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For fans of Hong Kong action and martial arts pics, it has been torturous sitting through (or skipping) one subpar Region 1 DVD release after another. These classic movies have been hacked up in the editing room, horribly dubbed, and basically given totally indifferent attention to quality and without additional supplementals that would appeal to hardcore fans of the genre.

FINALLY, someone has decided to pay the due respect that the genre deserves. I give major kudos to the Weinstein Company and their Dragon Dynasty DVD series. So far, they have done a standup job with mixing classic titles with newer ones, and done so with great DVD editions that appeal to collectors. Last year, the Dragon Dynasty release of Jackie Chan's Police Story series rescued those classics from Dimension Films' inexcusably truncated DVD releases (missing scenes, no original language tracks, no bonus features whatsoever). Nicely restored video, with the original soundtracks intact, and a host of new documentaries, commentary tracks, and other supplementals. Excellent way to kick off a series. Subsequent releases of newer films like the Infernal Affairs series (which inspired Scorsese's The Departed), and Tony Jaa's The Protector have just added to an already stellar track record.

But, last week they went into some of the crown jewels of the martial arts genre with the first of what they promise will be several releases from the Shaw Brothers film library. The Shaw Studio at one point was the giant of the HK film industry, and produced several of the landmark movies in the martial arts genre.

These releases include the landmark martial arts classics The One-Armed Swordsman, King Boxer (aka Five Fingers of Death), and The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. The previous domestic releases of these films looked horrible and only featured the dubbed soundtracks and 4:3 aspect ratio (an absolute crime considering that most of the martial arts pics of the day were filmed in 2.35:1 scope and used the full width of the screen). Even the DVDs from overseas couldn't get it right. Even though they would use the original language track and widescreen, they were often transferred from similarly damaged and faded prints with all kinds of compression artifacts and excessive edge enhancement visible. (Only recently have decent versions begun trickling out overseas, but they now also include regional coding.)

I'm ecstatic to report that these latest Dragon Dynasty titles look absolutely incredible. Actually, I would never have imagined that these Shaw Brothers movies could look THIS good! It's almost miraculous considering how bad the previous video releases have been.

I read that apparently, the Shaw Brothers studio did a great job at preserving their film library, but for whatever reason, they never allowed any of the pristine prints in their vaults to get transferred for home video release. But, their film library was acquired a few years ago, and the new owners launched into an aggressive program to restore 700 of the Shaw Brothers' films and transfer them onto 2k digital masters. The Dragon Dynasty series has the Region 1 DVD rights to these incredible restored transfers.

The films look great, they have the original language tracks intact, and they are loaded with new documentaries and insightful commentary tracks. Very worthwhile considering that their street price is only ~$15 each.

So, anyone who's at all interested in classic martial arts pics, THIS is your starting point (along with Warner's special edition of Enter the Dragon and the Fox/Fortune Star Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection, which IMO is the ONLY version of those Bruce Lee titles that anyone should buy, at least for Region 1)! As mentioned in the title, these are the real deal and a worthy viewing for any self-anointed martial arts fan.

Next month, the Dragon Dynasty series goes even further into the crown jewels with (finally) a definitive edition of John Woo's 1992 action tour de force Hard Boiled -- IMO, one of the greatest action pics ever. Can't wait!
 
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