RIC MEYERS: 36th Chamber of Rome
Well, I’m back from the San Diego Comic-Con, and if you’ve been reading ComicMix’s coverage, you can probably guess that it was no place to actually write a DVD review column. Get info, acquire more product, see what’s happening, sure, but actually write reviews of other DVD special features? Fergettaboutit.
Between my 8th Annual San Diego Comic Con Superhero Kung-Fu Extravaganza there, which takes up three hours of prime time for a couple thousand hard-core martial art movie fans, and the many DVD companies/people I hobnobbed with, I had no time to tell you that the discs to grab this week are the 300 Special Edition and Hot Fuzz. But I’m hoping you already figured that out.
So too late there. But since I was up to here as the “kung-fu guy” at the con, I can use this space to clue you in on some discs I should’ve mentioned weeks ago, as well as letting a monumental box set being released next week bring other recent travels into pretentious, self-absorbed focus.
First off, head to your sales place of choice and get the Dragon Dynasty editions of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and My Young Auntie. When I began this column almost three months ago, I promised myself not to inundate you with kung-fu, samurai, or other such Asian titles. But what can I do? I originally discovered these films thirty years ago, because, to my eyes, they were comic book come to life — with actual people doing Daredevilly and Spidermanny things without the benefit of wires or sfx.
Since then, I’ve discovered, through research, that they’re much more than that, yet the original exhilaration I felt is still being revealed to fresh eyes … hopefully like yours. Especially since companies like Dragon Dynasty, controlled by the Weinsteins, are finally revealing the glory of timeless 1970’s classics in a manner befitting their excellence.
Even though I already have both aforementioned titles in their original Hong Kong remastered DVD releases, I was still anxious to get the Dragon Dynasty ones because of …drum roll… yes, you guessed it, the great extras (and if you didn’t guess it, look up at the subtitle of this column again). 36th Chamber, generally considered one of the great “pure” kung-fu movies of all time, is justifiably lauded in the special features section by top-notch film experts Andy Klein (New York Times), David Chute (Premiere, LA Weekly), and, most delightfully, by RZA of hip-hop’s Wu-Tang Clan, who recreates the glory of seeing these classics grindhouse-style on 42nd Street in Manhattan when it was a avenue of broken skulls, veins, and STDs. In addition, there’s a nifty Chinese doc that’s a combination Gordon Liu interview, making-of, and Shaolin Temple history; a new, stand-alone, Gordon Liu interview; an audio commentary with Klein and RZA; and even a Wu-Tang Clan music video.
From there, there’s no place to go but down, right? Wrong. My Young Auntie is not as famous as 36th Chamber, but, like 36th Chamber, it’s another classic directed by Liu Chia-liang (aka Lau Kar-leung) who is, hands-down, the greatest kung-fu filmmaker of all time. His movies are brilliantly conceived, beautifully done, and endlessly watchable – given that the kung-fu is unmatched and unremoveable. Too many action movies don’t really need their action: the fight scenes could be edited out without affecting the narrative in any way. Not so with Master Liang. You take the kung-fu out of his kung-fu movies, and there’s no film.
My Young Auntie is actually his kung-fu version of My Fair Lady, and made an award-winning star out of title actress Kara Hui Ying-hung, who, I’m delighted to report, is just as beautiful in the new interview with her on the disc as she was when the movie made her famous at the age of 16 twenty-six years ago. In addition to Kara’s illuminating interview, Chute and Klein are back putting things in perspective, but joining Klein on the commentary is Elvis Mitchell of NY Times and Harvard professorship fame. When it comes to giving these Shaw Brothers Studio productions their due, Dragon Dynasty doesn’t skimp on the brain power.
Remarkably, however, these are not the DVD crown jewels of this 11th edition. That titled is bestowed upon Rome: The Complete Second Season – a beautiful boxed set of the sadly cancelled HBO series that, along with Deadwood, I far preferred to The Sopranos. Rest assured that I would have revered this five disk set even if I hadn’t been one of the lucky few to actually set foot on the spectacular, huge, set of the show at the famed Cinecitta Studios in Italy a few weeks ago.
But that coincidental occurrence only enhanced my appreciation of the wonderful job HBO Video did with this box (which obviously wasn’t built in a day). In addition to all ten episodes of the season, they add audio commentaries, documentaries of the show’s making, featurettes on the actual history of ancient Rome (through the prism of the cast and crew’s knowledge), and programs on the famous people (Emperor Octavian) and incidences (Antony & Cleopatra) you only thought you knew. The icing on this particular Corinthian column is their “All Roads Lead to Rome” interactive onscreen guide that feeds you painless visual facts as you watch the episodes (and maybe even listen to the equally informative commentaries).
If you’ve seen the show, the DVDs will increase your admiration of the producers’ achievement. If you haven’t seen the show, by the end of this beautiful epic, you should be as pissed off as all its fans that it was ended long before its time.
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, Doomstar, The Great Science-Fiction Films, Murder in Halruua, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Fear Itself, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s also a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.