great...

French Metrofilm DVD

Taiwan Scholar DVD

The Taiwan transfer is an old analog telecine from the LD days, so it's covered in chroma noise (turned compression garbage), composite rainbows, pure-interlaced frames and other horrors of the period. It shockingly has mostly-clean 3:2 pulldown, but there's a considerable ammount of temporal smearing, so even though there is neither deinterlacing nor DVNR on the print, it's still a ghost-covered mess. The print is also pretty awful, with the entire frame sliding up and down the screen and print damage ranging from innocious to grindhouse levels, depending on how close to a censor cut you are.

The even larger problem with the Taiwan print is the fact that it's dubbed in Mandarin, and has printed Chinese/English subtitles. Even though the film was post-dubbed the Cantonese dub is the way the director Michael Mak wanted the film to be seen. Also, Mandarin sounds positively icky in these early 90s dubs, so unless you actually speak the language I can't imagine the Mandarin track being exceptionally fun.

The French transfer is, for some strange reason, an NTSC > PAL transfer. None of the other HK Video CAT III Collection titles are this way, so I can only assume that the actual telecine work was being done in HK, and for whatever reason this transfer was done in NTSC (probably by mistake). Had it still been NTSC, it would have been watchable: As it is the PAL master is full of stuttering movement, combing artifacts, and horrifying aliasing. Certainly I've seen worse, but considering how stunning several of the Metrofilm transfers look this is still a disappointment.

Now that I HAVE both versions on hand, the question remains: What the hell do I do with them? I could release them as a two DVD set, allowing viewers to see how the two cuts play out differently, but that would be more expensive - and you'd have to suffer through the whole film in Mandarin just to watch a girl get raped by a blind folded retarded kid. I could include them as deleted scenes, but that isn't quite satisfactory either...

...are you guys thinking what I'M THINKING?