H D - S E N S E I

A view on Hi-def DVDs by Gary W. Tooze

 

Introduction: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 7500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

Samsung HPR4272 42" Plasma HDTV
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player (firmware upgraded)

Sony BDP-S300 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player (firmware upgraded)
Sony DVP NS5ODH SD-DVD player (region-free and HDMI)

Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

Gary W. Tooze

 

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Mad Detective - aka Sun Taam [Blu-rays vs. SD-DVD]

 

(Johnny To, Ka-Fai Wai, 2007)

Mei Ah vs. Eureka Masters of Cinema
Review by Gary W. Tooze

Video
Video codec: AVC on both Blu-rays
Video resolution: 1080p for Blu-rays, 480P anamorphic/progressive for SD-DVD
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Audio Mei Ah Blu-ray:
Cantonese: PCM 7.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital EX 6.1, Dolby Digital EX 5.1

Audio Masters of Cinema Blu-ray:
Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0

Audio Masters of Cinema SD:
Cantonese: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles Mei Ah Blu-ray: Chinese (traditional), Chinese (simplified), English, none

Subtitles Masters of Cinema (both Blu-ray and SD-DVD): English, none

Discs
Mei Ah Blu-ray: 50GB dual-layered, REGION FREE, Feature: 25.5 Gig, 1:30:20

Masters of Cinema Blu-ray: 25GB single-layered, REGION FREE, Feature: 20.23 Gig, 1:30:01

Masters of Cinema DVD: Dual-layered SD-DVD, Region 0 - NTSC 1:29:39

 

Mei Ah Blu-ray Supplements:

• Movie databank
• Making of... (22:44)
• trailer (1:41)

Masters of Cinema Blu-ray and DVD Supplements:

• Q&A with Johnnie To at the Cinémathèque Française Johnnie To retrospective (Paris, France, March 2008) – 35 minutes
• Exclusive cast interviews shot during the Far East Film Festival featuring Lau Ching Wan, and Lam Suet (Udine, Italy, April 2008) – 14 minutes
• Interview with Johnnie To for the French theatrical release of Mad Detective (France, 4th March 2008) – 21 minutes • Original UK theatrical trailer
• 16-page booklet containing specially commissioned essay by David Bordwell (Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

 

Mei Ah Blu-ray Released: July 24th, 2008

Masters of Cinema Blu-ray and DVD Released: November 3rd, 2008
Standard Blu-ray cases, Transparent Keep case
16 chapters

 

Product Description:

A missing police pistol is connected to a series of recent heists and murders. Its owner, Wong (Lee Kwok Lun), vanished earlier while pursuing suspects in the bush. His partner, Chi-Wai (Lam Ka Tung), miraculously returned unharmed.

Inspector Ho (Andy On), the man in charge of the investigation, seeks help from his former boss Bun (Lau Ching Wan), who had once been recognized as a gifted criminal profiler until he was being judged crazy years ago. He has the ability to see into a person's inner personality, where the subconscious desires and emotions are laid bare.

After the very first contact with Chi-Wai, Bun concludes that Chi-Wai is the murderer. What begins as a quest for answers has now taken a schizophrenic turn where truth and lies, reality and delusions, intertwine...

 

 

****

Last year’s largest grossing film at the Hong Kong box office – the smash-hit Mad Detective – is one of the freshest and most satisfying films from that country in a decade. The traditional Hong Kong police film is turned on its head: the imaginative twist being our hero – Detective Bun (a role created for Lau Ching Wan) – who has the ability to ‘see’ people’s inner personalities or “hidden ghosts”. Breaking new ground and establishing new cinematic rules, Johnnie To’s latest giddily entertaining collaboration with Wai Ka Fai radically raises the level of storytelling in modern film.

Detective Bun (Lau Ching Wan) was recognised as a talented criminal profiler until he sliced off his right ear to offer as a gift at his chief’s farewell party. Branded as ‘mad’ and discharged from the force, he has lived in seclusion with his beloved wife May (Kelly Lin) ever since. Strangely, Bun has the ability to ‘see’ a person’s inner personality, their subconscious desires, emotions, and mental state. When a missing police gun is linked to several heists and murders, hotshot Inspector Ho (Andy On) calls on the valuable skills of his former mentor Bun to help unlock the killer’s identity. However, Bun’s unorthodox methods point to a fellow detective and take a schizophrenic turn for the worse…

Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice, multiple prizewinner at the Asian Film Awards 2008, and winner of Best Screenplay at the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards 2008, Mad Detective has been simultaneously thrilling multiplexes and cerebrally challenging arthouses in the UK and across the world – The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present the UK DVD debut and also our first ever Blu-ray...

From the MoC website located HERE

 

 

The Film:

Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai direct and produce, with a script by Wai and Au Kin-yee. They barrel straight ahead, not wasting a moment of time and keeping the audience on their toes. The mystery story makes sense, and the pacing is such that we never really worry whether Bun has incredible powers of observation, some sort of supernatural ability, or anything else; we just go with him. The action scenes are well done, fast-paced but still clear. To is one of the world's best at telling a story without loading the screen up with a bunch of flourishes that call attention to his work, although he and Wai have some fun with visualizing the difference between how Bun sees the world and how it is objectively.

Mad Detective does what a good detective story should - it gives us an interesting crime and a great character to follow in the solving of it. In fact, it actually goes above and beyond that duty in the last act, and despite some initial skepticism, I found myself liking the final turns that moved the movie beyond just being an eccentric detective story quite a bit.

Excerpt from Jay Seaver's review at eCritic located HERE


Video: NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc. Firstly, both Blu-rays are region-free and will play on Blu-ray players world-wide.

There are quite a few factors to discuss here. Firstly, let's get the Masters of Cinema SD-DVD out of the way - it's a progressive, dual-layered, anamorphic transfer that looks quite good for 480P resolution. It has the same fine extras as the MoC Blu-ray but the difference in resolution is pretty overwhelming and in the end the Blu-ray is only £2 more. If your system supports high-definition  - then this is obviously the way to go.

Although technically the Mei Ah is dual-layered - the feature only takes up 25.5 Gig of the 50 Gig capacity where the Masters of Cinema is coming in at 20.23 Gig (single-layered). What seems obvious is that Mei Ah have boosted both brightness and colors. To be fair to them - they haven't done a poor job of disguising the manipulations but the 'look' of the film seems drastically affected next to the Master of Cinema edition. A bit of this to bring up detail is usually not detectable and can slightly improve the appearance, but when you go at it ham-fisted things can tend to get out-of-whack very quickly. The heavy (intentional) grain is an important aspect of the film and you don't want to mess with that. The MoC doesn't have any HD-DVNR or grain removal applied and they obviously didn't color or contrast boost. The HD master that they used was graded and approved by the director. Despite the Mei Ah appearing more like a modern Hollywood transfer, IMHO, it is really not as similar to the theatrical intent as the darker, damper, slightly greenish/blue Masters of Cinema encode.

Another 3 significant black marks against the Mei Ah are that it is unhealthily cropped on three sides (bottom and side edges) - quite evident beside the Masters of Cinema disc - plus the instances of watermarks appearing early in the corner of the frame on the Hong Kong Blu-ray. Finally the subtitle translation goes in Masters of Cinema's favor. Mei Ah's translation is not as poor as the Mega-Star's Blu-ray of Days of Being Wild, but the MoC is superior in every important aspect (grammar, spelling, and matter-of-fact flowing dialogue while the HK disc is précised at times). I wasn't fortunate to have seen this theatrically so it is only my guess that the Masters of Cinema gives a far more accurate visual representation that the Mei Ah disc.  

NOTE: Stylistically this film was shot in 35mm with some stylistic distortions of the lens for certain shots (samples below) that fans should accept as part of the film experience. As co-director Johnny To (aka Johnnie To) says 'As was before, this film challenges story conventions and audience expectations. Narratively and visually, nothing is what it seems to be'.  Ohhh... the menus of this Mei Ah disc are, conveniently, in English.

NOTE: Russell says in email "I don't think the contrast is the problem at all. Manipulated contrast typically blows out whites, and I don't see any examples in the screencaps provided. What I do see is a blue cast over the Director Approved transfer, which shifts the highlights to blue and thus gives the illusion that the Mei Ah transfer is blown out. There's no more or less detail in the highlights of either transfer, which can't be said for the MoC screenshot with software boosted contrast. Absolutely, the lack of a blue tint gives stronger contrast on the Mei Ah transfer, but it's not artificially boosted anymore than the MoC transfer is 'artificial' for being timed with a visible blue hue.

There's EE and cropping visible on the Mei Ah transfer, so it isn't perfect, but more likely the Mei Ah transfer is taken from a non-timed 35mm print, or from a Digital Intermediate without any proper color timing. This looks like another OLDBOY situation, where two distinct masters exist, rather than one version was simply screwed up in post. The MoC transfer is likely how Johnnie To wanted the film to look, but the Mei Ah transfer likely represents what the film looks like before it was fine-tuned rather than any last minute tampering.
" (Thanks Russell!)
   

Screen Captures

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURES TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

NOTE: Subtitle sample on the SD!

 

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

This is the Masters of Cinema with the contrast boosted (via my computer image software)

 

1) Mei-Ah Region FREE Blu-ray TOP

2) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 2 FREE Blu-ray MIDDLE

3) Eureka - Masters of Cinema # 71 - Region 0 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

Audio: The Mei Ah has many 'high fallut'in' audio but the MoC is not to be outdone on this front either. Offered on the Mei Ah are (in original Cantonese) PCM 7.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby Digital EX 6.1 and a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 track. On the Masters of Cinema we have Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, TrueHD 5.1, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. I sampled each one and they all sounded very strong and dynamic on my system. I really liked the PCM track as it sounded marginally more pure to my ear (it's the option I finished the film with when I first watched the Mei Ah) although the DTS-HD (on both) and TrueHD (on the MoC) seemed to have had more punch. Bottom line is that I doubt any fans will be disappointed in the audio of these Blu-rays. My ears aren't capable of determining these subtle differences. 

The Mei Ah offers optional English, Chinese (traditional), or Chinese (simplified) subtitles where the MoC supplies removable English. As we stated above though, in regards to the English, the Mei Ah appear précised, less accurate and doesn't flow as smoothly as the UK Blu-ray

Extras: On the Mei Ah only a 22-minute, non-subtitled (in Cantonese) 'Making of...' with input from production and cast members. It is 4:3 letterboxed. I was very anxious to hear what was said or more supplements from this film and Masters of Cinema came to the rescue with a 35 minute Q&A with Johnnie To at the Cinémathèque Française Johnnie To retrospective (Paris, France, March 2008) and an exclusive cast interviews shot during the Far East Film Festival featuring Lau Ching Wan, and Lam Suet (Udine, Italy, April 2008). This runs14 minutes. There is a lone 21 minute interview with Johnnie To from the French theatrical release of Mad Detective (France, 4th March 2008) – 21 minutes and finally (digitally speaking) and original UK theatrical trailer. Master of Cinema supply another wonderful booklet - 16-pages worth containing specially commissioned essay by David Bordwell (Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison).  

Mei-Ah Extras

Masters of Cinema SD Menu / Extras (same for  both MoC discs)

BOTTOM LINE: Intense film experience - one that I warmed more to nearer the conclusion. I'm not a fan of the excessive violence but it seemed to have a purpose here and was eclipsed by the narrative intent. This is a good film and the MoC Blu-ray is certainly the most complete package - visually, aurally, subtitles and extra features. Johnny To fans should consider this Masters of Cinema 1080P edition the definitive release at present.

NOTE: If you are overly enamored with the 'look' of the Mei Ah - simply buy the Masters of Cinema and crank up the contrast on your system. 

Gary Tooze
October 21st, 2008

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