Dragon Missile (The) AKA Fei long zhan (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - 88 Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (4th April 2018).
The Film

If you loved director Meng Hua Ho's awesome game-changing martial arts masterpiece THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974) then you will lose your head over his decapitation-packed follow-up THE DRAGON MISSILE (1976). Headlined by the legendary kung-fu icon Lo Lieh (THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN) this brutal tale of rivalry and skullduggery in ancient China packs a potent punch from start to finish. Absolutely crammed full of carnage - the blood flies thick and fast as the 'missile' itself glides across the screen and slices limbs from bodies in this wuxia wonder that is finally on BluRay in all of its HD chopsocky glory! Sit down to THE DRAGON MISSILE and remind yourself why Hong Kong was once at the forefront of world action cinema - for this is a must-have motion picture that positively re-invented the excess of East Asian adventure epics!!!

Video

A Shaw Brothers quickie, this has a brief running time, plenty of well staged action and a simple, straightforward story. Very entertaining with some mild bloodletting, mostly offscreen beheadings and suprisingly a fleeting moment of nudity. Not in the same league as classics like One-Armed Swordsman (1967) or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) but good value none the less.

This Dragon Missile has a slightly sharper image than One-Armed Swordsman (1967) due to it being a younger production but my comments for that disc essentially hold water here as well. This was made by the famous Shaw Brothers and we have a lavish period piece with wonderful use of the widescreen Shawscope frame with lush location work. Colours are florid. That said in some shots you’ll notice anamorphic distortion at the extreme left and right of the 2.35:1 frame; mainly in wide angle shots. This is due to the lens used during production.

As we’ve seen with 88 Films’ release of One-Armed Swordsman the basic transfer here is very good with very little damage in evidence and a nice stable image. I find that with many transfers from the far east they favour rather grey black values and as a result if I want to create deeper blacks I just tick the brightness down a notch or two on my TV. This transfer is no different, and when done the blacks are deep and rich although there is crush in night time scenes. This is most likely a side effect of the way the film was shot; it is a low budget quickie designed to cash-in on the same director’s earlier, more famous and more highly regarded The Flying Guillotine (1974).

One again we have an essentially sound basic transfer probably taken from the OCN, with decent contrast, no blowouts and good black levels. Colours are strong with a palette that favours the warmer end of the spectrum, more-so than the older film.

Sadly, once again the 2007 master has been subjected to a fair amount of DNR and digital manipulation; Celestial Pictures transfers from the time (mid 2000s) have a reputation for this. This was most likely created to service DVD and HD TV broadcasts which with less consistent resolution and greater compression.

If watched from a distance it’s a pleasing, engaging view but the closer you get to the screen the waxiness and lack of fine detail become obvious. Grain is also almost entirely absent; this is a 35mm lensed production and ought to have plentiful fine grain.

If you watch this on anything bigger than 60” and especially projected then the flaws in the presentation will become much more evident. However, we’re unlikely to get anything better. 88 Films have given this a high bitrate, a reasonable encode and from a distance it was a pleasing view, but hardcore techno-savvy folks will be foming at the mouth. The vast majority of will be perfectly happy as it is a definite improvement on DVD or HD TV broadcasts. Encoding is adequate.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 2.35:1 / 85:36

Audio

Mandarin LPCM 1.0
English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English (optional)

Pretty standard mono tracks of the era which lack base and the kind of fidelity we are accustomed to with modern soundtracks. There are some issues with sibilants and a certain “recorded in a booth” quality to both tracks, but this is too be expected given that the Shaw Brothers shot their films silently and produced the soundtrack in the studio afterwards.

Obviously, the Mandarin track is the only real choice here as it was the language spoken on set and the one that matches the lip movements. It also lends the film more credibility; the English track is as silly as usual.

Subtitles are provided for the dialogue but not for the onscreen captions which introduce the characters. Not disastrous, but a major oversight.

Extras

Audio commentary with David West

I’ve only recently become aware of West but he gives good value here covering the where this film sits against other Shaw Brothers productions. He points out how colour was used to code the various characters and seems to have a fascination for the detailed Shaw Brothers sets. In some ways this is at times a slightly academic track and then at other times it’s more breezy; West has a casual touch. The sound recording suffers from some background hiss but it never hinders West’s voice being heard.

Audio commentary with Bey Logan

There’s no silent play by play guff here, loads of fascinating trivia and covering significant and minor cast and crew, notes on the production etc. Logan has worked in the Hong Kong film industry and has been also involved in home video releases for ages appearing on yaktraks and in documentaries. I found his discussion of the locations and the how actors could be typecast for their expressions the most interesting aspects of the recording.

4-page liner notes leaflet “Boomerang Splat!” by Dr. Calum Waddell

Another in the long line of fine essays by Waddell; this one obviously covering the film under discussion and it’s cast and crew.

Reversible sleeve

A choice between a another 2018 photoshop cover or the rather wonderful original poster art; no real choice here.

Collectable slipcase available when you order the film directly from 88 Films.

The slipcase reproduces on fine card stock the original poster art.

Overall

Another fine disc from 88 Films making the most of the 2007 master provided by Celestial Films which is showing it’s age; image is problematic but audio is strong. The film is a very simple story of good vs evil and revenge. The gimmicky weaponry is pretty spectacular and provides the film much of it’s appeal along with the spectacularly well done action. Extras are solid and informative. Fans should grab this as it’s likely the only game in town and in the grand scheme of things a good purchase.

The Film: B- Video: C+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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