BRUCE LEE ULTIMATE COLLECTION
Release Date: October 18, 2005.
Collection Rating: /
Bruce Lee is the master of martial arts and is known for influencing many other actors, directors, and storywriters after his tragic death. When viewing these films in this collection, Bruce Lee is clearly seen as a strong fighter, a man of quick wit and talent. When looking beyond the fighting, we see a man of gentleness and integrity that other actors of the genre cannot match. When watching him, it feels like we know him personally, like a highly influential teacher that we able to watch but cannot question. His character and fighting skills makes Bruce Lee a legend.
The Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection contains five great Bruce Lee films, each of them with remastered audio and video. This is virtually the same release as the one by Fortune Star for Region 3 in 2004, minus Enter the Dragon which Warner Bros. has the release rights for in North America. Fox now provides us with this collection with the same audio and video enhancements over the previous master collection.
In contrast to the Master Collection, the Ultimate Collection is enhanced for widescreen TVs and clearly are not enhancements of the previous transfers. The image quality is a significant improvement and is worth the double-dip. I personally feel that these titles could still look better if more time and money were put into it, but for now, on our current SD format, I’m content with the results. The ratings below reflect both how these films rate against each other as well as how the video compares to other titles on the market. All films have newly-available 5.1 soundtracks in English and most have the 2.0 mono soundtracks in Cantonese and Mandarin. I’m not sure what soundtrack is original – when reading lips Mandarin looks to be the closest but I know these were done in Cantonese…neither of them sync well at all. Special features on each of the discs are almost the same. Missing from this set is Bruce Lee: The Legend, the excellent 1984 88-minute documentary that was in The Master Collection, a now out of print edition. Those of you who have that collection may want to hang on to it not only for the documentary, but also for the different versions of the films.
Way of the Dragon is a longer cut by almost 10 minutes (although the DVD case still claims the cut-90 minute version). Immediately at the beginning of the film, we see two funny scenes that aren’t in the American cut. Also, the first three titles’ opening and closing credits are slightly different…not much of a big deal, except in Fist of Fury. I prefer this newly-available opening much better.
The Big Boss is Bruce Lee in his first starring role as a factory worker named Cheng who has to put up with his abusive boss. But then Cheng’s beautiful cousin is kidnapped by company thugs and he has to use his martial arts skills to save her.
Fist of Fury, my favourite title of the five, has Bruce Lee depressed about the loss of his kung fu instructor. But then he finds out that the teacher has been murdered by a group of Japanese martial artists and he becomes determined to avenge the murder. He travels to Shanghai to hunt down the killers and face dangerous opponents.
In Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee is called to Rome to help a family friend whose restaurant is being targeted by local gangsters. But these men underestimate Bruce’s abilities to defend himself and have a difficult time getting rid of him. They decide to bring in an international martial arts champion (Chuck Norris) to battle him out in Rome’s Coliseum. This was also the last film to be shot in this historical building.
Game of Death was with Bruce Lee’s final screen work, with director Robert Clouse piecing together some 30 minutes of film shot in 1973 for this film and re-constructing a story around it. It is about a young kung fu movie star named Billy (Lee) who refuses to be exploited by a man who capitalizes on these actors. Billy is harassed by this man’s men going one-on-one with a steam of villains until he changes his mind to sign.
Game of Death II is a dark tale of revenge, where suspicion of foul play on Billy’s best friend’s death of a “sudden illness”. Billy’s brother Bobby attempts to investigate the truth and leads him to the Castle of Death, the last place Billy’s best friend was seen alive. There, he meets a cruel and merciless ally, a martial arts expert who is also the castle’s master. But when the master dies mysteriously, Bobby ends up duelling with someone far more terrifying.
These movies had many titles. They are labelled differently on this release, possibly to make people think these are different movies in The Master Collection. These are a.k.a titles but the new titles as we see them on the case ARE on the film print as well, with the a.k.a title superimposed at the bottom of the screen (corny!).
THE BIG BOSS VIDEO QUALITY /
This film had the best video quality of all five films in this Ultimate Collection. The 2.35:1 image is colourful and bright without looking washed out or clipped. Black levels are deep for the most part but are occasionally higher than the norm. There is little film grain and just a little more edge enhancement then I’d like to see. Make no comparison to the previous non-anamorphic version that is available in the Bruce Lee: The Master Collection from a few years back. This new edition wipes the floor with that release in every single aspect and then some…
THE BIG BOSS AUDIO QUALITY /
As mentioned, these discs are released with an English 5.1 soundtrack with both DTS and Dolby Digital encodings. The English mono track is not on this disc, but you do have the option of two other soundtracks: Cantonese and Mandarin 2.0 mono. Just by reading lips, it looks like the Mandarin is the original soundtrack, but I’ll be honest, it didn’t look like either of them were synched to the lips.
The 5.1 soundtracks are mono-centric with dialogue and most of the effects. I was surprised to hear that the 5.1 remix had new audio elements in it that clearly isn’t in any of the original soundtracks. While the new audio is engaging in the fight scenes, it sounds a little out of place in terms of fidelity. The new audio is much clearer and punchier than the dated effects from the original audio; but these effects do sound good and I enjoyed it. When comparing the Dolby Digital decode to the DTS, in this case, the gold metal clearly goes to DTS. Audio is selectable on the fly and the audio is pretty much at the same level during the switch. The DTS soundtrack definitely without question has a greater sense of space and envelopment than Dolby Digital does. It’s odd that on a film with a dated soundtrack I could hear the sonic benefits of DTS more clearly than many of the newer titles.
THE BIG BOSS SPECIAL FEATURES /
It features an original movie trailer as well as a newly edited movie trailer, some still galleries and a more attractions link to movies of interest.
FIST OF FURY VIDEO QUALITY /
This 2.35:1 title is softer than The Big Boss but colours still good decent and reflect the quality of some film stock of the day. Black levels are ok but not the greatest and there isn’t much shadow detail. Edge haloing can be a little annoying if your screen is large enough to see it, but its hard for DVDs to hold up to such scrutiny as this because SD wasn’t meant to be viewed close with large screens, that is why seating distance based on screen size and resolution of the source and the display device is very important. There is not nearly as much print damage as we saw in The Master Collection.
FIST OF FURY AUDIO QUALITY /
Like The Big Boss, the same can be said about the audio for this title. New sound effects are added for enhancement, sometimes sounding “synthetic” as if it’s gone through a very bad DSP mode on a receiver adding a false element of space. Dialogue is anchored firmly in the center channel and there is some bass once and a while in the main channels. The LFE doesn’t flex it’s woofer as much. DTS sounds better than Dolby Digital – this is clearly heard when switching between the two. Both Cantonese and Mandarin 2.0 mono soundtracks are included. Again, it seems like the Mandarin soundtrack is the original but is out of sync.
FIST OF FURY SPECIAL FEATURES /
Enhanced for widescreen televisions, as part of the promotional materials, the original movie trailer as well as a new edited movie trailer is included on this disc. There is also a movie stills photo album. To the beat of some music, you can see black and white and colour screen caps of the film. You’ll also see an interview with Yuen Wan as well as more attractions trailers.
WAY OF THE DRAGON VIDEO QUALITY /
Definitely the most disappointing, this 2.35:1 image is soft, blurry, and out of focus. There is some edge enhancement to compensate for this but it doesn’t help make things sharper. I also saw “trails” in the video…most likely from compressing the video on DVD. Moving images have a slight drag to it much like what you can see on an LCD panel with a slow response time.
WAY OF THE DRAGON AUDIO QUALITY /
Thankfully the audio quality is better than the video. There is good ambience and a lot of it is new for this release, especially in the beginning at the airport. Busy sounds of an airport including planes taking off can be heard in all channels. It’s subtle surround but it works very well compared to the mono language versions where there is little to no sound effects and just dialogue. Again, the DTS track excels over the Dolby Digital.
WAY OF THE DRAGON SPECIAL FEATURES /
Enhanced for widescreen televisions, as part of the promotional materials, the original movie trailer as well as a new edited movie trailer is included on this disc. There is also a movie stills photo album and a movie photo slideshow. Just so the features aren’t so repetitive, you’ll also find celebrity interviews from actors and actresses, directors and stuntmen. This is a compilation piece and they talk about Bruce Lee as the man he was. It’s very good and has English subtitles so you know what everyone is saying. The people included here are Samono, actors Simon Yam, Paul Pui and Wong Ding, Flora Cheong, director Clarence Fok and stuntman Rocky Lai.
GAME OF DEATH VIDEO QUALITY /
The 2.35:1 image is muted but exhibits far better quality than what was previously available. There is O.K. resolution and it is variable. Print damage isn’t terrible and there is not much edge enhancement either. This is a passing video presentation, but I have a feeling that one day it could be released looking much better than this.
GAME OF DEATH AUDIO QUALITY /
This 5.1 soundtrack is not as active as the first three titles in this collection. Most of it is center channel based with the occasional spread of sounds to the sides. Again, new effects have been included in this soundtrack and it is noticeable and sounds fake. The DTS decode sounds better over Dolby Digital when listening to the dialogue and the noise in other channels. There is no denying there is a better sense of space here. The other audio option is English 2.0 mono rather than Cantonese and Mandarin.
GAME OF DEATH SPECIAL FEATURES /
Enhanced for widescreen televisions, as part of the promotional materials, the original movie trailer as well as a new edited movie trailer is included on this disc. There is also a movie stills photo album and a movie stills slide show (pictures from the movie). You’ll also see Game of Death NG shots which are about two and a half minutes. These are outtakes from the film and it shows Bruce Lee as himself behind the camera and sometimes goofing around.
GAME OF DEATH II VIDEO QUALITY /
Hmmm…this title just earns a three-star rating…just barely! The picture quality is variable just like Game of Death and exhibits the same level of detail and saturation. It’s just a hair better. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1.
GAME OF DEATH II AUDIO QUALITY /
Ahhh…another soundtrack that sounds fake, although this one sounds like they really cranked up the artificial ambience. New sounds are mixed with old, and like the other titles their fidelity is different. There isn’t a lot of background hiss either, something that is more noticeable on the other titles. Like Game of Death, the English 2.0 mono soundtrack is the only other alternative to both DTS and Dolby soundtracks. DTS again is the winner here.
GAME OF DEATH II SPECIAL FEATURES /
This DVD has the same features as Game of Death as well as almost 11 minutes of unseen outtakes. There is no dialogue on this, just video. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1 and is not widescreen enhanced. They are sourced from a video release in 1993.
IN THE END…
This is an excellent upgrade to The Master Collection and I really don't want to call this a double dip because the performance of each title is far better than what was previously available in Region 1. The addition af 5.1 remixes are welcomed and the DTS option makes it that much better. There is a big difference between Dolby Digital and DTS this time around, and it makes me think that it's possible these DVDs are encoded with DTS's higher data rate of about 1.4MBPS. I don't have a way to check, but if this is the case, it's a shame all other DTS DVDs to date didn't include the higher date rate.
In the end, I do recommend this set if you are a Master Collection owner or if you've never seen Bruce Lee in action. He is, without doubt, a legend in martial arts films.
October 19, 2005.