Shawscope: Volume Two

Magnificent Ruffians | Ten Tigers of Kwangtung

Part of a multi-title set

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Synopsis

Picking up where Volume One left off, this sophomore collection of Hong Kong cinema classics draws together many of the best films from the final years of the Shaw Brothers studio, proving that while the end was nigh, these merchants of martial arts mayhem weren’t going to go out without a fight! Armed with stunning special features and ravishing new restorations, this boxset is even bigger and bolder than the last one.

We begin with kung fu master Lau Kar-leung’s instant classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, in which his adoptive brother Gordon Liu achieved overnight stardom as the young man who unexpectedly finds spiritual enlightenment on the path to vengeance; Lau and Liu followed the original with two comically inventive sequels, Return to the 36th Chamber and Disciples of the 36th Chamber, both included here. Already established as a genius at blending dazzling action with physical comedy, Lau himself plays the lead role in the hilarious Mad Monkey Kung Fu, coupled here with Lo Mar’s underrated Five Superfighters. Next, we once again meet Chang Cheh’s basher boy band the Venom Mob in no less than four of their best-loved team-ups: Invincible Shaolin, The Kid with the Golden Arm, Magnificent Ruffians and culminating in the all-star Ten Tigers of Kwangtung, co-starring Ti Lung and Fu Sheng.

After Lau brings us perhaps his best high-kicking comedy with My Young Auntie, a playful star vehicle for his real-life muse Kara Hui, we see Shaw Brothers fully embracing Eighties excess in our strangest double feature yet: Wong Jing’s breathtakingly wild shoot-‘em-up Mercenaries from Hong Kong, and Kuei Chih-hung’s spectacularly unhinged black magic meltdown The Boxer’s Omen. Last but certainly not least, Lau Kar-leung directs the last major Shaw production, Martial Arts of Shaolin, filmed in mainland China with a hot new talent named Jet Li in the lead role; it is paired in this set with The Bare-Footed Kid,

Picture 8/10

Disc 5 in Arrow’s latest box set Shawscope Volume Two presents two of Chang Cheh's last films featuring the troupe known as the Venom Mob, 1979’s Magnificent Ruffians and 1980’s Ten Tigers of Kwangtung. Both films feature 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and are presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

Despite it sounding as though these two films aren’t particularly popular with fans (this is at least what I gleaned from the supplements around the films) Arrow and L’Immagine Ritrovata still found it to be a worthwhile venture to create new 2K restorations for both films, each one sourced mostly from the 35mm original camera negative. Not surprising by this point but both presentations look unbelievably good, only hampered (yet again) by “issues” baked into the source. A lot of it really comes down to the original photography where a few scenes may have been filmed slightly out-of-focus or where distortion is visible on the edges of the screen due to the anamorphic lens. Magnificent Ruffians also appears to have made use of later generation prints for a few shots, including the opening credits, and these portions deliver a significantly dupier look compared to the rest of the film, flattening out blacks and range in the colours. But outside of that Arrow has cleaned up just about all damage, marks and scratches never being a concern. The image is also stable for both films, no jumping or pulsing noticeable.

The digital presentations are also both very clean, rendering the grain gorgeously and delivering sharp details where the source allows. As with the films on the previous disc this ends up being a small issue because certain details end up being exposed that probably wouldn’t have been in theatrical prints, like the rough edges of make-up and wigs (you can see where the prosthetics are glued down on occasion) or the imperfections of the set (the “sky” yet again looks like hastily applied drywall painted blue with white streaks for clouds). Yet it’s still incredible to see these films in such a crisp and sharp manner as most presentations in the past were blurry and dirty.

Colours look great, with wonderful bursts of red, blue and green, and whites look strong, just leaning a little warm. Black levels are also rich and bold and the range within the shadows is yet again surprisingly wide. How the smoke blends in a number of interior sequences, especially Kwangtung, looks slick with the gradients blending without issue. In both cases the presentations deliver wonderful photographic qualities.

Audio 6/10

Both films feature English and Mandarin soundtracks while Ten Tigers of Kwangtung also offers a Cantonese soundtrack. They are all presented in DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono.

Quality wise they all sound decent enough. Other than some reverb in the music (which can sound a bit worse in the English tracks) there’s nothing that stands out as overly problematic. The English soundtracks for both films have (unsurprisingly) more of a canned sound to them and the voices can be a little flat. I found the other soundtracks a bit better, though all of them have clearly been dubbed over. Dynamic range is also never all that wide. All said they’re about what I would have expected.

Extras 8/10

Supplements are again spread across the menus for both films. Magnificent Ruffians doesn’t feature its own unique “big” supplement and instead shares a feature with Tigers: Rivers and Lakes, a 22-minute video essay by Jonathan Clements, the title being the literal English translation of the word “jinaghu,” which, as I understood it, refers to the setting of wuxia stories. That term is covered in the essay which generally aims to look at how Chinese history and mythology are represented through various media and film productions, the focus being on Shaw in the latter case. He covers the common historical elements represented in a number of the films (including how the Manchus are usually the antagonists), all of which are usually drawn more from folktales rather than actual historical documents. He also briefly gets into Wong Fei-hung (who is a common factor across a lot of films) and how Shaw productions would blend various timelines. There's even a small section that looks at how these Shaw productions changed (especially ones around Shaolin Temple) once they were able to film in the actual locations in Mainland China. A common element found throughout the features across the sets (so far) is the addition of historical context when going over plot elements but getting a feature that explores how Hong Kong’s and China's histories are represented through films and folklore proved especially helpful.

On top of the same listing for Rivers and Lakes, Ten Tigers of Kwangtung then includes a 21-minute interview with actor Chin Siu-ho, who of course talks about his early career and first joining Shaw before discussing his work through the years. He also touches on the work of Chang Cheh and Sammo Hung, attributing his success to Cheh. We also get a textless title sequence, which is literally just that: the opening title sequence without the text.

Brandon Bentley has also recorded a new audio commentary for the film. I recall listening to a track Bentley did for The Big Boss (I believe he recorded it for Shout! but I listened to it on the Criterion set) and I recall finding it fine enough if a bit fan-boyish. This one can have a few moments that lean that way yet I ended up finding this one far more insightful, informative and enjoyable on the whole. Although I don’t recall him ever coming out and saying it directly I did gather Tigers isn’t a film Bentley lists very high in Shaw’s (or even Cheh’s) output with there being several times where he calls out issues around the story, character interactions and scenes he finds silly. Still, he comes to its defense, addressing production issues that arose and led to changes that couldn’t be controlled, Bentley even theorizing how the film would have played out if things had gone more smoothly. He does talk about the “Venom Mob” before talking more extensively about the individual cast members, but it’s thankfully not simply him reciting filmographies from IMDB and he talks about their careers rather extensively before and after this film. He also throws in a lot of trivia (the Wu-Tang Clan’s name was more than likely inspired by a move in this film) and  general information about Shaw Bros. during this period. One subject he brings up that I wish he did expand more on was Celestial’s mid-2000’s restorations of the films and getting into the problems around them (way too digital-looking), but it really only comes up as an aside near the end. In all I ended up liking this one. It’s well researched and jammed with stuff, to the point I really had trouble keeping up while taking notes.

Both films then include galleries featuring production photos, posters, lobby cards, DVD art (some of the material coming from Germany) along with a trailer gallery. Both galleries feature Hong Kong trailers, though the picture footage for Magnificent Ruffians is missing. Instead, Arrow has sourced an audio cassette recording of the trailer (taken in the theater) and then mixed in footage from the German trailer (also included) where the footage matches. Where there is no footage a “Missing Video” message is displayed over black. Tigers features two Hong Kong trailers, one in Mandarin and one in Cantonese (they both appear to be cut the same but Arrow has taken them from different sources), a US TV spot and then Celestial’s digital trailer advertising the then-new digital restoration.

I was a little disappointed Ruffians doesn’t receive anything truly unique but I was more than happy with the other material, the video essay and Bentley’s commentary being nice additions to the set.

Closing

Despite the two films on this disc not being as highly regarded as some of Cheh’s other “Venom” films Arrow has seen fit to give each one a sharp new restoration.

Part of a multi-title set

BUY AT: Amazon.com Amazon.ca Amazon.co.uk

 
 
 
Blu-ray/CD
10 Discs | BD-50/CD
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Cantonese 1.0 PCM Mono
Mandarin 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions A/B/None
 
 Brand new feature commentary by critic Travis Crawford for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   Brand new select-scene commentary by film critic and historian Tony Rayns for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   Interview with 36th Chamber of Shaolin star Gordon Liu, filmed in 2003   Interview with 36th Chamber of Shaolin cinematographer Arthur Wong, filmed in 2006   Shaolin: Birthplace: archive featurette with Gordon Liu produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Hero and Elegant Trails: archive featurette with Gordon Liu produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Tiger Style: The Musical Impact of Martial Arts Cinema, a newly filmed overview of Shaw Brothers’ influence on hip hop and other music genres, featuring music historian Lovely Jon   Cinema Hong Kong: Swordfighting, a documentary on the history of the wuxia genre and Shaw Brothers’ contributions to it, produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003 and featuring interviews with Cheng Pei-pei, Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-leung, John Woo, Sammo Hung, Kara Hui, David Chiang and others   Alternate opening credits from the American version of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin titled Master Killer   Hong Kong trailer for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   German trailer for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   US TV spot for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin   Interview with Return to 36th Chamber star Gordon Liu, filmed in 2003   Citizen Shaw, a French TV documentary from 1980 directed by Maurice Frydland, in which Sir Run Run Shaw gives an all-access tour of the Shaw Brothers backlot (including behind-the-scenes footage from Return to the 36th Chamber), remastered in high definition   Hero on the Scaffolding, an archive featurette produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Alternate opening credits sequences for Return to the 36th Chamber   Alternate opening credits sequences for Disciples of the 36th Chamber   Hong Kong trailer for Return to the 36th Chamber   Hong Kong trailer for Disciples of the 36th Chamber   Brand new commentary for Mad Monkey Kung Fu by martial arts cinema experts Frank Djeng and Michael Worth   Newly filmed appreciation of Mad Monkey Kung Fu by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Interview with actor Hsiao Hou, filmed in 2004   Shaw in the USA, a brand new featurette on how Shaw Brothers broke America featuring Grady Hendrix and Chris Poggiali, authors of These Fists Break Bricks   Hong Kong trailer for Mad Monkey Kung Fu   US trailer for Mad Monkey Kung Fu   Hong Kong trailer for Five Superfighters   UK VHS promo for Five Superfighters   Interview with action director Robert Tai, filmed in 2003   Poison Clan Rocks The World, a brand new visual essay on the Venom Mob written and narrated by author Terrence J. Brady   Alternate ""continuity"" cut of The Kid With The Golden Arm, presented via seamless branching   Alternate and textless title sequences for The Kid with the Golden Arm   Hong Kong theatrical trailer for Invincible Shaolin   Hong Kong theatrical trailer (audio only) for The Kid with the Golden Arm   US TV spot for The Kid with the Golden Arm   Brand new audio commentary on Ten Tigers of Kwangtung by filmmaker Brandon Bentley   Interview with star Chin Siu-ho, filmed in 2003   Rivers and Lakes, a brand new video essay on Shaw Brothers’ depiction of Chinese myth and history, written and narrated by Jonathan Clements, author of A Brief History of China   Hong Kong (audio only) trailer for Magnificent Ruffians   German trailer for Magnificent Ruffians   Hong Kong trailers (Mandarin and Cantonese audio options) for Ten Tigers of Kwangtung   US TV spot for Ten Tigers of Kwangtung   Brand new select-scene commentary for My Young Auntie by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Interview with My Young Auntie star Kara Hui, filmed in 2003   Cinema Hong Kong: The Beauties of the Shaw Studios, the final instalment in the three-part documentary produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003   Alternate standard-definition VHS version   Hong Kong theatrical trailer   Brand new commentary on The Boxer’s Omen by critic Travis Crawford   Newly filmed appreciation of filmmaker Kuei Chih-hung by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Additional footage from Mandarin VHS version of The Boxer's Omen   Interview with Mercenaries from Hong Kong action director Tong Kai, filmed in 2009   Hong Kong trailer for Mercenaries from Hong Kong   Hong Kong trailer for The Boxer's Omen   Brand new commentary on Martial Arts of Shaolin by Jonathan Clements   Brand new commentary on The Bare-Footed Kid by Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival   Newly filmed appreciations Martial Arts of Shaolin and The Bare-Footed Kid by film critic and historian Tony Rayns   Interview with Martial Arts of Shaolin screenwriter Sze Yeung-ping, filmed in 2004   Alternate standard-definition version of Martial Arts of Shaolin   Hong Kong trailer for Martial Arts of Shaolin   Japanese trailer for Martial Arts of Shaolin   Trailers for the preceding Shaolin Temple films starring Jet Li   Hong Kong trailer for The Bare-Footed Kid   UK VHS promo for The Bare-Footed Kid   Image galleries   CD featuring music from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Five Superfighters, Invincible Shaolin and The Kid with the Golden Arm   CD featuring music from Return to the 36th Chamber, Magnificent Ruffians, Ten Tigers of Kwangtung, My Young Auntie, Mercenaries from Hong Kong and Disciples of the 36th Chamber   Illustrated 60-page collectors’ book featuring new writing by David Desser, Jonathan Clements, Lovely Jon and David West, plus cast and crew listings and notes on each film by Simon Abrams