on March 23, 2010
As any fan of this film knows, we've been waiting for the clichéd 'Holy Grail' for a long time. Every release on DVD has been plagued by horrible prints, remixed audio, cropped image, bad subtitle tracks, non anamorphic image and various sundry image issues. All of those problems have left nearly every DVD edition as coasters on your coffee table as they were painful to watch. No release, save the TF1 French DVD release (without English subtitles) has ever done John Woo's The Killer justice.
Here comes Dragon Dynasty, the unholy offspring of the Weinstein's buy up of distribution rights in the United States of nearly every Asian film. Well known for their Blu-Rays which are merely DVD upconverts (Hard Boiled on the PS3 game Stranglehold) or otherwise botched jobs like the burned out picture on Jackie Chan's Police Story, the butchered version of Supercop, interlacing instead of progressive on The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin etc.
After reading the Blu-Ray review on DVD Beaver and viewing the disc myself via a broken street release, it is easy to see that this disc is another Dragon Dynasty abomination. The disc is 1080i and suffers from visual artifacts that accompany a PAL source. The audio is NOT lossless and is instead compressed Dolby Digital 2.0 Cantonese and 5.1 English dub. The only redeeming feature is that coherent subtitle translation that seems to be sourced from a prior release in the United Kingdom. The extras are also sourced from elsewhere and are presented in Mandarin dub and are of dramatically lower visual quality.
Despite Dragon Dynasty's insistence this was a "Full HD" presentation and their boasting of its greatness on Twitter, it is nothing of the sort. It's another hackneyed release from the team at DD. While it may be "the best" when it comes to The Killer on home media, it is far from being worthy even as replacement for a VHS copy. While it may improve audio and visual wise on prior releases, it's like going from a Yugo car to a Fiat. Buying this Blu-Ray supports their lazy and disgraceful approach to these classic films.
on April 3, 2010
I give this movie 7 stars out of 5. I give this release 2 stars out of 5.
A magnificent and one of the most influential action/drama movies ever made.
This release, the only one for the North American market, is lack-luster. Cleaned up from original film holes, dirt and dust, sound track noise but offset substantially by the quality of the digital video and audio encoding and compression. The original Cantonese track is mono (expected) but the English dub track is mono too (very unexpected). Subtitles are better than some other releases of this movie. Extra features OK, but not in keeping with a movie of this significance in Asian cinema and action cinema.
This post has some very detailed comments on this movie as a movie, followed by objective facts about the DVD followed by some opinions.
This is one of the most important and influential police thriller, action drama movies ever made and certainly to have ever come from Hong Kong. It is a magnificent stylized gun-fu bullet ballet expanding on themes and character types from previous John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat works such as A better Tomorrow and A Better Tomorrow 2. It is loosely a remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samouraï" starring Alain Delon and the chanbara film "Gyangu 9" starring Ken Takakura.
Alain Delon and French police thrillers had such an influence on John Woo that we see Chow Yun-Fat, in the role that made him a star in "A Better Tomorrow", wearing Alain Delon designer sunglasses with the dark duster/raincoat. Although Chow Yun-Fats characters later wore the now classic Ray Bay Wayfarers, this matchstick chewing, cigarette smoking, designer sunglass wearing duster/raincoat clad image became iconic with Chow Yun-Fat's characters in A Better Tomorrow and subsequent John Woo movies.
For John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, the dove imagery, the stylized gun-fu bullet ballet and the iconic presentation of the Chow Yun-Fat character all reach their pinnacle in this movie, The Killer. This is the one that defined it all for many, many movies to follow.
For many in western cultures, the gun-play, heroic bloodshed and the intense action scenes are an overwhelming distraction from the more important dramatic content. They are often confused as the central purpose of the movie like so many action genre movies from Hollywood that are devoid of any substance in character development or dramatic content.
In John Woo Hong Kong films, the gun-play, heroic bloodshed and intense action are stylized supporting elements only. The serve to support the emotional intensity and importance that the themes in the dramatic content are to the central characters. It is through the test of intense mortal conflict that the central characters palpably demonstrate their commitment to their mores and beliefs. Because of the history of Chinese, especially Hong Kong, cinema with intense sword-play, heroic bloodshed and similar elements going back to its roots in Chinese Opera, these elements are less distracting and better understood by Hong Kong and Chinese audiences.
As with earlier John Woo films with Chow-Yun Fat, dramatic themes include the conflicts between honor and duty, the conflicting mores between incumbent and incoming generations and power brokers, the discovery of where one's honor and duty truly lie and the redemption through self-sacrifice, including one's own death, for one's true honor and duty.
For The Killer, many may see these iconic character types, themes and actions as clichéd. However, it is important to remember that A Better Tomorrow, A Better Tomorrow 2 and, especially The Killer, created these iconic character types themes and actions that, through imitation and homage elsewhere since, have perhaps reached the level of cliché. This kind of continuous imitation and homage demonstrate the real significance of this movie.
Here are my observations:
Media and Standard: DVD5 containing DVD Video
Scenes: 1-4, 5-8. 9-12, 13-16
Audio Options: Cantonese, English
Captions & Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Spanish, None
Movie, including leader, 1h 46m 18s
2) Disc Two:
Media and Standard: DVD5 containing DVD Video
Li Defends Jenny As John Watches
The Police Force Looks For John
John And Jenny Find Happiness
John And Jenny Share Breakfast With Sidney
The Hunt Continues
Interview With Director John Woo
American Cinematheque Q&A On The Killer (2002)
American Cinematheque Q&A On Hard Boiled (2002)
The Killer Locations
John Woo Trailer Gallery
The Killer Original Theatrical Trailer
The Killer UK Promotional Trailer
Last Hurrah For Chivalry Trailer
A Better Tomorrow Trailer
Hard Boiled Trailer
Captions & Subtitles
English For The Hearing Impaired
3) There appear significant numbers of single frames that are highly pixelated and visible on a 20in display.
4) There appear significant single frames that comprise at least two cinema frames overlaid and are visible on a 20in display.
5) There is a little or no shadow and dark/black object detail.
6) There are significant visible quantization/anti-aliasing artifacts, especially in face close-ups, smoke/haze and strongly backlit scenes and are visible on a 20in display.
7) The holes, dust and dirt from the original film source commonly seen in other releases are removed.
8) There are audio distortions, especially with sibilant "esses", especially from Sally Yeh.
9) The crackles and pops in the audio track sometimes heard in other releases and clips are removed.
10) It lacks a "crispness".
Here are my opinions:
1) For as an important movie as this in Hong Kong and action/drama cinema history and as important as it is to Asian cinema fans, this release is lack-luster.
2) Although nicely cleaned up from holes and dirt, increased contrast, some increased saturation and audio track clean-up, these improvements are substantially offset by the artifacts and loss of shadow/dark detail and some crispness. I find the artifacts and detail loss VERY annoying in places and I'm a farily forgiving viewer. The video encoding details are all the explanation needed as to why all these problems exist in this release.
3) All audio is monaural, AC3 2.0 Dolby and there is no 5.1 or stereo option of any kind. This is deplorable. It is appropriate to offer original mono tracks so that critical viewers can experience the the original exhibition sound and, especially, the original looped voices. However, it is much more enjoyable to many to have at least a stereo processed sound and preferrably a 5.1 processed sound, well done, for general viewing. These are not difficult to produce and have appeared in a huge number of near vintage movies such as this one.
4) It would be pure conjecture to state that the artifacts and absence of more substantial audio tracks are the result of doing whatever was necessary to put this release on DVD5 instead of DVD9 media. It could well be that a decision was made to do this release as cheaply as possible and the video and audio processing done resulted in it all fitting on DVD5. Either way, it certainly does not do this movie justice nor does it endear Dragon Dynasty to its customer base. DVD9 media is ubiquitous in DVDs today. It's capacity allows far better treatment. Greater detail and far fewer artifacts that have been accomplished with much more challenging film sources than this one.
5) The extras are lack-luster. None of them are bad. The ones from John Woo are nice. The absence of other significant film critics and commentaries on the extras disc, and the total absence of a very knowledgeable commentary on the main movie disc is highly disappointing. It was nice to have a short one about the cinema shoot locations not mentioned on the box. For a movie of this importance, absent from the US market for so long, at least a substantial commentary track from an expert such as Bey Logan should have been done. The trailers were a reasonable selection of John Woo movies, but the selection seemed a little opportunisitic. It was nice to see a trailer for A Better Tomorrow. A good release of that one by Dragon Dynasty would be outstanding.
6) For me, I'm ambivalent that I acquired this particular release. I'm seriously disappointed with its quality. If A Better Tomorrow were released with this quality, I would be very ambivalent towards it too. I'm sure it would not be very well received by North American Asian cinema customer base.
7) This release was a golden opportunity for Dragon Dynasty to hit a solid game-winning grand-slam home run. It could have created a brand customer base that would have returned for a lot more releases. Instead, we got, at best, a disappointing attempted single that was thrown out out at 1st. I'll be watching for a much better release from some company in the future.
8) Dragon Dynasty: this is an opportunity to re-think the Asian cinema market and customer base in the US. Outstanding movies presented and treated well, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, and other action movies sell well. Some win Academy awards. There is always an opportunity to re-release this in the near future with a lot better treatment and better extras. Taking it sometime might be well advised. Whoever releases this with stellar treatment and extras will do very well. It's fans are still waiting.
on February 17, 2011
At first, I felt the same way a lot of reviewers here... pretty let down.
But the thing is, I have at least 3 different versions of THE KILLER on dvd, with the best overall print coming from the HK LEGENDS dvd in the UK. After doing a side-by-side on my Toshiba 65" HDTV, I can honestly say that the Dragon Dynasty blu-ray is still the best version of THE KILLER out there.
Overall, at the least, there are no jagged edges to diagonal lines (which are still present in the HK LEGENDS dvd), but there are quite a few scenes (specifically daytime scenes) which are truly blu-ray quality, with very good detail (one area to look for to spot increased detail is the weave on clothing).
While not perfect, I think this is overall a good to very good release, considering that the original film stock of THE KILLER may not be in the best shape (as the HK film companies are notorious in their handling of storing past films) and it is an improvement on the dvd releases. Like a lot of reviewers, the sight and sound won't knock you out, but it is definitely worth the $10 it is selling for right now.
Similarly, THE LEGEND and TAI CHI MASTER are definite upgrades over the dvds, per the example above (looking at clothing weave and texture to see if there is any true enhancement or increase in image quality). Please go to bluray.com for their reviews and screen captures for more information.
on April 1, 2010
There is plenty of negativity on Blu Ray review sites regarding this transfer...from the 1080i resolution to the claim that "older dvd version's look better than the blu ray." Well let me start out by saying that the 3 stars is for the blu ray itself, not for the movie. The movie is easily a five star film, so let's get to the transfer itself....
Could this have looked better? Absolutely. Am I still more than satisfied with this release until something better comes along? Yes. The 1080i resolution did not bother me in the slightest, it's still high definition and the only time you will notice the interlacing is if you pause during a quick-action scene. Once paused, the interlaced "combing" effect becomes apparent. My problem with the transfer is the quality of the print used, which is clearly the fault of Dragon Dynasty for not searching out a better quality print without all of the specks, pops, burns, and scratches. But this is Dragon Dynasty we're talking about, and they're not exactly known for their "Criterion-level" quality of work they put into their releases.
Besides the prominent print-issues, the definition of the image looks better than I have ever seen it for this film. Even without the progressive resolution, we still retain an incredible amount of detail.
Special features are somewhat lacking, but decent enough for a Dragon Dynasty release, and are mostly imported from previous versions (honestly, what special edition catalog blu ray's don't have imported special features).
Audio definitely leaves more to be desired, as the entire soundtrack seems very "canned" on my Yamaha 5.1 system. It certainly say's something that watching "The Men Who Stare At Goats" immediately after this, gave my system more of a "workout" than "The Killer".
In closing, I for one am just happy to finally have a copy of this movie on home video of any sort, as I refused to pay the ridiculous prices for the OUT OF PRINT Criterion version in the past few years. Perhaps someday Criterion or Studiocanal will grab up the rights for this one and we can get a proper 1080P version with some new special features, a 7.1 remastered soundtrack, and a quality print run through a spirit datacine processor. Until then, this transfer/release is more than enough to sit back and enjoy John Woo's classic at home.
on August 23, 2011
John Woo's "The Killer" is among my top three favorite John Woo films. The other two being "Bullet in the Head" and "Hard-Boiled". Although not as unique as his HK work I did enjoy "Face/Off" and "Hard Target", regarding his American work. "Red Cliff" is his best movie in years, an instant classic (another review).
I once owned the Criterion Laser Disc of "The Killer". At the time they had a decent print and transfer, however; scratches, dirt and grain were present. I have also owned the Fox/Lorber VHS and currently own the Fox/Lorber DVD, released in 2000.
Which brings us to the current Dragon Dynasty release. I read the reviews here on Amazon before I made the purchase, so it wasn't like I wasn't fairly warned. Why didn't I listen? At the very least the extra disk has a few nice little clips; featuring locations the film was shot, and Q/A's with John Woo pertaining to "The Killer" and "Hard-Boiled".
The problem with Dragon Dynasty's release seems to be the video transfer/source. I'm just a layman when it comes to technical knowledge, however; from what I can gather from research, Dragon Dynasty used a PAL source in lieu of a NTSC source. When the frame is still the picture looks fine to me (I've read some reviews that complain over color saturation and lack of sharpness), when there's movement on screen however; things get really weird. Being a John Woo film there tends to be a lot of flying bodies, car chases, and explosions. The problem is when there's movement on screen (even just the turn of a character's head), there's these odd digital distortions/pixelation covering the surface of whatever it is that's moving. It is extreamly distracting. Distracting enough to really bug one out. I watched it straight through to justify my purchase. I just can't believe that someone at Dragon Dynasty didn't notice this. Either that, or they really just didn't care.
If you have never seen this film, perhaps none of this matters to you. On the other hand if you have seen previous releases of this film take heed. Watching this release compelled me to order the Fortune Star release of "The Killer" from Hong Kong. It's re-mastered, in NTSC and region free. I suggest you do the same.
on May 27, 2015
The Killer is an action staple, not only in Hong Kong cinema but in world cinema. While it is certainly one of the greatest Asian action movies ever made, there are things about it that haven't necessarily aged so well. However, part of this nostalgia is what we love about the movie.
Chow Yun-Fat plays another one of his iconic John Woo characters, this time with the occasional harmonica ala Charles Bronson's character (The Man With The Harmonica) in Once Upon a Time in the West. If John Woo did not actually invent "gun-fu", he certainly popularized it. Woo was the master of the slow motion gunfighting scenes, in between Mexican standoffs, all primed for a big payoff.
At this point Yun-Fat is reaching the height of his coolness, when you pair that with the suave late 80's Hong Kong fashion, an electric piano score and Woo's obvious love for American cinema you get a great stylization of cops and robbers.
While there is no doubt scenes in the movie that will be considered "cheesy" by some, there is no denying it's iconic action scenes.
As most others have noted in the Amazon reviews for this movie, the transfer is pretty lousy. Unfortunately your best bet to watch this movie as intended will be to catch a 35mm projection of it at your local revival cinema until a better version is released.