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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Once Upon a Time in China [Blu-ray]

(aka "Wong Fei Hung")

 

(Tsui Hark, 1991)

 

 

 

 

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

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Golden Harvest

Blu-ray: Fortune Star (HK)

 

Disc:

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

Runtime: 2:13:54.735

Disc Size: 43,219,937,116 bytes

Feature Size: 41,624,825,856 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.99 Mbps

Chapters: 16

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: September 18, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080P / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio Cantonese 2473 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2473 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core:
5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby TrueHD Audio Chinese 2292 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2292 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 EX Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital EX Audio Thai 640 kbps 5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps

 

Subtitles:

Feature & Bonus: Traditional Chinese, English, Thai, none

 

Extras:

• The Legend of Wong Fei Hung (Huang of Hong) – Part 1 – in SD (12:59)

• Photo Gallery – in SD (1:24)

 

 

 

The Film:

Winner of a Hong Kong Film Award for Best Picture, Once Upon a Time in China is a kung-fu epic that's wildly entertaining and historically relevant. It is the late 1800s and China is in turmoil. Western influence is threatening the pride and sovereignty of the Chinese people, who are being enslaved for foreign labor, or becoming addicted to opium. It falls upon Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li), a renowned doctor, healer, patriot, and kung-fu artist to stand up and be counted. Charged with protecting the region with his militia, Fei Hung becomes embroiled in political intrigue and martial arts rivalries as corrupt foreigners and corrupt Chinese attempt to gain control of the region. When a rival martial arts master joins the foreigners, Fei Hung faces his greatest challenge yet. Can he save his true love Yee (Rosamund Kwan), as well as right the wrongs against his beloved land of China? - YesAsia

The Movie: 8
Once Upon a Time in China is the first of several times Jet Li played the legendary herbalist on film. Jet Li is hardly Wong's first notable screen stand-in, having been a popular subject in Chinese cinema at least as far back as the 1940s after WWII. Wong Fei Hung is probably most familiar to those of us on this side of the planet in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master series. Jet Li would be seen again as Wong (not at all as a drunken hero) in Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) & III (1993), and again in the bizarre Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997). He also played a similar character in the eponymously titled Fong Sei Yuk (aka: The Legend) in 1993 and in the sequel later that same year.

While Jackie Chan played Wong with a good deal of physical comedy alternating with sequences of almost unendurable pain, especially in regards his father, Jet Li's Wong is altogether sweeter. Li is just as determined in his fight scenes and his desire to protect Chin's cultural artifacts from foreign and local thieves, but he is sidetracked by his infatuation with his aunt (the lovely Rosamund Kwan) – especially since he's not willing to admit what it so obvious to the audience. Fortunately for the script both themes come together in a brilliantly staged finale.
 

Excerpt of review from YesAsia.com located HERE

 

Image: 4/7   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The score may be lowish in absolute terms, but the Blu-ray image is far superior to any previous DVD in every way. Perhaps the best looking of those DVDs was to be found on the UK R2 HK Legends release of the trilogy. The DVD is widescreen anamorphic but, as we can see from the comparative screen caps, a little cropped on both sides. The color temp is way too high and it is dark and oversaturated. The exaggerated yellow/orange cast ensures that no true colors make themselves known. True white is nowhere to be found (check out the fan in the screencaps.) In this respect alone the new Blu-ray from Fortune Star is a revelation. A blind man could see how much more faithful the Blu-ray is to cinematic reality.

There is no question that color balance, brightness and contrast have been very much improved on the Blu-ray. About all one could ask for, I should say. However, detail and resolution is poor, with what looks like generous helpings of DNR: faces and clothing have little or no texture. Faces are pasty. Edges are often enhanced with a certain degree of jaggedness, not so different from the DVD, surprisingly. Halos abound, and something very like appears at the top of the frame. There is still a smattering of speckles, but few scratches.

 

 UK DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

UK DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

UK DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 3/7
The image may represent a huge improvement over the better DVDs, but the audio remains a pretty canned affair, regardless of the mix we choose. The original language is Cantonese but, as was common with HK movies until the last decade, little care was taken with matching the recorded dialogue with that spoken by the actors on camera or distinguishing one kind of body blow vs. another – pretty sad, really. And while the mix may specify DolbyTrueHD, best keep your expectations low: the difference between it and the DD 5.1 is for the most part undetectable, though there are moments where the subtlety of the music scoring does sing out more beautifully in the uncompressed mix. The surrounds come into play, but sometime get the directions wrong, as when the ship's steam whistle is heard from screen right as the actors look screen left.

 

Operations: 6
Once Upon a Time in China is quick to load, with just a couple of studio logos to get past. The chapter thumbnails are easy enough to negotiate, and the couple of extra features are ready to hand. I found no difficulties with accessing audio or subtitle choices.

 

 

 

Extras: 2
In an instance where a high bit rate is no guarantee of a clear or highly resolved image, Part 1 of The Legend of Wong Fei Hung (Huang of Hong) is presented in varying formats in 480i at bitrates averaging above 9.5 Mbps! Yet most of it, however faithful to its source, is pretty ragged, as if sourced from VHS at slow speed. The good news is that the documentary, made sometime since 2001, is subtitled in three languages. The feature looks at what we know about the life and times of Wong Fei Hung (which isn't much) until the onset of his adult years. We are told that the feature continues with OUATIC II. Is there a Blu-ray in our future?

 

Bottom line: 7
Once Upon a Time in China set the international stage to launch the career of its star. For nearly thirty years now, Jet Li has continued to play martial arts heroes and, to a lesser extent, villains, with only recent and occasional forays into straight drama. Tsui Hark, who already had Peking Opera Blues and the seminal A Better Tomorrow trilogy behind him (as producer and part-time director and writer) would go on to make Seven Swords in all of its several versions. It is highly doubtful that a better looking video presentation of this classic film will be making itself know anytime soon, and we should be grateful to Fortune Star for breathing new life into it, despite its blatant noise reduction.

Leonard Norwitz
October 19th, 2009

 

 

 

 

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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