Sunday, January 29, 2012

Riki-Oh's Last Story

Before I talk about the disc under review, I need to point out that I was lucky enough to catch a double feature of Yuen Woo-Ping's Drunken Tai Chi and Man Kei-Chin's The Eternal Evil of Asia. It was a fantastic experience on a lot of levels, and it's the first time I got to see a pair of "real" vintage 35mm Hong Kong prints, the former courtesy of The Alamo Drafthouse and the latter Grindhouse Releasing.  Come as I have to loathe theaters and long as I might to throw every cent I can at Blu-ray for bringing the experience home, this night on the town reminds me that Blu-ray and 35mm are still completely different animals. It's nice to have that occasional reminder that film prints, despite their emulsion scarring and distorted audio sync and weird wet-gate printing mishaps, don't look like digitized monstrosities or pits of grainy analog death; in the right hands, even an ugly print can be beautiful. And boy, is that the only way to describe that Wong Jing produced B-picture...



It's with the flickering images of actual vintage Hong Kong prints fresh in my memory that I'd like to discuss Media Blasters' release of THE STORY OF RICKY/力王, better known to fans of over the top Japanese pop-culture as "Riki-Oh". Based on the somewhat snide Hokuto no Ken knock-off of the same name, the epic struggle between violence and common sense sits somewhere between Braindead, Cool Hand Luke and Fist of Fury, fusing extreme vengeance with absurd adolescent machismo as a marches into a privatized prison with a half-dozen bullets lodged in his chest to uses his super powered martial arts to take down corruption from the one place designed to correct it. Gorier than all of the 80s horror films put together, zanier than an episode of Tom and Jerry, and more action packed than your mom's ass, this is one of those films that you just biologically have to enjoy or you're broken, somehow. If after saturating yourself in the world of Ricky for 90 minutes you can somehow walk away and spout out something lame like "Sorry lad, but I didn't care for Story of Ricky... but have you seen Raise the Red Lantern? Jolly good show, that." is just the sort of thing you should get punched on the end of your dick for. I'm fucking serious; if you can't wallow in the film's shameless, ludicrous, and brilliant 12-year-old-with-a-red-market excess for the base and brilliant exploitation that it is, I fear that we can never actually be friends... and yeah, I do kind of like Raise the Red Lantern. But that fact becomes irrelevant when we're talking about movies where a dude punches through another dude and we're only like 6 minutes in.

Media Blasters has had a spotty record on Blu-ray, with some titles nearing perfection and others being an extended joke with a full retail price, including Versus and Burial Ground and that early, awful SD upscale of Ichi the Killer. but some of them, like those Queen's Blade and 12 Kingdoms sets, are actually pretty great! So, let's just see how The Story of Ricky turned out with a few--













Media Blasters and Fortune Star, working together...
Did you really expect anything better?


Media Blasters' claims this is a "New High Definition Tranfer". It's 'New' in that it's new to North America, but it's clearly the same materials that Fortune Star used for their remastered DVD back in 2008. And it's "High Definition" in the sense that... well, actually it's not. Not at all. It's a just straight up 480i-to-1080p upscale of a goddamn Digibeta. It's technically encoded at 1080p at a crazy-high bitrate that seems to never dip below 40 Mb/s, but it doesn't fucking matter. They're polishing silver on the Titanic here; the source material is borderline acceptable for a DVD, and by the dint of its crazy-huge filesize it doesn't have the compression issues an SD MPEG-2 stream has... but it's still an upscale. Of a film that Fortune Star did a brand new scan for just four years ago, so I don't want anyone to even postulate that the materials might have been "lost" in the interim. They're sitting in a vault in Hong Kong, and neither Fortune Star nor Media Blasters was willing to create a new print and have that transferred in HD. If you, dear friends, think any of these images look like they might be sourced from a scan with more than 525 analog lines of resolution, I honestly have nothing more to say.

To the discs credit, I guess it does lack the nasty, garish DVNR artifacts found on the Fortune Star DVD, and the audio is lossless all the way down the line. English and Cantonese are available in 5.1 and 2.0 options, with Mandarin getting only a 2.0 mix (presumably a dual-channel mono). English subtitles are removable, and I haven't bothered to check if there are any audio issues or subtitle gaffes; I assume everything's fine, but after 5 minutes of spot checking and realizing what a piece of shit I had on my hands, that was all I could stomach. As was true of the Fortune Star DVD before it, the film appears to be uncut, framed at 1.78 and given a reasonably consistent, neutral color timing without the heavy saturation push found on the Hong Kong Legends DVD of yesteryear. Contrast looks a little too hot for my tastes, but it's rarely to the point where the transfer looks offensive (or any moreso than it always does). There's some edge enhancement visible at all times, and it's made the low-resolution film grain stick out like a sore thumb, but with the only two noteworthy transfers this film has had being made by Fortune Star and Hong Kong Legends, this release will perhaps forever rank as the best looking and sounding release of The Story of Ricky... if only by default.

The cover promises a brand new roundtable discussion about Story of Ricky with the Hobo with a Shotgun crew - namely director Jason Eisener, producer Rob Cotteril and cinematographer Karim Hussain, but this feature is nowhere to be found on the disc - I opened every video file in Media Player Classic, just to make sure some dope didn't accidentally forget to link to it from the menu. Instead all we get is a 2 minute introduction in which Eisener talks about how much he loves the film whilst the cameraman (likely Hussain) punches him in the face. It's cute, I guess, but nothing to get excited for. You also get both English and Cantonese language trailers and a 20 minute interview with the film's protagonist Fan Siu Wong that's appeared on the Fortune Star DVD prior... I think this was recorded for the Hong Kong Legends UK DVD, but I'm honestly not certain. The Hong Kong Legends DVD has a legendarily informative commentary with Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan, and when Sirabella first started talking about this film a year ago he said he was going to license it from them... clearly that never happened, and never having bought that decade old UK import for myself, I'm disappointed on a solely personal level.

Bottom line here is painfully simple: THIS BLU-RAY SUCKS. I once more gave Media Blasters the benefit of the doubt after having called a few of their crumbier looking titles upscales without having seen the discs in full... I've apologized, and perhaps even repented for those knee-jerk reactions, and under the circumstances still don't think they were totally inappropriate. But this time, there is no sharp print damage of optical titles to sway my opinion, and the Downscale-Upscale test results haven't caused any notable differences at DVD resolution. (I've posted examples elsewhere, so why bother repeating myself?)

I'd honestly love for John Sirabella to show up and spout off a bunch of crap about how I don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm not convinced he has the stones to right now: He just fired 60% of his own staff and his distribution chain is so fucked after having pushed back the release date of virtually every single BD he's ever announced that you can't even buy Riki-Oh from Best Buy or Amazon! Media Blasters has dug its own mass grave, and while Sirabella's managed to crawl up the sides many times before, I honestly don't know what tricks up his sleeve he's got left. If this is his master plan, the company deserves to sell only a couple hundred copies of every title. They entered the Blu-ray market with a gnarly looking upscale in Ichi the Killer, and if they leave on a second SD sourced title I can't say I'll shed a single tear. This will be the last time I play the guineapig and buy a Media Blasters title without screencaps being available, and frankly any incentive I may have had to "support the industry" when this pile of dogshit is the respect we as consumers expect has all but evaporated.

I can occasionally forgive a fuckup - a dual channel mono that's supposed to be stereo, a few missing subtitles, a second or two of misplaced reel-change footage or what have you, depending upon the circumstances... but this? Hell no. Fuck you, John Sirabella. Fuck you and every day you've stumbled through this industry and survived when companies that actually gave a crap about films went by the wayside. This is a bag of bullshit with a $20 price tag, and you can't even use the "it'll never happen again, honest!" defense because you already did that over Ichi the Killer when you were talking about releasing Story of Ricky.

I'm through, guys. No more excuses, no more lies, and no more of my own hard-earned money lining your bank account. I've finally reached the point, after a decade of tepid support, that I actually want to see Media Blasters collapse upon itself. I'd honestly rather not have films that I love like Story of Ricky, Ichi the Killer and Urotsukidoji on Blu-ray than get the salty garbage you're slinging. If I purchase a new title it'll solely be in the hopes that my one purchase turns away 50 others so I can watch the vultures of irrelevance suck the marrow from your studios' very bones... not that you need me to ruin you at this point.

11 comments:

Robert M. Hilton said...

Glad to have you back. The Godzilla v. Megalon fiasco might just be the first nail in MB's coffin. Poor Stuart Galbraith can't even get them to pony up for the audio commentary he recorded.

LoBo said...

Damn. I was hoping for a real HD quality and not a another upscaled BD. I won`t buy this BD.

Anthony1138 said...

Thanks for revealing yet another MB fuck-up that I'm not wasting my money on. I'll stick with the Fortune Star HK DVD for now. Maybe MB will finally fold, allowing a more reputable studio to pick up the rights to the amazing titles in their catalog. I'm sick of getting the shaft on their HD releases.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you. They have had more than enough chances, but have fucked up way too many times. I was kind of looking forward to picking up the upcoming "Kite" blu ray, but after recently seeing the atrocity that was the "Urotsukidoji" blu ray, fuck it. MB have no intention of improving and satisfying fans.

Gurotaku said...

The audio commentary on the Hong kong Legends (UK) DVD was actually by Jude Poyer (who worked as a stuntman on the film and shares a ton of priceless anecdotes from the set) and some critic called Miles Wood who's mostly just moderating from what I recall.

Also, the interview with Fan Siu-wong runs 36:05 PAL on that disc.

Kentai 拳態 said...

D'oh! I could have sworn HKL was legally required to get Bey Logan on each of those commentary tracks.

Thanks, Gurotaku. I'm starting to wish I'd just imported the HKL release instead of giving Sirabella roughly the same price...

Kriztoffer Swank said...

The thing that really bugs me is if there are really 35mm prints in fans' collections, I'm sure Media Blasters could have done something to borrow those and make a decent scan. I'd have definitely taken a scan of an OK print and so long as the transfer looks nice 'n' filmic, I'd have no qualms—I'd happily have lapped that up.

Dammit. And here the SD source was shit to start—they couldn't have even released an upconvert of a nice SD source.

Anonymous said...

The reason why the MB releases of Queens Blade and 12 Kingdoms look so good is that they cloned the Japanese encodes versus doing their own. MB have *never* been good doing encodes in-house.

Kentai 拳態 said...

One thing to keep in mind is that most any 35mm release print - at least any print made for Hong Kong, Mainland China or Taiwan - would have optically printed Traditional Chinese and English subtitles. Having seen a "legit" release print of THE ETERNAL EVIL OF ASIA with some exceptionally weird-ass wet-gate printing artifacts that make it look like an amoeba is constantly jittering over one side of the screen, I can vouch that not all theatrical prints are suitable for Blu-ray...

...then again, neither is fucking Digibeta.


Anon, I wouldn't be surprised if 12 KINGDOMS and QUEEN'S BLADE were indeed 1:1 copies of the JP transfers - though I think the latter has English credits (haven't picked them up yet to find out), which would imply at least some local effort.

What's almost sad is that I can't fault MB's transfers for any title in which great materials already exist . After their initial 12 Mb/s offerings they basically kicked everything up to 36~40 Mb/s, just to shut guys like me up. Too bad it doesn't make discs like BURIAL GROUND or THE STORY OF RICKY look any less like ass.

Greg M said...

Is it wrong that I'm thrilled to see this shit show finally collapsing in upon itself? I haven't bought one of their products in at least 5 years... even the titles I love that get "decent" reviews. Glad to see other people joining the boycott camp!

AO said...

I've been following the release of Ricky since September and I'm sad to hear that they didn't use the original 35mm film. I was literally about to buy the Blu-Ray online and I stumbled upon this blog. Someday, when I'm really rich, I'll do us all a favor and give this amazing movie the treatment and release it deserves.