House of Fury (HK - DVD R3)
HK newcomer Stephen Fung collaborates with legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping to deliver this energetic action com...
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The Hong Kong film industry is undeniably aggressive, producing countless titles one after another and specialising in mainstream popcorn blockbusters. However the films do not necessarily reflect on the nature of the business; many are in fact mundane titles that regurgitate the same repetitive style, premise and even performers. In all honesty, it has been a while since a HK title has literally blown me away. Stephen Fung is a HK pretty-boy turned director, making his debut in 2004 with gangster comedy Enter the Phoenix – a film that failed to leave a lasting impact. It blended childish immaturity with a redundant plot, making the end results neither funny nor entertaining. His second title House of Fury subsequently did not fill me with tremendous anticipation, especially as I discovered that the cast comprised of your usual A-list celebrities such as Daniel Wu, Anthony Wong and of course the Twins, Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung. However with Yuen Woo-ping helming the action segments, I was prepared to be persuaded otherwise.
House of Fury tells the tale of a dysfunctional family, where the father Yue Siu Bo (Anthony Wong) runs a clinic to support his two children Nicky and Natalie (played by Stephen Fung and Gillian Chung respectively). One day, the film’s wheelchair-bound villain Rocco (Michael Wong) demands secret information from Yue, who is highly resistant in revealing classified details. In consequence, Rocco’s ninja team kidnap Yue and turn his clinic into a tip. It is now up to Yue’s children to pull together and save their father. They are not alone however, with the help of Natalie’s boyfriend Jason (Daniel Wu) and best friend Ella (Charlene Choi), the children set out on the ultimate mission that will challenge their bond as a family.
As you can probably guess, the storyline is annoyingly nonsensical and is a cluttered mess. There is not even a final resolution, making the mission somewhat insignificant and underwhelming. The idea of having a paralysed villain was instantly going to be a bad idea, especially as this film is crying out for a ferocious boss. Furthermore, there are too many unnecessary angles, making House of Fury a peculiar hybrid – at times the film feels like a bad sitcom and the next minute it turns into an over-the-top melodramatic soap opera. Even the romance scenes are remarkably weak and the characters are so pathetic, it is difficult to sympathise with any of them. To say that the family is dysfunctional is an understatement. The son spends most of his time discussing his problems with dolphins and the daughter constantly whines on the phone to her boyfriend, whose ideal gift to her is a piglet. In a way, they desperately needed their father to be kidnapped so that they could sort themselves out.
Despite how abysmal the storyline is, in fairness none of it matters when the mighty Woo-ping takes control, which luckily for us is almost regularly. Yuen Woo-ping’s impressive background in martial arts choreography dates back almost thirty five years. Quite recently, he was responsible for the spectacular action pieces in The Matrix Trilogy, Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle. It would be modest to suggest that his fight scenes are nothing short of breathtaking – capturing the swift elegance of wire-fu and providing untamed brutality in the close combat situations. Similarly with House of Fury, Woo-ping coordinates the performers with the utmost confidence. No matter how much of a dunce you are, Yuen Woo-ping could even turn a lama into a deadly kung fu assassin.
Despite the light-hearted nature of the film, the violence is graciously strong and does not shy away from exposing bone cracking punches to the face. Even Yue’s torture scene is unpleasant to watch thanks to the sincere realism in Anthony Wong’s performance. In addition, Yuen Woo-ping introduces a wonderful array of weaponry, including nunchucks made from bones that is an amusing homage to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury. The best fight however is when Jake Strickland, a little Gameboy wielding child, unleashes all his fury upon Anthony Wong. That kid definitely has future potential.
It should be noted that I am not biased against a film due to the cast involved. I think that Anthony Wong is a superb actor and is responsible for some of the finest performances ever captured on celluloid. However to use him in every little title that is exported from Hong Kong makes one wonder if there are any other great actors, who could execute his roles. The same applies to the Twins, who appear to be receiving enormous attention both in HK and abroad. This is an ideal example of the producers hiring big names to generate those revenues. Due to the absurdity of the plot, it does not really require outstanding performances from the cast but Wong failed to disappoint once again. He adapts seamlessly between comical and dramatic roles. Gillian Chung is good at what she does best – just stand there looking pretty and if the occasion calls for it, kick some ass. Her counterpart Charlene however only has brief cameos throughout the film. In fact, I have no idea what purpose her character has to the storyline apart from looking gorgeous.
It should also be noted that Michael Wong, who plays the immobilised villain, speaks his dialogue entirely in English, with the exception of one or two lines. However what is ridiculously bizarre is the DVD cover – there is clearly a picture of Michael Wong in a kung fu stance with Shredder-type steel claws. Considering that he is restrained to a wheelchair throughout the film, I find the DVD artwork incredibly misleading. Furthermore, everybody appears to wearing some sort of red uniform, which is again never worn in the movie. Unexplained randomness aside, House of Fury is a fast paced 100 minutes of martial arts and adrenaline. There are attempts at comedy and melodrama injected into an inconsequential storyline but it would be in the viewer’s best interest to blank it from memory.
House of Fury is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Upon initial inspection, it appears that the contrast level is higher than usual and this affects the skin tones, which have a beaming quality to them. As a result, the black levels are satisfactory but could do with being slightly deeper. Everything else appears in order; the print utilises a vibrant colour scheme with warm shades and well balanced saturation levels. The transfer is also strikingly sharp; it is possibly to distinguish primary and background objects with admirably clarity. Look out for the fabulous detail on the hair strands, even during the night battles.
Grain is omitted for the most part but the occasional low-level noise does manage to sneak in from time to time. In terms of digital misrepresentations, there is no shimmering, ghosting or edge enhancement. A minute amount of speckles is evident, as is motion blurring, but neither should cause extensive visual discomfort. On a minor note, certain shots contain a matted curve on the bottom right hand corner of the screen. I am not sure why this is but again, this is not a primary issue. Overall, the transfer is a healthy presentation of the onscreen action, with only a few minor negligible faults.
House of Fury has two Cantonese soundtracks in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, as well as a Mandarin dub in Dolby Digital 5.1. During the film’s various action segments, the Dolby Digital mix is absolutely colossal in magnitude and significance. The amount of detail is awesome; every impact is satisfyingly amplified without haste. In addition, there is tremendous output from the LFE channel, not just with the onscreen action but also with the score. In essence, it is very much possible to feel the audio and not just listen to it. The DTS track has improved texture and is slightly more aggressive in execution, especially with the ‘swoosh’ noises as a result of extreme zooming.
Conversely, surprisingly little output is generated from the rears, even throughout the action segments, leaving the centre, left and right speakers to handle all of the surround effects. Only the score really receives a deserved treatment from the rears, separating out the musical channels and harmonically reuniting them again. There are some directional effects created but nothing really stands out. The audio is primarily forward based but is remarkably rich and animated to compensate for the lack of rear speaker action. What is a problem for both tracks, but perhaps to a lesser extent on the Dolby mix, is the dynamic balance. The dialogue is uniformly quiet in comparison with the action segments; turn up the volume and the entire room shakes vigorously when the fights begin. In other words, it just seems that the volumes are proportionally mismatched.
The optional English subtitles are consistently good – reasonable font size and pacing; they even appear when the characters speak English. The grammar can be slightly iffy at times but overall, it is easy to achieve a good understanding of what is going on.
House of Fury spreads its supplementary materials over two discs. The first disc includes a trailer selection and action chapter, allowing the viewer to jump straight to one of the film’s energetic fight sequences. In fairness, it is probably better to sit through this than the actual movie. The opening animation in the title menu is hilarious – it is so bad. Please note that none of the film’s additional features contain English subtitles and the menus are in Chinese only.
The second disc contains majority of the extras. There are five interviews with the primary cast members such as Daniel Wu, Gillian Chung and Stephen Fung. Everybody speaks in Cantonese apart from Michael Wong who answers in English. Wong discusses his relationship with the director and of course Yuen Woo-ping, as well as his personal gains from the movie. The interviews are reasonably long, lasting approximately 10 minutes each. However they are clumsily edited. Taking Wong’s interview for example, a question is cut off in mid-sentence before the footage abruptly cuts to Wong’s answer.
There is a 44m58s behind the scenes featurette, providing a wonderful insight to the film’s fast and furious action sequences. It is difficult to hear what everyone is saying so the lack of subtitles is not too much of a problem. What is rather fascinating is to see the master Yuen Woo-ping at work, getting the best out of his performers with maximum dedication. Poor Stephen Fung is subjected to countless injuries, one of them from a little boy, as his face becomes a universal punch bag for the remaining cast members. Further highlights include Anthony Wong trying to master the skeleton nunchucks, which took him a good few takes before filming could progress. Other sections of the featurette are quite slow, with long shots of the director instructing his cast and crew or discussions over a particular scene.
To finish things off, there is a photo gallery, supplementary information and additional text information for the characters, director and action coordinator. Once again, the text is in Chinese only.
House of Fury is an unsteady mixture of comedy and melodrama injected into unexplainable plot. However it does showcase some spectacular martial arts choreography that remains dynamic from start to finish. The involvement of Yuen Woo-ping was vital; he added a wealth of visual flare that would have been omitted from an otherwise lifeless and indecisive film. Retrospectively, Stephen Fung still has a long way to go before he can create anything close to a masterpiece. The DVD represents an admirable effort in terms of quality but is not English language friendly in the extras department.
You can purchase this title from top retailer Yes Asia.
Review by Bodhi Sarkar
Not suitable for young persons and children
Release Date: 12th May 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Cantonese , Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
Extras: Five Interviews, Behind the Scenes Featurette, Action Chapter, Trailer Selection, Photo Gallery, Supplementary Information, Character Information, Director and Stunt Coordinator Biographies
Easter Egg: No
Director: Stephen Fung
Cast: Anthony Wong, Gillian Chung, Stephen Fung, Michael Wong, Daniel Wu, Charlene Choi
Length: 102 minutes
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