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HTF DVD REVIEW: Blood Brothers



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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted July 12 2008 - 11:11 AM

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Release Date: Available now (original release date July 8, 2008)
Studio: First Look
Packaging/Materials: Standard single-disc DVD case
Year: 2007
Rating: R
Running Time: 1h35m
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Audio: Mandarin Chinese: Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $28.98

The Feature: 3/5
Set in 1930s Shanghai, "Blood Brothers" tells a familiar story of three friends looking for a better life in the city but who wind up getting in over their heads with the local mafia. Kang (Liu Ye) acts as the de facto leader of the trio, his younger brother Hu (Tony Yang) an unquestioning but ultimately reluctant follower. But it's Fung (Daniel Wu) who is the true focal point of the movie, serving as the trio's conscience and moral compass. As each man must make his own decision about how far he will go in service to the local mob boss, their friendship unravels, leading to an unavoidable standoff of wills.

While "Blood Brothers" may be short on original ideas or themes, its production values are high - costumes, set design and cinematography all look top notch. The direction is missing some of the flair one would expect from having John Woo as a producer, though the bloody conclusion certainly tries to pay homage to Woo's seminal works. Surprisingly, the film shows a fair amount of sentimental restraint, something I'm not used to seeing in Chinese films. Unfortunately the melodramatic and too-loud film score tramples on all of that, making many scenes feel more heavy handed than they actually are. Still, for a movie that has "pot boiler" written all over it, it managed to surprise me, though anyone looking for a John Woo film might be better off just watching a John Woo film.


Video Quality: 3/5
Though framed at 1.78:1, the original aspect ratio was something much wider, as revealed by the included trailer. The change is not particularly noticeable until a key scene towards the end, where we only see parts of the principal actors who are standing at extreme ends of the frame. Despite a limited practical impact on the film, there's still the principle of the thing. We should be seeing the film as it was intended.

Framing issues aside, the transfer is a decent one. Black levels overall are quite good, though there are a handful of scenes where things can be a little muddy. Some shots, particularly in the beginning, have a desaturated, sepia quality, which can make contrast look a bit limited. Once in the city, however, the contrast range opens up to what one would expect. Sharpness is good - with only a few moments of softness or drop in detail.


Audio Quality: 3/5
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix consists mostly of dialogue, though when bullets start flying the surrounds perk up and the bass kicks in. It's not the most dynamic of soundtracks, but it gets the job done. A stereo option exists for those who want it, but most will prefer the clearer dialogue on the surround track.

Though not technically an audio issue, the sole English subtitle option is SDH (or Subtitles for Deaf and Hard of Hearing). This means audio cues for the soundtrack are included along with dialogue, which some have found distracting.


Special Features: 1/5

Previews: Blood Brothers, War, Inc., King of California, Strays, Sukiyaki Western Django, Two Tickets to Paradise


Recap

The Feature: 3/5
Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 1/5
Overall Score (not an average): 2.5/5

An unoriginal movie about brotherly bonds manages to surprise, but a video transfer that modifies the original aspect ratio makes it hard to recommend. Interested parties may want to rent this release but look to an import, with original aspect ratio, if they decide to purchase.
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