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Category:    Home > Reviews > Martial Arts > Action > Hong Hong > China > Kung-Fu > Karate > Drama > Comedy > Giant Monster > Fantasy > Shawscope: Volume One (1972 - 1979/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray Limited Edition Box Set w/CDs)

Shawscope: Volume One (1972 - 1979/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray Limited Edition Box Set w/CDs)

Picture: B- to B Sound: B- Extras: A- Films: B-

Action and fighting have been on the big screen since film arrived, from fistfights to boxing to sword fighting to war itself, but martial arts arrived later, especially in Hollywood. Peter Lorre surprised audiences worldwide by using Judo as the otherwise silent, quiet and legendary title detective in the Mr. Moto series, while Spencer Tracy played a wounded war vet determined to get to the truth and also some similar moves in Bad Day At Black Rock, but the spy craze in the 1960s started to bring all such forms of fighting to the forefront, starting with Sean Connery's first James Bond film Dr. No (1962) while the small screen offered more with the British spy classic The Avengers (Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, Linda Thorson) and the Anne Francis in the U.S. detective series Honey West.

Overseas, other cinemas started to have more such fighting in their films, but a particularly interesting competition to make such films started to develop between two studios in Hong Kong. On one side, by 1971, there was Golden Harvest, who boasted several stars, eventually including the greatest star in the field of all time: Bruce Lee. On the other side were the equally ambitious and prolific Shaw Brothers, whose own shield logo dared to imitate the studio that would eventually help lead them to their greatest hits, Warner Bros. and had weathered other challengers to their prolific string of hits prior to the 1970s.

The back and fourth got very interesting, though not all the films were released in the U.S. and other markets. Bruce Lee was first noticed in the U.S. as Kato on the short-lived Green Hornet TV series and also created a bigger hit show (for Warner Bros!) that became an icon of its era: Kung-Fu with David Carradine. Lee's films would eventually have Warner participating, but it would be one film without Lee that would launch the martial arts craze of the 1970s that (after a dip) is still with us today and that landmark international mega-hit was 5 Finger Of Death (1972, originally title King Boxer, offering some fight scenes that remain some of the best ever filmed) and action cinema would never be the same again.

Immediately, the impact was felt from Bruce Lee's massive success to serious suspense thrillers to pop culture songs (#1 novelty hit Kung-Fu Fighting) to children's shows (the animated TV classic Hong Kong Phooey) among other things. Even the James Bond films returned more explicitly to this territory as they had in You Only Live Twice (1967) with The Man With The Golden Gun (1974, whose John Barry soundtrack was used on dozens of later martial arts films) and that included more imitators there of like The Man From Hong Kong (1975) and all as The Shaw Brothers kept delivering new, original content.

Now comes the long awaited Shawscope: Volume One Blu-ray/CD box set from Arrow that more than delivers on the promise of maxing out the extras and restorations of these key films form the 1970s that have been on home video worldwide and in the U.S. and U.K. before, but not with these extensive extras or the high playback we get on these 12 films on eight Blu-ray discs.

The films include:

King Boxer (aka 5 Finger Of Death, 1972)

The Boxer from Shantung (1972)

Five Shaolin Masters (1974, aka 5 Masters Of Death)

Shaolin Temple (1976, aka Death Chamber)

Mighty Peking Man (1977, aka Golathon aka Orangutan King)

Challenge Of The Masters (1976)

Executioners from Shaolin (1977)

Chinatown Kid (1977)

The Five Venoms (1978)

Crippled Avengers (1978, aka Mortal Combat aka Return Of The 5 Deadly Venoms)

Heroes Of The East (1978, aka Challenge Of The Ninja)

Dirty Ho (1979, aka Dirty Avengers)

Most of the films (without oversimplifying) play like Revenge Westerns or Professional Westerns (an individual (maybe joined by a friend or two) and/or group is out for revenge, though unlike many of the latter Hollywood cases, not for the money) and some Kurosawa influence is unavoidable in general. However, King Boxer gets wilder with flying fighters with glowing fingertips, Mighty Peking Man is the increasingly impressive (and hilarious) answer to the first two King Kong films (the Jessica Lang remake was just a hit the year before and the Shaws wanted to show they could compete with Toho's giant monster films, et al, if need be) and Chinatown Kid foreruns the comedy that beset martial arts films staring in the 1980s (saving the genre) and would feature new stars like Jackie Chan, though it is some influenced from Hollywood classics like What's Up Doc? (1972) and Bullitt (1968; both films also happen to be from Warner Bros.)

There is humor here and there intentionally (we cannot speak to camp and other aspects that might strike one (no pun intended) as amusing, but these are not the tired, condescending joke-fests the genre has collapsed into since the later 1980s. We get some visual effects, but physical action with moves then often unseen (even when it might be surreal and unrealistic here and there) moves that still impress to this day. Despite keeping many a large single-screen theater alive as cineplexes arrived for better and worse, these films were meant to be seen on the largest screen possible, a point made by the title of this collection and its legendary logo. Many went to these films just for the action and could have cared less or much about the stories, but they are all still well-written enough and have stood the test of time.

Most impressive is their cinema has a look, feel and density that is distinct and once it is set, each films runs with what it is doing and that works well. The actors are decent and the battles are very well choreographed and staged, yet the film are not necessarily repetitious and you can see why they have so many die hard fans. This set should bring these films a whole new audience and more respect than they may have had before, though they obviously have some, but they are not just excuses for fight scenes, a stereotype that now applies to all kinds of B-movies we are getting of late. The wait for this set, one of the best sets of the last few years and definitely of 2021, was worth it.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used, but these are all far superior to all previous video releases of these films and owner Celestial Pictures, with Arrow, have spent some serious time and money to save and restore these genre classics, some of which more than exceed their genre. Their beauty influences the many epic film coming out of Chinese cinema now and going back to Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Most of the newer transfers are stunning and have demo scene that even exceed my highest picture rating. Per the press release, these are the newer transfers.

- Brand new 2K restorations by Arrow Films from the original camera negatives of King Boxer, The Boxer from Shantung, Challenge of the Masters, The Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers and Dirty Ho.

- Brand new 2K master of the longer international cut of Chinatown Kid from original film elements[, but it is in rougher shape than the short cut overall.]

Color quality and range can also really impress, usually shot on Eastman Kodak 35mm film, while the anamorphic scope lenses are apparently often Super CineScope renamed, though one ad credits one film as 'Panavision' at one point, that is just like calling it generically scope or 'CinemaScope' as was the custom for describing a widescreen frame. We hope to learn more about this as time goes on, but I have to say at their best, these transfers are sharp and have great detail, so the lenses are high quality enough to deliver what we see here.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes on the films include English dubs and are otherwise in original Mandarin (and sometimes Cantonese on the later films) sound as good as they are all likely to ever sound, all being theatrical monophonic releases as the studio never saw the need at the time for stereo of any kind. The better the image, however, the odder the difference can feel. Otherwise, the combination of the two in all cases can only be rivaled by the best, mint condition scope prints in full color 35mm and maybe 16mm reduction prints at best. The PCM 2.0 16/44.1 sound on the CDs sound good too.

Extras include (per the press release, with added notes) a 60-page high-quality softcover book featuring excellent, detailed new writing by David Desser, Simon Abrams and Terrence J. Brady, with cast and crew info for each film plus trivia, history fo the Shaw Studios and the history surrounding it back in the day and soundtrack information and two fine-sounding CDs with scores of six of these films, while the Blu-ray discs contain many, many hours of bonus features including brand new commentaries and critic appreciations on selected films, new and archive interviews with cast and crew, alternate credit sequences, trailer and image galleries for each film. More specifically, you get...

King Boxer

Brand New commentary by David Desser, co-editor of
The Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema and The Cinema of Hong Kong

Newly filmed appreciation by film critic and historian Tony Rayns

Interview with director Chung Chang-wha, filmed in 2003 and 2004 by Frederic Ambroisine

Interview with star Wang Ping, filmed in 2007 by Frederic Ambroisine

Interview with Korean cinema expert Cho Young-jung, author of Chung Chang-wha: Man of Action, filmed in 2005 by Frederic Ambroisine

Cinema Hong Kong: Kung Fu, the first in a three-part documentary on Shaw Brothers' place within the martial arts genre produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003, featuring interviews with Jackie Chan, Jet Li, John Woo, Sammo Hung, Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-leung, Cheng Pei-pei, David Chiang and many others

Alternate opening credits from the American version titled Five Fingers of Death

Hong Kong, US and German theatrical trailers, plus US TV and radio spots

and an Image gallery

The Boxer From Shantung

Interview with star Chen Kuan-tai, filmed in 2007 by Frederic Ambroisine

Interview with assistant director John Woo, filmed in 2004 by Frederic Ambroisine

Interview with star David Chiang, filmed in 2003 by Frederic Ambroisine

Conversation between stars Chen Kuan-tai and Ku Feng, filmed at a Shaw Brothers reunion in 2007 by Frederic Ambroisine

Alternate Opening Credits

Hong Kong and German theatrical trailers, plus US TV spot

and an Image gallery

Five Shaolin Masters / Shaolin Temple

Newly filmed appreciation of Chang Cheh by film critic and historian Tony Rayns

Interview with star Kong Do, filmed in 2003 by Frederic Ambroisine

Elegant Trails: David Chiang and Elegant Trails: Ti Lung, two featurettes on the actors produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003

Alternate standard-definition version of Shaolin Temple

Alternate opening credits from Five Masters of Death, the US version of Five Shaolin Masters

Alternate opening credits sequences for Shaolin Temple

US and German trailers for Five Shaolin Masters

Hong Kong and German trailers for Shaolin Temple

and Image Galleries for both films

Mighty Peking Man

Brand new feature length audio commentary by Travis Crawford

Brand new interview with suit designer Keizo Murase, filmed in 2021 by Daisuke Sato and Yoshikazu Ishii

Interview with director Ho Meng-hua, filmed in 2003 by Frederic Ambroisine

Interview with star Ku Feng, filmed in 2004 by Frederic Ambroisine

Behind-the-scenes Super 8 footage from the archives of Keizo Murase

'Unrestored' standard-definition version

Alternate opening credits from Goliathon, the US version of Mighty Peking Man

Hong Kong, US, German and Dutch theatrical trailers, plus US TV spot

and an Image Gallery

Challenge Of The Masters / Executioners From Shaolin

Newly filmed appreciation of Lau Kar-leung by film critic and historian Tony Rayns

Interview with star Gordon Liu, filmed in 2002 by Frederic Ambroisine

Interview with star Chen Kuan-tai, filmed in 2007 by Frederic Ambroisine

Textless opening credits for Challenge of the Masters

Alternate English credits for Executioners from Shaolin

Hong Kong theatrical trailers for Challenge of the Masters

Hong Kong and US theatrical trailers for Executioners from Shaolin

and Image Galleries for both films

Chinatown Kid (International and Alternate versions)

Select scene video commentary by co-star Susan Shaw from 2021

Elegant Trails: Fu Sheng, a featurette on the actor produced by Celestial Pictures in 2005

Hong Kong, US and German theatrical trailers, plus US TV spot

and an Image Gallery

The Five Venoms / Crippled Avengers

Brand new commentary on The Five Venoms by critic Simon Abrams

Interview with star Lo Meng, filmed in 2003 by Frederic Ambroisine

Chang Cheh: The Master, a featurette about the director produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003

Hong Kong and US theatrical trailers for The Five Venoms

Hong Kong theatrical trailer for Crippled Avengers

and Image Galleries for both films

Heroes of the East / Dirty Ho

Brand new commentary on Heroes of the East by Jonathan Clements, author of A Brief History of the Martial Arts

Newly filmed appreciation of both films by film critic and historian Tony Rayns

Interview with Heroes of the East star Yasuaki Kurata, filmed in 2003 by Frederic Ambroisine

Alternate opening credits for
Shaolin Challenges Ninja, the international version of Heroes of the East

Alternate English credits for Dirty Ho

Hong Kong theatrical trailer for Heroes of the East, plus US TV spot

Hong Kong theatrical trailer for Dirty Ho

and Image Galleries for both films

So if that is not enough to keep you watching, than these are not your kinds of films, but they all deserves to be seen at least once and they are a must for a serious film fans, especially in the genre. So impressive is this extensive set that we hope and expect a series of them (I am hoping Super Inframan will be on the next set) of such sets if we are lucky. There are plenty more great and fun films where these came from and Shawscope: Volume One is a great place to start.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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