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

Once Upon a Time in China II [Blu-ray]

(aka "Wong Fei Hung II" or "Nam yi dong ji keung")

 

(Tsui Hark, 1992)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Film Workshop Ltd.

Blu-ray: Fortune Star (HK) / Kam & Ronson

 

Disc:

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

Runtime: 1:52:11.725

Disc Size: 34,277,769,216 bytes

Feature Size: 16,676,413,440 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.30 Mbps

Chapters: 20

Case: Standard Blu-ray case w/ slipcover

Release date: December 12th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio Chinese 2313 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2313 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1-EX / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby TrueHD Audio Chinese 2276 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2276 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:

English (SDH), English, Chinese, Thai, none

 

Extras:

• Legend of Huang Fei Hong, Part 2 – in SD (15:31)

 

 

The Film:

The opening sequence beautifully encapsulates the threat of the White Locus Cult, who are violently anti-foreigner and determined to rid 1895 Canton of their evil influence. Master Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li), his student Foon, and his "Aunt 13" (Rosamund Kwan) are introduced on a train ride to Canton, one of many references to the modern way of life intruding upon China. Master Wong is on his way to participate in a medical conference. He and his friends are immediately drawn into the conflict. Soon, Sun Yat Sen and his plans for a people's revolution are also drawn into the story. The script is well-constructed and packed full of political intrigue. Despite the historical background, the characters are never reduced to mere stereotypes. Dashes of romance, comedy, and tragedy flow naturally.

The performances (including Donnie Yen as a chief adversary, Max Mok Siu Chung, and David Chiang) are heartfelt and of uniformly good quality. Tsui Hark's direction is original -- nervy and sentimental without a trace of artificiality. The martial arts and other action direction by Yuen Wo-ping is stunning to watch, but it's also integrated well into the story. The set designs (by Eddie Ma) and costumes, not to mention the cinematography (by Arthur Wong), are beautiful. The stirring musical score (by Richard Yuen and Johnny Njo) never intrudes, although the famous "Wong Fei Hung" theme is probably used once too often. – Peter A. Martin
 

Excerpt of review from A Better Tomorrow located HERE

The Movie: 9
I agree. It doesn’t happen often, but here’s a sequel that’s even better than the original. Yuen Wo Ping gets full credit as the action choreographer, and we can see where this all going for him. Matrix, Crouching Tiger and Kill Bill are just a few steps away.

It is also of no small import that the White Lotus Cult scene has found its way back into the movie – missing for some reason in the remastered HK Legends DVD.

 

 

Image: 5/7
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.

Comparing Fortune Star's Blu-ray of the original Once Upon a Time in China movie to the Hong Kong Legends Region 2 DVD was jaw-dropping. No less so with the sequel, whose remastering on Blu-ray is equally and astonishingly different. Whereas in the first instance color and white balance was restored, the sequel on Blu-ray concentrates on taking contrast and saturation levels back down to sensible cinematic proportions. The comparative caps might not be of precisely the same frame, but the idea is pretty clear. The tone of the two videos are so unlike, it's like watching two entirely different movies. Despite its being generally desaturated, the image is surprisingly dimensional, allowing Arthur Wong's striking lighting to do its work – which the DVD's stridency was always getting in the way of. I found very little in the way of reportable transfer problems with the Blu-ray and the source seems to have undergone some cleaning up since its last appearance on video.

 

DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 4/7
What we notice from the outset is how thin, tinny and brittle the Chinese instruments are, more so than they should be. The chorus is particularly affected by compression. There is better use of the surrounds than in the Blu-ray for the first movie, especially noticeable in crowd scene and marketplaces, where however, dialogue of the principal actors seems artificially placed. In other places, (e.g. chapter 8) we find the bass, music and effects have proper weight and size.

 

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
As promised and expected, the Blu-ray for the sequel picks up on the two-part documentary "The Legend of Wong Fei Hung (Huang of Hong)" where we left off, which was as the real-life Wong enters adulthood and developed his school of martial arts., and where more is known about him. Also, as expected, the video quality, though high of bit rate, is still rather weak, and, like Part 1, it is subtitled in three languages.

 

Bottom line: 8
I tend to agree with critical consensus that rates this first sequel as better than the original, which was something of a classic in its own right. Once Upon a Time in China II blends charm, humor, romance and political intrigue with several stupendous martial arts set pieces. Jet Li is heroic and utterly human by turns and sometimes both at once. The Blu-ray image represents an upgrade that leaps off the screen; its desaturated color palette invites us to take the film seriously. Sadly, but not surprisingly for martial arts movies of its time, the audio works against it. All the same, if you don’t already have this title, I would recommend it as a seminal piece of cinematic history. If you are considering an upgrade, you should be very happy with the Blu-ray.

Leonard Norwitz
January 9th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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