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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

The Warlords - Megastar vs. Magnolia [Blu-ray]

(aka "Tau ming chong")

 

(Peter Ho-Sun Chan (aka: Peter Chan), 2007)

 

 

 

 

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Morgan & Chan Films

Blu-ray: MegaStar (Media Asia/Hong Kong) vs. Magnolia Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Megastar Region: A - Magnolia Region FREE (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:05:40.750  /  1:53:18.791

Disc Size: 42,480,554,100 bytes  /  42,977,859,863 bytes

Feature Size: 37,719,724,032 bytes  / 28,070,762,496 bytes

Video Bitrate: 29.99 Mbps  /  26.49 Mbps

Chapters: 20  /  16

Case: Standard Blu-ray case (both)

Release date: July 18th, 2008  /  June 29th, 2010

 

Video (duplicated):

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio Chinese 2893 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2893 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Dolby TrueHD Audio Chinese 2234 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2234 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital EX Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps

 

DTS-HD Master Audio English 2326 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2326 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio Chinese 2218 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2218 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)

 

Subtitles:

Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English, none

 

English, Spanish, none

 

 

Extras:

• 117 Days: Production Journal (35:23) DD 2.0 @ 480i

• 20 Deleted Scenes (Mandarin) with optional subtitled commentary in Chinese & English (30:00) DD5.1 @ 480i

• Director's Feature Film Commentary

 

15 Making-of The Warlords Featurettes (38:40)
The Warlords 117 Days: Production Journal (35:15)
The Warlords: Behind the Scenes (17:40)
18 Deleted & Extended Scenes (27:15 + 29:25)
HDNet: (3:36)

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

The Film: 8  
The time is the middle nineteenth century during what is known as the Taiping Rebellion a period of catastrophic loss of life from war and famine. Three men on different paths come together as blood brothers, sworn to protect each other, even from each other, in their mission to right the wrongs presented by their government.

The first of these is General Pang (Jet Li), whose army has just been obliterated in a single battle he, by feigning death, the only survivor. Pang wanders aimlessly for a time until he is found and nursed back to health and life by Lian (Xu Jing Lei), a woman who happens upon him when he collapses.

 


Pang wakens to find Lian gone. He continues his wanderings until he finds himself in the company of bandits, led by Er-Hu (Andy Lau) and his second, Wu-Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Lian, it turns out, is Er-Hu's wife, and has attempted several times to leave the life, but always returns. It is not that she is mistreated in any way far from it but that she feels homeless, as do most all the people under Er-Hu's protection and, for that matter, everyone in China.

With the arrival of Pang, their bandit village is imbued with a fresh sense of dedication, courage and strength. The men of the village, now led by Pang, go off to join the army to fight the good fight, where they score victories while facing overwhelming odds. Such success comes at a cost, however among them, the heartbreaking massacre of POWs at Suzhou. While the powers that be plot to use Pang and Er-Hu for their nefarious ends, betrayal lies in wait from an unexpected source.

Like Peter Chan's Perhaps Love before it, The Warlords is filled with passion and wisdom, but the narrative does not always support them at least I felt not. This said, the power of the images and story and the performances by all the principals, especially Jet Li in a non martial arts role that will have you scratching your skin, are totally worth of the price of admission.

 

The Movie: 7
The Magnolia release is cut by some 13 minutes as compared to the MegaStar. It deletes some of the more aggressive violence, including flashes where child soldiers fall victim, and reorders a couple of the early scenes. Also cut from the original version is brief material that allows for more emotional reactions by the protagonists. Perhaps the American distributor felt this was a drag on the movie and wanted to get on with the action. My feeling is that these fragments help us feel the inner struggle of the characters.

The first large battle set piece (at about 30 minutes into the movie) is of particular interest: The death of a minor character is entirely excised from the action in the Magnolia, as are the reactions by the “warlords” during the battle. In this version, the battle moves quickly from the attack by foot soldiers, to the charge on horse, to the response by floods of arrows and canon. In the MegaStar version, many of the deaths are registered more intensely. In some cases, where in the American cut we see a lance only enter the body, in the original cut we might also see it come out the other side. Soldiers catch their breath before the next charge and react to the deaths of others more poignantly. Violence and death spurs on more of the same. We see how this unfolds in the MegaStar while the Magnolia contents itself with a rush of images, only their repeated shock affects the viewer.

 


 

Image: 8/9  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-rays on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

With its desaturated color of alternating hues and foggy sharpness, Arthur Wong's cinematography suggests the antique look of musty nineteenth century photographs. Close-ups, on the other hand, have a reach out and touch it translucence to complexions. It's as if the director wants us to be involved in the act of bringing his characters to life in these close-ups after so many dreary-looking, though intensely dramatic action shots. For all its emphasis on war and brutality, if we fail to make a connection to the characters, all is lost. This is probably why the riveting (and relatively unknown to Western audiences) Xu Jinglei - a face that seems to express all of China's sadness, determination and checked passion - is always in sharp focus, as her character is intended to be the fulcrum between the three male leads.

 

Image: 7/9
While the disc size is almost exactly the same as the Megastar (42.98 vs. 42.48 GB) the feature film itself takes up considerably less space (28.07 vs. 37.72). The video bit rate, curiously enough, is roughly the same (26.49 Mbps vs. 30.0).

The most obvious differences between the two Blu-rays are color and contrast. The Magnolia image has cyan filtration while the MegaStar is somewhat ruddy. The contrast on the Magnolia is much more pumped up with more prominent highlights and strong, crushing blacks. The effect makes for a grittier, harder edged movie. The MegaStar, while more natural and permitting a wider tonal scale, sometimes appears flat by comparison. I have no way to confidently point at which is correct, however, while I find Magnolia’s green filtration artistic and eye-catching, it’s a little wearing.

 

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

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray TOP vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 9/8
Noise and more noise, then reflective dialogue, wandering, marching, imploring, and more noise: the noise of battle in every conceivable dimension that the nineteenth century could muster. Surrounds are used to good effect in some of the interiors, as when the three brothers meet with the elders and during the archery attack in one of the later battle scenes, though I can't say that I heard nearly the difference between DTS-HD & Dolby True as I did with the new reissue of Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. Bass is very powerful. Watch your LFE levels. Dialogue is clear in the uncompressed audio, which once again declares why I prefer the expressive musicality of Mandarin to the clipped rhythms of Cantonese.

 

Audio & Music: 7/7
Since certain scenes are drastically cut, so, too, is the music score: the MegaStar strongly supports the emotional drama, while the Magnolia’s generic percussive music responds to little more than the action of a battle. It is in that first long battle sequence where the differences between the Magnolia 5.1 audio mix and the MegaStar 7.1 are most telling – even if, like myself, you are limited to 5.1 playback. Frankly, I was surprised that the two mixes are as different as they are, not so much in terms of what goes where, but with what level of dynamic shading. The louds are louder and the softs softer on the MegaStar. Except for the canon fire, where the Magnolia offers a shade more impact, the Magnolia is positively tepid by comparison in so many way it’s hard to sift through them: overlapping dialogue and shouting, gunfire effects, the swoosh of flying arrows, the power of the music and the degree to which we are utterly enveloped by the sound field. Compared to the MegaStar, Takeshi Kaneshiro’s narration has an engaging, robust warmth that is lacking on the Magnolia.

Which leads us to the default, audio track: the English dub in DTS-HD MA 5.1. While a dub in one’s own language is useful, even necessary for many viewers, it is customary to dismiss such efforts out of hand on aesthetic grounds. But this dub has a unique quality that makes listening to it, at least for a time, mandatory: As usual, the vocalizing is performed by actors, nearly all of whom graduated from the same gangster class that such enterprises generally demand. But there is one (the dub for Andy Lau) that stands out, not only because he has a respectable performance voice, absent the usual gristle, but because he doesn’t speak English, so much as Australian! If you thought Harvey Keitel as Judas was a little out of place, just wait till you hear this. It should not be missed.

 

Operations: 10
Media Asia's edition of The Warlords is one of the first Blu-rays to earn a full 10 points in this category. It's quick to load, with just a couple of logos to assure us of MegaStar/Media Asia's participation but no promotional theatrical or video previews. The chapter menu has expanding thumbnails to the right of the row of scenes. But what really nails it for this video is that there are selectable subtitles for the running commentary as well as for the various languages for the feature. The choices for audio and all the subtitles are accessible from the remote without having to return to the pop-up menu. The main bonus feature has subtitles as well. The English translation had no glaring grammatical or spelling mistakes. The subtitles remain within the frame.

 

Operations: 8
Menu functions are in English and easy to access. The many deleted and extended scenes and making-of featurettes have Play All capability. Subtitles, are in clear white font with what appears to be the same translation as on the Megastar but not always placed under the same frame.

 

Extras: 8
There are three principle extra features: The first is the feature film audio commentary in Mandarin, subtitled) by director, Peter Chan who discusses his vision of the movie, and the challenges to that realization. Then there is the 35-minute 117 Days Production Journal in DD 2.0 @ 480i which is filled with interesting and funny bits about the 4 months of production. (It still amazes me that, even taking into account the months of pre- and post-production, that a movie of such breadth can be shot in only 4 months.) One of my favorite segments is where the principle actors each confront the director with their ideas about how their character would and should behave. The other bonus feature, in less than superb 480i, though 5.1 DD, are the half hour's worth of 20 Deleted Scenes (Mandarin) with optional subtitled commentary in Chinese & English. Kaneshiro's final scene is to die for. Definitely worth checking out.

 

Extras: 6
The important difference between the Extra Features on the Magnolia and the MegaStar is that the American release substitutes a number of behind the scenes features and promos for the audio commentary (for which the Chinese edition supplied English subtitles.) The best of these are the seventeen segments of about two and a half minutes each that make up the 38-minute Making-of Featurettes. In a letterboxed format of decent SD quality, a variety of brief bits, bordering on the promotional, touches on matters of production, story, casting, and background. The 117 Day Production Journal is carried over from the MegaStar and is much the better feature. The only segment in HD is the three and a half minute HDNet promotional piece hosted by Director Peter Chan.

I can sympathize with the decision to nix the commentary for what is expected to be primarily an English speaking audience. There can be no question that reading subtitles while watching a movie in a language one doesn’t understand is inconvenient. However, once having seen the movie, the action is clear enough, and it isn’t all that necessary to have the dialogue running at the same time. That said, Peter Chan’s commentary is far more revealing about the process of his movie making than all the new features put together.

 

Megastar - Region 'A' - Blu-ray LEFT vs. Magnolia - Region FREE - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

 

 

Bottom line: 9
As usual for Peter Chan, this is a movie with all stops wide open. It's awesome to look at, magnificently scored, and compellingly acted. The Blu-ray is first rate, given its desaturated look.

 

Recommendation: 5
If you don’t mind subtitles and can handle Region A discs, then the MegaStar is the edition you should have. The image is more natural (and possibly more correct), the audio is more vigorous, nuanced and more enveloping, and it includes the director’s commentary. If you require an English dub or a region free edition of the movie, then the Magnolia is for you.

 

Leonard Norwitz
September 6th, 2008

June 2010

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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