H D - S E L E C T

A view on HD DVDs by Yunda Eddie Feng






Face/Off HD-DVD

(John Woo, 1997)


Paramount (USA)

2.35:1 1080p

138 minutes

Audio: DD Plus 5.1 EX English, DTS 6.1 English, DD Plus 5.1

        French, DD Plus 5.1 Spanish

Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish

Extras: audio commentary by John Woo, Mike Webb, and Michael Colleary; audio commentary by Mike Webb and Michael Colleary; 7 deleted/alternate scenes; The Light and the Dark: Making Face/Off; John Woo: A Life in Pictures; trailer

Released: October 30th, 2007

HD DVD slim double case

40 chapters


Some Westerners dig John Woo solely for the director’s action choreography.  Many, however, hate his movies because the action or the emotions (perhaps even both) are “over the top”.  Both the action-lovers and the Woo-haters miss the point.




Cinema is, first and foremost, a visual medium.  John Woo was a champion ballroom dancer, so his visual style is graceful and kinetic, even in comedies like Once a Thief.  Woo’s action sequences are not “over the top” because he’s not just interested in telling stories; rather, he wants audiences to absorb the pleasure of watching the human body in motion.  Unfortunately, in an age when ballet and musicals are ghettoized as “gay” pastimes, few people know how to appreciate a Woo production with just their eyes.



With regards to the emotions on display in Woo’s movies, one has to understand that the Chinese director didn’t grow up in a society filled with detached irony.  His childhood was mired in crushing poverty, and he’s very grateful for the charity extended to him by a Christian family that sponsored his education.  Woo takes emotions at face value, and he’s unafraid to present unabashed sentiment (sentiment, not sentimentality).  Take, for example, his comments about Nicolas Cage’s mirror-bashing scene in Face/Off.  Cage asked Woo if he could say, “Fuck you!” to the other actors.  Woo said yes.  When Cage invested the scene with heart-rending despair, Woo said that he was shocked and almost cried.


Due to small budgets, rushed shooting schedules, and a variety of other reasons, John Woo’s Hong-Kong productions--even the best ones--have a certain sloppiness/unfinished feel.  True, Face/Off doesn’t have Chow Yun-fat, but it has a completeness and emotional resonance that puts it at the top of Woo’s oeuvre with A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Once a Thief.  The duality and male-bonding themes are there, but Face/Off also benefits from an examination of two families on opposite sides of the law.  Female characters are often presented as comical sidekicks or bumbling meddlers in Woo’s movies, but in Face/Off, they’re as serious, tough, and passionate as the men.  The opponents want to destroy each other, of course, but the resolution brings the families together in a way that heals them.  After years filled with “heroic bloodshed”, Woo showed us the “heroic healing” in which he believes.





2007 is the Face/Off’s 10th anniversary, and as the movie has a devoted following, Paramount saw fit to clean up the film negative and create a new high-def digital master.  This new digital master was used for both this HD DVD and the 2-disc SD DVD that was released in mid-September.  Colors are rich and bold, and the high level of detail is wonderful.  On the negative side, there is some edge enhancement.










The HD DVD upgrades the vanilla 1-disc DVD’s audio to DD Plus 5.1 EX English and DTS 6.1 English.  (It also seems like someone dialed up the volume when re-mixing the audio.)  The new audio tracks sound cleaner and punchier than the old DD 5.1 mix, and the rear center channel adds to the immersion into the movie. 


You can also watch the movie with DD Plus 5.1 French and DD Plus 5.1 Spanish dubs.  Optional English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles support the audio.



Disc 1:

You can watch the movie with your choice of two audio commentaries.  The first one is with John Woo and writers Mike Webb and Michael Colleary.  The second one is with just the two writers.  Though Woo and the writers are clearly in the same room recording the first commentary together, the writers’ comments on both commentaries sometimes sound so similar that I wonder what the point was of having two audio commentaries, especially when the second commentary repeats much of what John Woo says in the first yak track.  Overall, it’s worth your while to listen to the commentaries if Face/Off is one of your all-time faves, but you won’t miss out on much if you listen to only one of them.




Disc 1 has seven deleted scenes that are interesting to watch but wouldn’t have added anything to the movie.  The alternate ending is rightly dropped; it belongs in a silly horror/sci-fi production, not an action drama.  The deleted scenes have optional audio commentaries by Woo, Webb, and Colleary.  They’re presented in high-definition video, but the film quality is spotty.


Disc 2:

“The Light and the Dark: Making Face/Off” is a five part, 60-plus-minute documentary that covers various aspects of the production.  A lot of interesting tidbits are revealed, though there are overlaps with the audio commentaries and other extras.  There are a lot of behind-the-scenes moments and additional deleted scenes that are not presented on Disc 1.  Some of the actors and crew members contributed new interview material, though the interviews with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage were taken from when the movie was in production.  Although the gushing about John Woo is excessive, the participants shed light on some of the battles that they had with the studio.


“John Woo: A Life in Pictures” presents John Woo and his collaborators talking about his life and his career.  Mission: Impossible 2 is featured a few times, though with the exception of a still photo, there is no reference to Paycheck, a movie that John Woo directed for Paramount and DreamWorks (which is now owned by Paramount anyway).


Finally, you get the same trailer on the 1-disc DVD.


(All of the video-based extras are presented in high-definition video, but they vary in quality depending on their sources.)




An insert advertises other Paramount HD DVDs.








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Introduction: Hello, Beaver readers! I became a serious cineophile in 1994 when I saw Schindler's List on my birthday. I realized that movies weren't just for fun--they could be serious art, too (even mainstream popcorn flicks if they're made with skill). Although I have a BA in English, I went to grad school for an MA in Film Studies. There, I met my mentor Dr. Warren Buckland, who shares my interest in Steven Spielberg's artistry (Spielberg and art aren't mutually exclusive). I helped edit Dr. Buckland's book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. I also contributed a chapter to Dr. Buckland's forthcoming anthology of essays about "complex storytelling" movies--movies that avoid classical linear storylines in favor of temporal disruptions, unreliable narrators, metatheatrical/"self-aware" references, etc.

Eddie's Home Theatre:
Sharp 30-inch LCD TV (1280x768 resolution)
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player
Oppo OPDV971H SD-DVD player
Pioneer 7.1 DD/DTS receiver
Harmon Kardon speakers (5.1)

(I'm using the HD-A2's optical audio connection to obtain DTS 5.1 downmixes.)

Yunda Eddie Feng