Fans of Hong Kong action cinema have long had to wade through murky, treacherous terrain, even with the arrival of DVD: bad transfers, faded, junky prints, badly cropped pan&scan; images, mangled English subtitles or (worse) English dubbing with no original Cantonese (or Mandarin, or both) language track option.
Those notorious Weinsteins were among the worse offenders, known to sit on quality Asian titles for years and years, only to finally dump them in heavily edited versions with shitty dubbing and new, hip-hop heavy soundtracks. (You can read a piece I wrote a few years back for popmatters bemoaning the subject here.)
Well, Weinsteins, all is forgiven. Thanks to the influence of their starchild Tarantino, no doubt, they’ve come out with the “Dragon Dynasty” label. Here at last comes the jackpot. They’ve opened the vaults and let 40 or so years of great kung fu action classics finally begin to get the respect they deserve: cleaned-up, sparkling, beautiful anamorphic widescreen transfers, eye-popping restored colors, 5.1 remixes of the original Cantonese language tracks, well-written/translated subtitles, the works!
I just sort of got turned onto these this summer (the first titles came out in January, but a new slew just got released) and already have picked up KING BOXER, MY YOUNG AUNTIE and POLICE STORY. Having seen them all in horrible dubbed dupes before, I can assure you, this is now, officially, the greatest time in the world to be a cinemaniac. All the waiting was worth it.
Oh yeah, and the older less well-known Shaw Brothers titles that don’t make the cut for Dragon Dynasty are still coming out in a deal with Image, and though not quite at the DD level, are still damned fine. You can read about one of them, HEAVEN & HELL here.
A word to the wise – there’s all sorts of misleading information around when you shop for Hong Kong DVDs – lots of pirated versions and weird ass labels like Crash Masters, Bonzai, Red Sun, Kung Fu Masters, Madacy and imports from Hong Kong like Tai-Seng. I don’t mean to lump these all together (Red Sun is usually fine; I don’t know a damn thing about Crash Masters) but my advice is this: read the covers carefully. Read the lower technical info on the back to make sure you get the widescreen, original Chinese language tracks, with English subtitle option etc. etc. Even reliable labels will sometimes just toss these titles out like they don’t care. If you’ve grown up associating kung fu movies with horrible dubbing, faded colors, bad editing, horribly loud kick-impact noises and pan&scan; so bad you spend half the time looking at someone’s eyebrow, then you really do not know kung fu movies at all — this is the time to go deep! Just look for the labels — Dragon Dynasty or Shaw Brothers (but ONLY if in conjunction with Celestial Pictures, their licensed DVD label/distributor. There’s TONS of crappy Shaw Bros. dupes floating around on unscrupulous labels, so don’t let your guard down! Another good selection can be found in a 20th Century Fox series that ran some years back. These also have coherent, grammatically correct English subtitles, a luxury older DVDs definitely lack, again, depending on the label).