Shawscope: Volume Two
My Young Auntie
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,
The sixth dual-layer disc in Arrow’s Shawscope Volume Two box set presents Lau Kar-leung’s My Young Auntie. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.
After a string of nice looking 2K restorations Arrow is unfortunately stuck with using the older 2000’s-era high-definition restoration performed by Celestial Pictures. This is indeed a bit of a disappointment yet in all fairness the end results aren’t terrible, and I’d even say they’re decent. That said there are a number of notable problems baked into the master.
First off, as with just about every other Celestial restoration, noise reduction and filtering has clearly been applied, smoothing out what grain remains and eating up the finer details in the process. To its credit it’s not entirely textureless, some grain remaining with nothing overing off looking overtly like plastic, but the finer intricacies are lost in the image and the picture just has a flatter look compared to the newer restorations found throughout the set. Colors look okay if leaning more towards red or magenta, but black levels are a bit murky and flat, canceling out details in the shadows. The digital master also appears to have others anomalies baked into it, including instances where shimmering and jaggies are visible in tighter patterns.
On the other hand, the restoration has cleaned the image up substantially, and I don’t recall any major—or even minor—blemishes popping up. It’s possible that the noise reduction and filtering is the reason for that but compared to how most of the films looked prior to these restorations I’d have to say this was still an upgrade. All in this could look substantially worse admittedly, but a new scan and restoration would have done wonders.
The film comes with three audio tracks, all presented in DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono: Cantonese, Mandarin and English. They have all been dubbed over, though the English one is the more obvious one, probably featuring the more obvious canned sound of the three. Still, to be honest, I didn’t find any of them all that bad and they have been restored well enough and offer up adequate range in volume levels. I think some filtering has been applied but it doesn’t impact any of the tracks all that much.
The film appears on the disc by itself and comes with a few lengthy supplements that include an alternate presentation (in English) for the film, sourced from a VHS copy. I sampled only about an hour of this and from what I was able to see it has a similar runtime as the main feature on the disc and doesn't appear to have any obvious alterations to the edit. The notes suggest this presentation has aspects that better represent how the film is supposed to look, but outside of the colours (which may seem a bit bolder/over-saturated in comparison) I can’t say what other differences there are. Arrow also included similar alternate versions alongside other titles in the previous Shawscope set, like the old standard-definition DVD presentation for Mighty Peking Man. I figured they included that version because the older standard-definition presentation (sadly enough) had more of a film texture to it compared to the Celestial high-def restoration Arrow used, but that’s not the case here since this version of My Young Auntie literally looks like a video presentation with nothing at all filmic about it. This may be a nice bonus for fans but I’m not familiar enough with the film to say what advantages there are in having it included here. Nonetheless, whatever issues are present in the Celestial restoration for the film I’d still say that presentation is less frustrating to watch when compared to this blurry VHS presentation.
The disc also features a new select-scene commentary by Tony Rayns (similar to the disc for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin), the film scholar talking over the first 24-minutes and the last 22. He uses the first section of the track to discuss Lau’s films of this period and his relationship with star Kara Hui before talking about how the film conflates different periods, the film taking place in the 30’s but featuring an 80's rebellious vibe reflecting the youth of the time. Since I’m not especially familiar with Hong Kong and Chinese cinema of the period (though the recent influx of Hong Kong films from various boutique labels as of late is really helping to fill in that void for me) I was especially appreciative of the last section of the track where Rayns gets into the films My Young Auntie parodies or winks at.
Despite not being a full track (and I appreciate Rayns not throwing in filler just for the sake of it) it still provides a good amount of information around the film’s production, its star and director, and even how the film reflects the period. It’s also presented via seamless branching, only presenting the first and last portions of the film, skipping over the entire middle section.
Arrow then includes a couple of excellent archival features starting with a 29-minute interview with actor Kara Hui, recorded in 2003. It follows a similar structure to other interviews found across these releases so far, Hui first talking about how she got into acting and signing on with Shaw, before talking about a number of her films, including My Young Auntie. She also shares some fun little details about filming, like how she used the script for Dirty Ho as padding for a scene where she takes a punch, and then talks about her 90’s work, though she doesn’t seem especially thrilled by this period. Another nice inclusion.
Following that is the third and final part of the Cinema Hong Kong series entitled Beauties of the Shaw Studio. Despite the title possibly suggesting otherwise the 54-minute documentary delivers a comprehensive look into the careers of the women that worked at Shaw studios through the years, covering such actors as Lily Ho and Ling Po among many others. Lin Dai, who sadly committed suicide early into her career, is also covered in a lengthy section. The documentary does get into some of the less-than-glowing aspects around the subject (Run Run Shaw was apparently notorious for mistreating the studio’s actresses) but focuses more attention to covering Shaw's more progressive contributions as it makes its way through the various periods of the studio, which ranges from historical dramas to the soft-core films much later. Surprisingly, martial arts films aren’t as extensively covered as I would have expected, with only a handful of films (like Come Drink with Me) receiving any attention. Despite that, it’s probably the most interesting entry in the series, even finishing off by covering the purchase of the Shaw library by Celestial Pictures and their intention in restoring them.
Closing the disc are the alternate opening credits, which I believe are the original ones shown before Celestial digitally recreated them for their restoration, followed by an image gallery (featuring production photos, lobby cards, posters and DVD art) and a trailer gallery. This trailer gallery includes the original Hong Kong trailer followed by Celestial’s digital trailer advertising their new restoration.
I’m a bit confused around the inclusion of the VHS version but I rather enjoyed the other supplements on here, the documentary being one of the stronger offerings in the set.
It’s a little surprising that Arrow was unable to perform a new a restoration for the film, but the disc holds a couple of the stronger supplements to be found in the set.