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Martial Arts Movie Marathon (DVD Review)

Martial-Arts-Movie-MarathonI’m a pretty big fan of Shout! Factory’s “Marathon” series they’ve been putting out.  Usually four films with typically a common thread between them.  Its films that maybe wouldn’t be attractive by themselves per se, but when they get lumped together they suddenly make you go “OOOH!  I GOT TO HAVE IT!”  I’m hoping one day they take these talents of Movie Marathons to the realm of Blu-ray, but for now they’re only on DVD.  And, its not four movies crammed on one disc.  No, no, its two discs with two movies on each.  This time we’re getting the first of two (announced so far) Martial Arts marathons scheduled.  This first one’s highlights include plenty of Sammo Hung and the second feature film from legendary Hong Kong action director John Woo.

Martial Arts Marathon 2

Films 

Four films on two DVDs.  Do they have any common threads?  Aside from karate junks and sweeping kicks, our factor holding some sort of theme together with this marathon is actor Sammo Hung.  He’s the only recognizable or notable performer that appears across all movies.  He’s not the same character in them, he’s a different role with each martial arts outing.

The Manchu Boxer deals with a guy named Ku who kills a man in self defense and is banished from town by his own father.  He doesn’t know it, but its for his own protection.  He finds a dying man while on his walkabout and learns of a village where his wife and daughter are.  He plans to work to owe them a “debt” for the man, but finds himself entangled in a corrupt fighting tournament with a crazy warlord.  A funny moment happens in the film, which I think is supposed to take place in more ancient times, but power lines are clearly visible during a scene where Ku is watching the streets.

Funny enough, The Skyhawk also contains a character named Ku.  Except this time, he’s the bad guy.  And he’s trying to monopolize the porter service at the local pier.  This film features the character of Wong Fei Hung, a role that Jet Li became well known for.  In this film Wong Fei Hung is played by Kwan Tak Hing who apparently has played the role “hundreds” of times in film.  That’s a LOT of films.  I researched that fact, but Hing’s IMDB only lists him as having 94 acting credits.  Maybe there are some lost films of his out there?  But, the guy didn’t play many roles that WEREN’T Wong Fei Hung!

Well, hello prostitutes!  The Association follows a detective trying to take down an international prostitution ring.  If you like your kung fu fighting with plenty of boobs and misogyny, then this is right up your alley.  While a lot of these kung fu films from the 70s could be seen as some lighthearted all ages (most ages) affair, The Association is a film that is strictly for the adults.  While most of it is just as paper thin with plot, shoddily acted and mainly just fights with short scenes between, it does feature a lot of adult sequences.

Our last film on this marathon is The Dragon Tamers which happens to be the second film from legendary Hong Kong action director, John Woo.  And of course it ends up being the best film in this set.  The direction and competency on display is noticeable levels above the other 3 films.  Its also not just the same ‘ol been there done that, that the others kind of are.  This one follows a troupe of women kicking ass.  Now, I must add that part of my enjoyment of this one is that it is a kung fu film that infuses itself with plenty of grindhouse exploitation.  Its kung fu with a nice touch of sleeze mixed in.  Yes, boobs fall out during many of fights, but its so ridiculous and unnecessary you can’t help but get a chuckle out of it.

This set doesn’t contain the greatest batch of kung fu films from the 70s, but as a whole this “marathon” is a lot of fun.  That’s what I reviewed them together.  Most of the movies are just fight sequences with paper thin plots and generic dialogue’d scenes between them.  Each film on their own isn’t strong enough to warrant a release, but when coupled with the other 3 it winds up being just that much better.

Martial Arts Marathon 4

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-2
Resolution: 480i
Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1
Clarity/Detail:  All the films in this set are in rough shape, but not abysmal.  There’s not a whole lot of detail or sharpness in it.  For someone like me, I find charm in the looks of these films, but to a younger more HD-raised audience, they may find the image to be really bad and not understand the nature and history these films have foregone.  Me, I can find an appreciation for this look, but I know I’m in the minority.
Depth:  Aside from one moment in The Manchu Boxer (where they introduce judges/contestants), these are all rather flat.
Black Levels:  Blacks are solid, and provide a loss of detail and some crushing in places.
Color Reproduction:  Colors really don’t pop much as the overall appearance and quality of these films is pretty faded and dingy.
Flesh Tones:  Flesh tones can change from scene to scene, shot to shot.  During some moments in films, the flesh can flicker a tad.  Skin detail is extremely minimal.
Noise/Artifacts:  There are a lot of streaks, specks, dust, scratches and print damage to each film.  These films have all been through the wringer and show.  But, that’s part of the joy of these.

Martial Arts Marathon 5

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dub Mono, Mandarin Mono
Subtitles: English
Dynamics:  The source for these audio tracks has been weathered and aged.  Its listenable, but its not going to wow anyone.  But, for the audience taking in this 4 pack, this is not surprise and to be completely expected.
Low Frequency Extension: N/A
Surround Sound Presentation: N/A
Dialogue Reproduction: All the features have plenty of analog distortion.  They’re audible, but not very clear or crisp.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise, if you’ve ever seen a classic kung fu movie, this sounds like pretty much every other one.

Martial Arts Marathon 3

Extras 

Trailers

  • The Manchu Boxer (SD, 3:51)
  • The Skyhawk (SD, 3:42)
  • The Association (SD, 3:47)
  • The Dragon Tamers (SD, 3:59)

Martial Arts Marathon 1

Summary 

All I’m gonna say, the people who are going to buy this know who they are and likely have reasonable expectations.  The source video and audio for the films are in rougher shape, but that should hold one at a total loss.  If you’re into vintage kung fu action of the 1970s, you’re going to easily be able to look beyond that factor.  You also will likely realize that this is a DVD and not Blu-ray so your understanding on having no real restoration done is likely set.  The films in this 2 disc set could easily prove to be a fun “movie marathon” as the title on the release says.

Martial-Arts-Movie-Marathon-DVD

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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