Issue #264            HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES             May 16th, 2005

I'd Buy That For A Dollar!

DVDs have been coming down in price ever since the format was introduced back in 1997. Still, I never would have guessed that they would drop down to the level of an impulse buy comparable to a pack of gum or a chocolate bar. Walk into virtually any dollar store and you will find racks of these things, usually packaged in cardboard or paper sleeves. Of course, the vast majority of titles are low-rent public domain items that one would normally pass by without much of a second thought, if not for the incredibly low price of 100 cents. The DVDs covered in these mini-reviews are all fullscreen, dubbed in English, and Region 0. With one exception, the discs have no extras.

RIVALS OF THE DRAGON Yuen Tak, Jeffrey Chan


(1973; Toei) - DVD Movie/Passion Productions

PCM Audio

5 Chapters

Paper Sleeve

87 Minutes
RATING: 3/10 (Poor)
Japanese: Karate Kiba

Aquarius Releasing could not resist making some silly changes for their U.S. version of this Sonny Chiba vehicle, which hit stateside theatres in 1976. After an entirely superfluous New York-shot prologue (which allowed Aquarius to play up the presence of martial arts champs Aaron Banks and Bill Louie on the poster), we segue into what remains of the original storyline. Chiba (supposedly playing himself!) launches a one-man war on Yakuza drug dealers (called "Yellow Mafia" in the idiotic dubbing), but the female informant he is protecting has her own less upstanding agenda. The plot is ponderous and muddled, and the action only intermittent, making this one for Chiba diehards only. Incidentally, if the opening narration sounds familiar, it should: Quentin Tarantino later included it as part of Samuel L. Jackson’s dialogue in PULP FICTION! The U.S. changes were overseen by Simon Nuchtern (the sole credited director here) and Joseph Ellison, who would later collaborate on the infamous slasher sickie, DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980). The Judy Lee credited here is not Chia Ling, who is sometimes given that name in the English versions of her movies. In fact, Chia’s most famous film in America, QUEEN BOXER, was also distributed by Aquarius in 1974, revealing some more skullduggery on their part.

Sonny Chiba’s films were just not designed to be crowded into the little 1.33:1 frame and there is hardly a shot here that does not look horrendously cramped. Resolution is weak, colors are pasty and gatefloat is evident, along with pronounced smearing and some background instability. Not surprisingly, the transfer looks to have been derived from the 1981 Media Home Entertainment videocassette release and my 24 year-old pre-record of that version actually looks better. Verdict: For a dollar? Maybe, but not a cent more than that. One would actually be better off waiting for a domestic widescreen release of the original version.

Sonny Chiba emotes as THE BODYGUARD Sonny stews, the telecine operator snoozes


(1978) - Passion Productions

- PCM Audio

- 5 Chapters

- Paper Sleeve

- 91 Minutes
RATING: 5/10 (Marginal Recommendation)
Alternate English Title: Storming Attacks

The only image of Bruce Lee you’ll find in this kung fu quickie is the stock one on the cover. Bruce Li/Ho Chung-tao, the best of the Bogus Bruces, is assigned to foil a counterfeit operation (run by Han Ying-chieh) that specializes in crafting high quality imitations of American notes. In the opening scene, Li is called in to prevent a distraught businessman from leaping to his death. However, instead of simply taking the elevator, Li (decked out in the requisite yellow tracksuit) climbs up the front of the building via rope, a move that gives him no strategic advantage whatsoever! That is just the beginning of this entertaining "fight-fight-fight" flick, where kung fu battles breakout every few minutes on the slightest pretext (with Bolo Yeung and John Cheung Ng-lung being the most frequent opponents for the star). The choreography is not bad at all and the movie is further blessed with some utterly gratuitous nudity from pretty co-star Danna.

THE IMAGE OF BRUCE LEE was an early cassette release from Media Home Entertainment and that is likely where this master originated. The version presented is 21st Century’s U.S. edition and, typically for this company, the title is the only credit to be found. Contrasts are overly harsh, leading to blown-out whites, and the image is both squeezed and cropped. However, the real problem is the incredible amount of smearing accompanying any and all movement. Verdict: Grab it...if you can stand the digital equivalent of watching this at the drive-in during a downpour.

Bruce is loose! Bruce Li is not THE IMAGE OF BRUCE LEE, but he'll do The movie may be THE IMAGE OF BRUCE LEE, but most male viewers will be more interested in The Form of Danna


(1976; Toei) - Dollar DVD/Brentwood

- Dolby Digital 2.0

- 8 Chapters

- Cardboard Sleeve With Pocket

- 88 Minutes
RATING: 5/10 (Marginal Recommendation)
Japanese: Kozure satsujin ken

Simon Nuchtern was also involved with the Americanization of this Sonny Chiba effort, but, thankfully, there is no new footage and the director (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi) is properly credited. In this update of Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO, Chiba plays a loner who shifts between two warring Yakuza gangs, both of which are trying to reclaim a large stash of hidden heroin. There is not much more in terms of story, but plentiful fights and ample exploitation elements keep things perking along. The heavy-handed sentimentality found in several Chiba pictures from this era is also present, alas, and detracts from the second half. The dubbing (supervised by Peter Fernandez) is tolerable.

Dollar DVD is a division of Brentwood and their discs are exact replications of the Brentwood editions. The picture is extremely poor: dark, fuzzy, blurry, and (of course) horribly cropped. Artifacting is common and tape damage is occasionally visible. Dialogue is a bit too low in the mix and sounds clipped in spots. A scrolling Sonny Chiba bio/filmography is included, but offers nothing that you couldn’t find on the IMDb. Brentwood’s menu copyright notice appears briefly onscreen at 1:21:26. Verdict: Recommended, but solely on the merits of the movie, not this dreadful DVD.

Sonny Chiba drastically reduces the ranks of the local yakuza gangs in KARATE WARRIORS Hoping for a '70s Sonny Chiba movie devoid of heavy-handed sentimentality? Keep looking


(1979) - Saturn Productions

- PCM Audio

- 5 Chapters

- Paper Sleeve

- 79 Minutes
RATING: 2 /10 (Definitely Not Recommended)

Location work in Hollywood gives this HK cheapie a little novelty value. Yuen Tak and Jeffrey Chan play young fighters constantly getting into mischief, much to the consternation of the former’s father, a respected master and practitioner of traditional medicine. Yuen’s brother steals a map belonging to some gangsters and winds up dead. The hoods suspect that the master is somehow involved and take him hostage. Yuen must also foil a ruthless Caucasian karate master who intentionally injures his sparring partners. Some of the fighting and stunts are executed with a reasonable amount of panache, but there is a numbingly high amount of brutally unfunny comedy involving Yuen’s clandestine trip to a brothel, the bumbling villains (whose appearances are scored with the theme from A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), etc. Said Caucasian actors are also atrocious, even by genre standards.

If you have seen Saturn’s 1980s cassette version, then you are already familiar with the presentation here: greatly worn print, light hues, weak contrasts, very poor resolution, and harsh audio. The image is also quite squeezed, but would probably decompress nicely on a 16:9 display. Menu functions are extremely sluggish and, to top it off, there’s two minutes of absolutely nothing on the end of the disc. Verdict: Very bad movie on an equally wretched DVD. You can do better, even for a dollar.

An elongated Yuen Tak from Saturn's very squeezed transfer of RIVALS OF THE DRAGON This is funny?


(1972; Great Earth Film Co.) - Passion Productions

- PCM Audio

- 5 Chapters

- Paper Sleeve

- 71 Minutes
RATING: 4 /10 (Not Recommended)
Cantonese: Nui ging chat
Mandarin: Nu jing cha
English: Female Police

Of all the early Jackie Chan films exhumed to cash in on his latter day American fame, this is the most deceptively titled and advertised (it was previously released as POLICE WOMAN and YOUNG TIGER, and versions with those titles are reportedly still floating around). The synopsis states that Chan "attempts to recover a stolen purse containing damaging evidence against a major crime family." True enough, though they conveniently neglect to mention that he is a part of said gang and out to batter the film’s true star, Charlie Chin Hsiang-lin (playing a taxi driver unknowingly in possession of said evidence)! Sporting Bruce Lee sunglasses and a giant mole on his face resembling a plastic cockroach, Chan only appears intermittently and the martial arts sequences are as elementary as the storyline and Hdeng Tsu’s direction. The low point comes when Chin disparages dirty books and movies for corrupting HK youth, introducing a moral high ground far beyond the reach of this grungy little potboiler. Lee Man-tai, Phoenix Kim, John Cheung Ng-lung, Hu Chin, and Helena Law Lan also appear.

Night sequences are predictably dark and the image is very low-rez throughout. The cropping of the scope frame is haphazardly handled and the audio isn’t much better. Someone took a Chinese language tape and grafted on the English dub, causing a major change in ambiance whenever someone speaks. The film’s running time is usually reported as being 83 minutes and it’s obvious that material is missing here from the opening reel. The VHS tape this was pulled from is badly damaged along the bottom of the screen for the last half hour of the running time. Verdict: A single viewing for the Jackie Chan completist and then it’s a coaster.

Jackie Chan and his new facial protuberance The true star of RUMBLE IN HONG KONG, Charlie Chin Hsiang-lin

All photos courtesy their respective copyright holders. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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