Is this post for you?
If you’ve ever enjoyed Bruce Lee, or marveled at the action style of John Woo in films such as Face Off or Mission Impossible 2. If you wished you had brought The Killer on Criterion or loved the scope of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you enjoy watching something out of the ordinary, or you like seeing a real foreign film with subtitles on your local theater screen. If you’ve wondered if there’s more to Asian film than Jackie Chan or out and out action. Then this post is for you!!
For those of you that are fairly new to collecting Asian films, I thought I would put a condensed guide together from my past posts on this great area of cinema. My DVD collection of Asian cinema is now in the high 200’s, with more being added this xmas. I’ve long searched the world of the Internet for new great sites that discuss Asian Cinema, so here I share some of my knowledge. You may have become interested in the subject recently with the releases of Iron Monkey and Crouching Tiger, or you may be like me a long time Bruce Lee fan that then went on to discover directors such as John Woo, Ringo Lam and Gordon Chan.
I’ve been a collector of world cinema for many years, and really started this when I couldn’t track down readily available Hong Kong martial arts movies. Hong Kong along with India have two of the largest movie industries outside of the US. I’m going to focus on the DVD market, there are many, many more available features on VHS and VCD, but I will try to focus on quality and not quantity.
Asian film is not just about martial arts and action flicks, there is a true depth of cinematic beauty in some of the presentations. And Hong Kong like any other large film industry has its share of art, love and comedic films.
So let’s get started with some of the essentials…
Do I need a multi-region DVD player?
If you live within the US and have a region 1 player only, you will not initially need a multi-region player as many titles are coded region 0 NTSC, which basically means region free. You will however need both a multi-region capable DVD player and one that supports PAL to NTSC to fully enjoy what’s available. But to get a flavour of what’s available you are ready to go, just research the DVD’s you may be interested in and link to an online store. Or if you’re lucky and have a great DVD store near you, especially Virgin Megastore then get ready to browse the shelves equipped with a vast pool of knowledge.
Why PAL DVD?
Well if you cover both NTSC and PAL you are going to be able to enjoy the full spectrum of available titles. All HK release DVDs are in NTSC, but some special versions are to be found in Europe where PAL is common. Most importantly is the ever growing library of Hong Kong Legend titles coming out of Hitchin (my birthplace) just north of London in the UK. The PAL standard is from England but also incorporates a couple of other countries. PAL actually handles colour saturation and colour bleed better than NTSC. But that’s another topic. Believe me, if you equip yourself with a multi-region PAL-NTSC DVD player, then you are armed and dangerous!
What DVD player should I look at?
For region free and PAL, I currently use the APEX 600, but the DVD player of choice today is the Malata 996 or for just region free -Philips DVD-Q50 and Skyworth DVD-1050P. All of these do both region free, only the Malata does real PAL-NTSC and is also progressive scan using the sage chipset!
Top 10 Starter DVD’s.
- [*]Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon CTHE - this was popular because it was a great film, simply that. It encompasses some of the HK fantasy style of martial arts along with some of the culture and grace of China, along with some wonderful music. Ang Lee wanted to make a statement about the beauty of Asian cinema, and this is it![*]The Big Boss/Fists of Fury HKL/Fox – The first and my favourite Bruce Lee film. Note that UK&HK titles differ from US.[*]Police Story – Jackie Chan showcase of fast action. R0/R2[*]The Killer – John Woo masterpiece. You may not want to pay the dollars for the Criterion Release selling on eBay, I’m tempted to sell mine at those prices! But fear not, of the other 4 or so versions available I recommend the new 2 disc French Release[*]Fist of Legend – Jet Li showing his skills in this tribute to Fists of Fury/Chinese Connection. The US version has some minor cuts, but is readily available.[*]Iron Monkey(1993) – somewhat a prequel to Once Upon A Time In China, this Tsui Hark classic has seen a recent re-release in US cinemas. If you can wait avoid the Media Asia DVD, if you can do multi-region PAL then grab the HKL release[*]Shiri – Korean film that bested their countries box office record for Titanic! Take The Rock, Heat and Nikita and roll them into one action packed filmfest and Shiri is what you have. Be sure to pick up the the 2-disc Directors SE. See review[*]Project S / Supercop II – Michelle Yeoh looking sharp![*]Way of the Dragon – Classic match-up between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris! HKL[*]God of Cookery – the humorous side of HK film with the excellent Stephen Chow.
Sites that should be bookmarked
The following sites provide either information and discussion on Asian Film, or are my personal recommendations for buying Asian DVDs.
Information and Review Sites
- Bullets n Babes – Great site for news and the lastest info.
- Anime On DVD - Want the scoop on Anime? Then this is the place!
- Asian DVD Guide – your home for comparing the different versions available on DVD.
- Kung Fu Cult Cinema – a personal favourite of mine, check it out and see why.
- Hong Kong Movie Database – Ryan Law’ version of IMDB does full justice to HK cinema!
- A Better Tomorrow
- Another Hong Kong Movie Page – Great review site by Tim Youngs out of Kowloon.
- Kung Fu Cinema – nice site devoted to Kung Fu films.
- Love and Bullets
- Midnight Eye – Premier Japanese Review Site
- Darcy’s Korean Film Review
- DVDCult presents Kung Fu DVD
- H.K. DVD Heaven
- Zulm - Indian DVD Review Site
- Asianxpress Refugees Message Board – after the AsianXpress board closed.
- Kung Fu Cult Cinema
- Korean Film Discussion Board
- Kung Fu DVD Discussion
- Poker Industries - Great US based store but more pricey than those aboard.
- DDDHouse – great HK based budget DVD store
- DVD Asian – Good source for all Asian DVD, especially Korea.
- Blackstar – Good UK DVD site, get HKL here.
- Mr. Kwangs Korean Store – If you want Korean DVDs from Korea then go here.
- Kung Fu Movies
- India Weekly - Great site for budget Indian DVDs
- Twinkle – One the few that I have tried so far.
Mei Ah – the most common and actually the worst when it comes to quality. Search around for alternate versions of DVD, or wait. I would rarely recommend a US release over say a HK original, but not when it comes to these. Picture quality and sound leave much to be desired in this world of high quality DVD transfers.
Media Asia – improving all the time and generally much better quality than Mei Ah. Do your research and you won’t be disappointed here.
Hong Kong Legends – one of the newer companies to the fold, and somewhat a small specialist startup our of the UK. They do however take DVD seriously and try to produce the best results from the source prints that they get. As time goes on I expect there access to original transfer to become more plentiful. What they do is generally setting the standard for Asian cinema. You will need a PAL capable DVD player.
Universe Laser – one of the most consistent studio in HK. Pick their releases over any others. Good picture quality, colour saturation and excellent audio.
Mega Star – some of the best releases to come out of HK, get these in preference to other HK editions.
Of note I’m hearing that China Star and DeltaMac have good releases. I have a couple and no complaints here.
Lastly a word on New Line and Buena Vista. They do generally great transfers, but many of the HK films have been cut in some way or another, and there are many examples where the foreign release is recommended over the US edit. They are improving but if you want some of the Jet Li releases I would encourage you to check out alternates.
Hong Kong Cinema Recommendations
- Hard Boiled – lavish world cinema at its best!
- A War Named Desire – well paced and great looking action drama.
- Gen-X Cops – Stylish modern action classic by Benny Chan. A blend of Hollywood effects and Hong Kong action make this a must see.
- Drunken Master 2 (Thakral version) – Jackie Chan classic kung fu that has it all!
- City on Fire – Chow Yun Fat in the inspiration to Reservoir Dogs.
- Fulltime Killer – Andy Lau is probably second only to Chow Yun Fat in these type of movies. This one being the quintessential assassin movie and one of the newest to DVD. See review
- The Accidental Spy – One of the best new Jackie Chan releases that bests some of his more recent efforts.
- God of Gamblers – can’t have HK cinema and no gambling, only this is Chow Yun Fat style.
- Time and Tide
- Bullet in the Head – Much underrated John Woo classic, my favourite
- Peking Opera Blues – another Tsui Hark classic
- Game Of Death (HKL) - Awesome release of Lee's last film
- Project A
- Purple Storm
- Tokyo Raiders
- Storm Riders – lavish cinematic production from Andrew Lau.
- Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain – defined the genre
- Iron Monkey(1993) – great story, wonderful martial arts!
- Kung Fu Cult Master - classic
- The Legend of Zu – Tsui Hark’ beautiful and breathtaking look into the fantasy genre. A must have!
- Bride with White Hair
- Fong Sai Yuk
- Dirty Ho
- New Legend of Shaolin
- Five Deadly Venoms
- Once Upon a Time in China
- Five Fingers of Death
- Executioners from Shaolin
- The Buddhist Fist
- Comrades, a love story
- The Road Home
- And I hate you so
- Summer Holiday
- Chungking Express
- Hong Kong 1941
- Juliet in Love
- Anna Magdalena
- Shaolin Soccer – who would of thought to combine Soccer with Martial Arts? Great comedy from the legendary Stephen Chow.
- God of Cookery
- Royal tramp
- F*** / Off
- Love & Zen
- Shiri – As mentioned a kick-ass action flick that combines the best of the genre to produce a South Korean classic. The Directors SE is anamorphic and DTS.
- Memoto Mori
- Attack the Gas Station – great entertainment, action and comedy combined with style.
- Jakarta – great action-comedy with plenty of plot twists to keep you glued.
- Kick the Moon – The new release from Kim Sang-jin who brought you Attack the Gas Station.
- Kuch Kuch Hota Hai - A love triangle that captures the magic of Indian Cinema, great soundtrack!
- Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (DEI 2 Disc)- beautiful.
- Sholay - Epic that embodies the serious side of Indian Cinema
- Dil To Pagal Hai
- Border - Epic war film
- Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (DEI 2 Disc) - nice locations, great music.
- Indian (Hindustani) - nice cinematography.
- Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge - Nice story set in Europe
- Hum Aapke Dil Mein Retha Hai
- Mohabbatein - The current top DVD from the director of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge
- Lagaan - 2002 Oscar nominated epic on our favourite subject: Tax. Set around a cricket match between the posted British army and the locals.
- Seven Samurai – Beautiful cinema from the legendary producer Akira Kurosawa, which was the predecessor to The Magnificent Seven.
- Branded to Kill – Seiijun Suzuki 60’s stylish gangland thriller
- Dead or Alive – Takashi Miike cinematic brilliance.
- Samurai Trilogy – Criterion Editions are just captivating. No doubt that strong influences are a plenty here for the later westerns. Foreign Film Oscar awardee.
- Yojimbo – my favourite Toshiro Mifune classic, that shows the true depth and emotion of this complex character..
- Ran – Akira Kurosawa masterpiece
- The Hidden Fortress – influenced George Lucas on that other film.
- Brother – Stylish violent crime production from Takeshi Kitano.
- In the Realm of the Senses – art house movie that keeps true to its goal.
- City of Lost Souls – Takashi Miike in fine form.
- Akira – The original classic now on DVD, must own!
- Ghost in the Shell – awesome flowing story with great graphic and sound.
- Grave of the Fireflies - Gut wrenching and jaw dropping
- Ninja Scroll
- Perfect Blue
- Mononoke Hime / Princess Mononoke
- Vampire Hunter D
- Wings of Honneamise
- Final Fantasy
- Asian Pop Cinema : Bombay to Tokyo - Lee Server
- Hollywood East - Stefan Hammond
- Hong Kong Action Cinema - Bey Logan
- The Cinema of Hong Kong - Poshek Fu & David Desser