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Blu-ray Reviews

Little Big Soldier Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 09 2011 - 01:49 PM

Set during the latter years of China's Warring States Period, Jackie Chan's "Little Big Soldier" isn't exactly a return to form for Hong Kong's comedic kung fu superstar, but it's one of the most enjoyable films he's made in the last several years. Adding humor to an otherwise grim and barbaric period in China's ancient history, Chan (who produced and wrote the screenplay) entertains with his signature brand of physical humor all the while sending a rather nuanced message about the cost of war and personal sacrifice.

 

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Little Big Soldier
 

Release Date: August 23, 2011
Studio: Well Go USA
Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Blu-ray with slipcover
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1:35:24
MSRP: $26.98

  THE FEATURE EXTRAS
Video 1080p high definition 2.40:1 SD / HD
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: Mandarin 5.1, English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: Mandarin 2.0, English 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles English English

The Feature: 4/5

After an epic and bloody battle between the armies of Wei and Liang, only two men remain standing - a lowly foot soldier from Liang (Chan) and the commanding general from Wei (Leehom Wang). Coming from the extreme ends of society, the two men could not be more different. One is a master of swordplay and willing to die for his kingdom, while the other is a master at playing dead, unwilling to die for anything. With the general wounded in battle, the foot soldier takes him prisoner in hopes of getting a reward, but their journey is a long one with many opportunities for the captive to escape. A mysterious band of soldiers and their master are also hot on their heels, determined to find the general, but it's not clear whether their intent is to kill or capture him. The foot soldier isn't too interested in finding out their reasons though, as the reward for the general will give him a chance at life free of bloodshed and oppression. Though their respective kingdoms put them at odds with one another, the two men will find themselves needing to rely on each other if they hope to survive their pursuers.

Though Chan's work has been typified by modern, urban settings and characters, his filmography in the last few years has included more period pieces. Whether the shift is a result of his getting older (though he still puts most anyone to shame with his athletic prowess) or a desire to change things up a little, the shift in time and setting suits him, though there will always be an anachronistic quality to the proceedings given his level of superstardom. Fortunately, his films are never meant to be taken so seriously, though by comparison "Little Big Soldier" probably has one of the more sobering themes or messages of any Chan film I've seen.

By all accounts, China's Warring States Periods was one of utter misery for the common man as kings and their armies (often of conscripted citizens) fought with each other for territory and power for over two centuries. Though the ultimate unification of the country under the State of Qin came at a great cost, it did finally put an end to further bloodshed and ravaging of the land and its people.

"Little Big Soldier" provides a ground level view of this tumultuous period using the seemingly inappropriate trope of a buddy comedy, and somehow manages to pull off both elements without any significant compromises. It helps that most of the film's humor is isolated to Chan's character and his unwavering determination to not get hurt (which also makes his physical performance more stunts and acrobatics than martial arts). Playing an everyman, Chan reveals the coward that lives in all of us, but softens the truth by highlighting the inherent, humorous desperation of it all. But the story also recognizes a person's more noble capabilities, as the character later reveals his underlying motivations for survival and makes a life changing decision despite them. This - along with some poignant moments showing the collateral damage from the relentless civil war - makes the Warring States Period more than a comedy backdrop, but an analog for any conflict that besets our planet. Chan's humor helps balance out these grim circumstances, as well as modulates a pro-peace statement that might otherwise become heavy handed. The only element that could stand a little more development is the film's conclusion, which feels a bit rushed with a series of reveals around the major characters. Though the fate of their respective kingdoms is a foregone conclusion for anyone familiar with the country's history, the characters' individual fates could have been handled with a bit less perfunctory tone. Still, "Little Big Soldier" stands as one of Chan's more well done, if lesser known, recent projects.


Video Quality: 4/5

The film is correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. The transfer features strong and stable blacks, and contrast that exhibits the full range of values with no signs of compression. The color palette is limited, due to the production design and intentional desaturation of the cinematography, making the picture look monochromatic at times. Fine object resolution holds up well, revealing fine detail in skin, hair and fabrics, but also looking quite crisp in the film's numerous landscape shots. There's a bit of vertical stuttering in the opening scene, but I'm guessing this is related to the somewhat low grade visual effects work.


Audio Quality: 4/5

Dialogue in the Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is crisp and detailed. Surround effects are seamless and balanced when used at critical, dramatic moments. LFE is also quite robust, giving power to a thunderstorm and the galloping hoof beats of charging soldiers on horseback.


Special Features: 2/5


Trailer (2:03, HD)


International Trailer (1:39, HD)


Jackie Chan Music Video (3:03, SD) for the "Little Big Soldier" theme song, the unfortunately titled "Rape Flowers."


Making Of (14:05, SD) is a collection of short promotional pieces (presumably made for the Web), with the requisite behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews.


Trailers run prior to the main menu loading but can be skipped if desired.

  • Shaolin (2:12, HD)
  • Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2:16, HD)
  • Kung Fu Dunk (1:31, HD) 
  • Ip Man 2 (2:16, HD)

The DVD release is also included and has the same special features, though a slightly different set of pre-menu trailers ("Shaolin" is not included).
 

Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 2/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5


Well Go USA turns in a fine presentation for one of Jackie Chan's more enjoyable and thoughtful films in recent years. The special features are inherently promotional in nature, however, making the release, for all intents and purposes, bare bones. Still, the strength of the feature should entice most viewers into a purchase, especially if they are fans of the longtime martial arts superstar.



#2 of 3 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted August 10 2011 - 02:51 AM

Thanks for the review, Cameron. I caught a trailer for this just last week and thought it looked quite good, glad to hear that it is! Will need to pick this one up.
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#3 of 3 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 10 2011 - 03:30 PM

I'm surprised Well Go didn't send you a copy too.





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