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Premier Asia is back, and I somehow get the feeling this release will be one of their biggest to date! What we have here is a rather commemorative collection that consists of two popular martial arts (swordplay) flicks, straight from the heart of the territory from which the discipline was originally born. The two films in question are Bichunmoo (Premier Asia’s first release) and The Warrior. Without further ado, let us draw swords and fight!

Warrior Collection, The
Movie Review: Bichunmoo
Set in the backdrop of 14th century southern China, in a time when heroes are those by which we pledge hope, a poor peasant by the name of Jinha falls in love with the beautiful Sullie, daughter of a powerful general. If you were a history buff, then you’d know that the all powerful general was certainly not in favour of his daughter’s relationship with such a low form of life such as Jinha. Such is the case in this story; a world shrouded in uncertainty and destiny no less. When Jinha becomes separated from his love, he embarks upon a quest to become the ultimate swordsman and fulfil his destiny among his people.  

Opening with a stunning action set piece and finishing with a touching Kleenex moment, you haven’t time to catch a breath in this film. You are constantly being whisked from one luscious scene to the next, at a somewhat unrelenting pace. Bichunmoo also melts together some great musical cues, such as the rocked-up guitar that accompanies the opening sequence and the haunting melodic solo you may find yourself shedding a tear to during the climax. Everything simply feels just right in this epic and visionary world.

But without giving too much away, I will tell you that this story is full of colour and depth, though in comparison to classics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it does admittedly pail slightly. Still, the scribes really penned this as kind of love letter to the genre, and every expression of it sticks with you rather memorably.

Throughout much of it I picked up on a certain vibe, one which I also felt when I watched Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. Try as I will, I cannot quite put my finger on what exactly that vibe is. Nor can I fully stipulate the source of that feeling, all I know is that I liked it; I found it to be consuming and intoxicating. Perhaps it is the very embodiment of a machine whereby all the cogs are turning, everything is in motion and you can do nothing but sit back and watch it all unfold.

Filmmaking in Asian cinema has always been something I have deeply respected, and Bichunmoo is an astonishing achievement to be sure. Cinematography is stunning and production design is second to none. But what really becomes the very fabric of this experience is the stylistic pulchritude of the whole thing. There is nothing quite like seeing a breathtaking fight which gets your adrenaline pumping and then being subjected to tear jerking drama immediately afterwards—stunning! And only a film like this can pull it off with legitimacy.

Though most of the film neglects to use CGI, one such scene at the beginning sadly looks somewhat out of place. Its placing of two characters in front of blue screens whom both caress each other whilst leaves fall off the surrounding trees is certainly a memorable, if not poetic image, but the quality of CGI is pretty poor. With a bit of extra effort I am sure the filmmakers could have shot the very same scene in a real life location. Alas, it was not to be, and the end result kind of pulls you out of the fantasy, if only for a few minutes.

Warrior Collection, The
With Bichunmoo you get a different sense of reality than you would ordinarily experience in a Hollywood affair, and anyone who has seen the classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will know exactly what I am talking about. Action it may be, though everything is balanced with connoisseurship and a haleness you can only find in Asian cinema. Sadly however, Asian cinema is a like it or loathe it kind of thing, it is certainly not everybody’s cup of tea. I find this to be most unfortunate because it often deserves more success and popularity that it currently reaches.

To finish, I will say one thing in relation to this movie, and that is this: Bichunmoo looks and feels like an ancient oriental sword; it is sharp, deadly and alight with fury. If you don’t add this to your shelf, they you will have ignored a true cinematic gem, and one which absolutely demands to be seen and relished for years to come. See it!

Movie Review: The Warrior
1375 is a gloomy year for the state of China. Utter chaos has erupted between two competing dynasties, the Yuan and the infamous Ming. When Coryo, the ancient kingdom of Korea, sends some of its finest delegates, diplomats and warriors to China in effort to make peace, something goes awry. The group are accused of being spies and sentenced to exile in the sweltering dessert.

But in true filmmaking tradition, things naturally go from bad to worse. The group are constantly met with battle, usually hopelessly out-numbered, but they have to survive—especially when they learn of a beautiful princess that has been kidnapped by the Yuan. And so, with fate by their side, they set out to save her, and return home.

Perhaps a little more rugged and dusty than Bichunmoo, The Warrior is nonetheless the superior film in terms of filmmaking, with better writing and directing and of course acting all around. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say flat out that The Warrior is easily one of the top ten greatest foreign films I have ever seen. Just everything about it captivated me, intrigued me and made me long to watch it again.

Though it is a quite a bloody, sometimes imposingly violent film, it tells one damn fine story, and one that I found to be something of an eye-opener. But if the violence dissuades you from seeing it, I do urge you be persistent; don’t let a few gory splashes let this one pass you by.

Crouching Tiger’s Zhang Zi-yi takes centre stage in The Warrior, and she absolutely shines. Sadly, no Oscars are going to come her way just yet, but her very presence is prize enough in itself and gives you all the reasons you need to see this flick. She is able to capture the screen in such an innocent way that I could not help but think of her as the Eastern Liv Tyler or even, as far out as this sounds, Julia Roberts.

Warrior Collection, The
Just as with Bichunmoo, The Warrior is beautifully shot. Photography is often so vivid and alluring that I couldn’t help but freeze-frame the occasional scene. Seriously, this film is just a visual stunner! So too is the fight choreography, which is naturally a big thing in martial arts cinema, but here you can expect to see some of the best kick-ass fights ever committed to the screen. Yes, it is over the top and yes realism is often pushed aside in favour of wowing the audience, but you cannot help but gawk in pure awe at the audacity with which they are executed.

On the back of the DVD case, the synopsis states that this film was years in the making and is very possibly the biggest picture in Korean motion picture history—who am I to argue with that? The Warrior is a masterpiece, a rare and enchanting film that taps into the warrior that resides in all of us.  

Video
Bichunmoo was filmed in a 1.85:1 frame and looks great overall. The film has a pretty varied colour palette and for the most part everything is well balanced here on the DVD transfer. I use the word pretty because the print is not exactly perfect, thought certainly much better than I anticipated. Black levels are not the strongest, but in all honesty you will be way too caught up in all of the lavishness to really notice. Grain is pretty minimal on this transfer, but it does vary from scene to scene.  
The Warrior, on the other hand, was filmed in a gloriously wide 2.35:1 frame, which really brings those desert-bound panoramic shots to life. Indeed, due to the many auburn tones of the dry deserts and such, one might think The Warrior would lack the variety of colour the accompanying film in this boxed set has; wrong. Though it is not quite as rich, granted, the depth and strength of the colours is pretty amazing. As with Bichunmoo, grain on this transfer is kept to a minimalist degree, but does vary.

Audio
Interestingly, both films feature Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks in Korean and both offer a reasonably good English dub. Of course, subtitles are also available but if you really want to appreciate these films then stick the Korean DTS option on with English subtitles. Though the dubs are fairly decent, they more often than not just tear away any shred of greatness the original actors achieve.

As for the sound on each of the films, you can expect solid and crisp dialogue on both, as well as surprisingly solid LFE frequencies and the occasional surround effect. Personally, I found that the range tended to lean more towards the front speakers than envelope you in a true 5.1 performance, but what is here is good.

Warrior Collection, The
Extras
Let’s Start with Bichunmoo. First up we have a great feature length commentary with Asian Film experts Bey Logan and Mike Leeder. Though not the best commentary I have ever heard, it was certainly informing and well worth a listen, especially for those new to the Asian film industry.

The ‘Interview Gallery’ has three overall interviews with director Young-Jun, leading man Shin Hyun-June and action choreographer Ma Yuk-Sheng. Each of these interviews runs for well over fifteen minutes, with the directors clocking in at nearly thirty!

In the ‘Promotional Archive’ you will find lots of trailers and such in relation to the film. Nothing major, but still, the Korean trailer was pretty cool. There is also a music video and a photo gallery in this section.

‘Music Library’ is one of my favourite features on the DVD. It has an isolated score compromising of fourteen tracks, the majority of which are really quite breathtaking. You are able to select each track and just sit back and listen to them as they play. As a huge fan of eastern music, I found this feature to be a major treat and one I will revisit many, many times.

‘Behind the Scenes’ has three features inside; ‘CGI Montage’, ‘Candid Camera’ and the ‘Outtakes’. All three of these are pretty so-so, but should cook up a few minutes of feeble entertainment. Finally, the ‘Information Library’ has a biography and some film notes.

Next, we have the extra features for The Warrior.

Once again both Bey Logan and Mike Leeder head up another feature length audio commentary, only this time I found them to be a little bit more forthcoming.

The ‘Promotional Archive’ is littered with various trailers, a few featurettes and an animated photo gallery. The featurettes are entitled the following; ‘Inside the Warrior’, ‘Legend in the Making’ and ‘Songs of the Desert’. The first of these is pretty long, almost fifty minutes in total. The other two are not quite so plumped up, but are still worth watching.

‘Behind the Scenes’ encompasses some four selectable features; outtakes, ‘Candid Camera’, ‘Behind the Action’ and ‘Designing The Warrior’. All of these are actually a good deal shorter than the ones in the archive, and are perhaps more generic, but still pretty good.

In the ‘Deleted Scenes’ section, there are twenty four scenes to select from, which in total runs for nearly twenty minutes. You can either watch them individually or hit the ‘play all’ button. Finally, the ‘Information Library’ features a few biographies.

Warrior Collection, The
Overall
This boxed set from Premier Asia is absolutely outstanding! Presentation is first class, and the two films and their many features are well worth the price of admission. You owe it to yourself to pick up this collection and display it with pride at the forefront of your DVD Shelf.

If you are new to the Asian cinema experience, then I would still recommend these two films are an excellent introduction; they are two of the most popular and successful and will not disappoint. The only reason you should avoid is if you knowingly dislike films of this genre. Other than that, this collection is a must for film buffs! Buy it, enjoy them and watch them again and again.


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