Ichi

Beautiful Ichi wanders blindly from village to village, searching for the sightless swordsman who long ago taught her to kill. Her technique is exquisite and explosive, her defenses as impenetrable as the darkness in which she moves. Many along her solitary path are touched - some by the sound of her delicate music, others by the edge of her lethal blade.

What They Say
Ichi honors the classic tale of the blind samurai while casting the legend in breathtaking new light. In a role traditionally played by men, award-winning actress Haruka Ayase is both tender and brutal.

The Review!
Audio:
The feature contains both an English and Japanese 5.1 track. For this review the Japanese track was selected for the viewing. The audio is primarily center speaker driven with no drop outs or distortions being noticed. The track does a wonderful job with the presentation of dialogue as well as other sounds from the film such as the wind blowing or the slice of a sword.

Video:
Originally made in 2008 the video is a a fairly positive one with a decent amount of grain being present and only a few spots of dot crawl.

Packaging:
The cover is a great shot of Ichi preparing to draw her sword against a gray/white background that helps accentuate her as well as does give a touch of feel for the darkness she lives in. The spine is a standout pink with a rope like pattern that suggest a book binding. The back cover has a shot used for the menu of Ichi surrounded and preparing to draw her blade as well as 9 smaller stills from the feature. The disc also came with a slip cover that mirrors the DVD cover but with a more metalic look to it.

Menus:
The menu is a static shot of Ichi surrounded by some thugs and preparing to draw. A very simple yet haunting track plays through what seems to be its' entirety of just over a minute and a half. The menu is quick to respond and the sub menus each feature a different shot-the most apropos one being the language selection which has a still of Ichi tuning her instrument

Extras:
This feature contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens with a lone figure fighting it's way through a snowstorm. We then find the figure playing a shamisen in the doorway of a household hoping to find shelter but being refused. The figure winds up in a small building just outside the property when a servant comes out bringing food from the household figuring the traveler would be there. Upon seeing the traveler is a beautiful young woman the servant attempts to accost her only to discover that blind doesn't equal helpless and just because a sword isn't in plain sight doesn't mean there isn't one present at the cost of most of two fingers. As he runs off a glimpse is found of the coldness Ichi lives in with both her blindness and her personality.

The scene then morphs to one of her childhood as Ichi remembers traveling in the snow as a member of group of goze (a class in fuedal Japan that blind women were in who organized themselves in order to try to make a living often as musicians). Her reminiscence is broken up by the woman who is living at the temple she is currently at who makes her living through prostitution. The woman through talking with Ichi provides the exposition that goze are driven from their groups when they have an affair with a man which provides some clues as to why Ichi is seen as she is by the people she encounters. Ichi sits quietly behind the temple as the woman conducts her business and then starts being beaten by three thugs when she demands payment.

One of the thugs notices Ichi behind the temple and as they are about to accost her before she can act a wayward swordsman interrupts and rather than drawing on them offers a promissory note of some worth to the men to leave well enough alone. The men decide to take the note and Ichi and confront the swordsman who can not draw his sword. Just as he is about to be struck Ichi makes her move and dispatches the three thugs with little effort using the sword hidden in her cane. The swordsman introduces himself as Fujihira Toma and engages her in some humorous banter about how his note got damaged while he was "saving her" much to Ichi's amusement. A kind of debt is repaid when they come across an inn town and she follows him to gambling establishment and she helps him win quietly from the side by hearing how the dice fall until he reaches the amount of the note upon which she leaves. Toma follows and they are set upon by the losers from the gaming hall who belong to a gang called Banki-to who have been besieging the town and Toma shows some hint of skill in avoiding them though Ichi again takes care of them all. Some of the townspeople come across them and mistake the work as Toma's. Toma is then hired to help repel the gang from the town despite his reluctance.

It is revealed that Ichi is traveling looking for the person who taught her her sword technique which the leader of the Bangi-to seems to have recognized as he has only ever seen it once before. He used to be a swordsman of great renown in employ of a government official until he got burned and was forced out and started his gang. The film then progresses on its' path to the climax by revealing the different scars the main cast carry with them (be it physical or psychological) and how each character will either come to terms with those scars and begin to move past them or if they will continue to let their past consume their present and futures like an angry flame.

The film gives some absolutely lush scenery and clothing that stands in contrast to the brutality of the word that the characters inhabit. The film does a good job with developing of its' characters and their motivations even if some are a touch cliche and handled a little ham-fistedly at times. It really shines in the moments where it goes beyond the cliche for subtle scenes and the nuances the actors put into their roles. As a period film many fans of the genera can see a number of the twists coming but the film handles them with a deft hand that can allow one to move past the familiar and embrace the work as a whole.

In Summary:
Ichi is a film that both pays homage to its' predecessors (both period films in general and the Zatoichi films in particular) without losing itself in all the cliches and creating realistic characters that the audience hopes to see grow throughout the film. The bonus is to be found in the spectacular scenery and very well choreographed fights. This film is highly recommended to period film fans and even those who don't love the genera may find their time well spent with this work.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles

Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
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Opium & The Kung Fu Master

Getting clean and sober Kung Fu style.

What They Say
Film legend Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow, The Legend of Drunken Master) battles the scourge of the orient in this epic final film from director Tang Chia. Schooled in the martial arts by the Peking Opera, Chia's deft touch guides the gut-wrenching tale of a Kung Fu master wrecked by opium. Starring a legitimate champion of the Gibbon Fist style as the film's villain - Chen Kuan Tai (The Flying Guillotine, Big Brother Cheng) - Chia's masterpiece showcases the talents of at least six different martial arts directors. Exploding with action, comedy, drama and more action-this Shaw Brothers classic is the cornerstone of any collection.

The Review!
Audio:
The film has two audio tracks-Mandarin Mono and English stereo. For the purpose of this review the Mandarin track was used. As it is mono there is nothing exceptional in it's presentation from a style point of view. While unimpressive in presentation it is a clear audio track the film contains no noticeable dropouts or distortions. Part of the English dub was listened to while writing the review and no distortions or dropouts were detected there either.

Video:
The film is presented in 2.35:1 with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen (though the case claims 16:9). The transfer is vibrant in presenting colors though some aliasing does occur in the feature it is thankfully rare and was not noticed during any of the action scenes. Also at a brief point in the film the picture jumps slightly for a few seconds as if someone lined up the negative wrong. One final note is that while the colors are vibrant there is an unevenness to the level of film grain in some part, most notably darker lit scenes the grain is much more prominent than other times almost as if different qualities of film were used at different times. None of this is horrible in its appearance but it may bother those who dislike grain or inconsistency.

Packaging:
The cover is a stylized picture of the main character in a Kung Fu pose with smoke drifting up which is a nice touch given the presence opium plays in the film. There is a reddish background with some kanji as well as a white banner across width just slightly lower than the center of the case with the film's title. The back has another red background with the main villain's profile as well as an action shot from the climax of the film. There is another white banner lined up with the one on the front that gives the copy as well as a shot of (presumably) the original theatrical trailer as well as stats on the year created as well as naming the director and stars of the film. The release also came with a cardboard sleeve which mirrors the DVD's cover.

Menu:
The menu is a basic affair with the image from the cover presented in 16:9 and some music playing in the background. The menu is fairly quick to respond and there are no long delays in accessing the selections chosen.

Extras:
This feature contains no extras.
There is a pack in card to keep track of all the Shaw Brothers films FUNimation has currently licensed.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film begins with a couple young men patrolling a village from sometime in the 19th century given the look of the village, the opium dens presence and the lack of guns but it is never specifically stated. The men are serving as a militia warning of robbers and fire. They get a start first when a friend startles them and then when one of the people they just talked to as they were passing suddenly yells about having a robber. The men arrive to find two men stealing money and trying to assault a young women. The three militia menbers try to fight the thieves but the two men are too strong and they make an escape from the room. Out on the street the alarm has been sounded and the two thieves fight off a group of militia members who arrive as well as the first three who have caught up. All seems lost when the most skilled member Gua Si is thrown through the air but then master Tie Qiao San (who trained the militia) arrives. The two thieves recognize him and take to the rooftops to try to escape though Tie catches up and kills one of them. Tie is rewarded and praised for his efforts to keep the city safe and his students carry him off to celebrate with the owner of the rice warehouse and a prominent house (and also Gua Si's father) to relax and smoke opium.

The scene moves and time shifts forward as Gua Si and his friend Da Niu are competing in a lion dance using martial arts against their rivals to get a package suspended above the courtyard. Their win leads to them taunting and insulting their rivals at the restaurant after and a large brawl ensues as the Gua Si's cooler head can't get his fellow students to stop fighting. The scene is both spectacularly choreographed and also exhibits a good deal of humor.

The rival gang (who are also allies of the thief who got away at the beginning) leaves with it's leader Zheng promising to take the matter up with Tei. The rivals then meet with Mo who is another large house owner and owns a rice shop in town at odds with Tei's men and they make plans to open an opium den to make money. Mo's sister Xiao Cui meets Gua Si at the local temple as he and Da Nui are being punished by Tei. Gua tries to make small talk with Xiao though he is inept with her as Tei is being dressed down by the head monk-who is also a martial arts master-because his opium smoking is eroding Tei's skills which Tei tries to play off. As the opium den opens some of Tei's men are also visiting it while Gua encounters Xiao and gets onto friendly terms-which are at odds with Mo's desire for her to avoid all the Rice warehouse men.

Gua goes to confront his men at the den and take one of them back to his wife but gets into a fight with their rivals at the den. He fights them off but confronts his master when he spares with him on the fact that not only has Tei not been training him lately but Tei's skills have suffered as well and Gua blames the opium. Gua comes face to face with the cost of opium on another friend and his family and decides to burn the den down. He tells this to Xiao and she convinces him to talk to Tei first. He agrees but as he enters Tei's living quarters he sees Tei smoking opium and leaves instead to accomplish the task he has set for himself. As Gua is working on setting fire to the den the rival gang finds him there and proceed to beat him mercilessly as the thief from before is leading the assault. Tei arrives and learns that his skills have been diluted because of the opium and his pride is crushed when he is defeated and Gua dies from injuries he receives. Tei is then confronted with the choice of beating his addiction or being beaten by it-and that is a fight even a Kung Fu master can't accomplish without a lot of work and help and any slip up may cost him again.

The film features some spectacular choreography and does a good job of developing its main characters who ally with Tei and their motivations and in Tei's case his demons. Watching Tei confront them later is a fairly strong piece of cinema as watching a man so strong laid so weak is both moving and sad. The only downsides is the film is more than a little heavy handed when demonstrating the cost that opium can play-not necessarily to an extreme case but it may come across as a bit strong and melodramatic. A number of the other characters (such as the rival gang and Mo) are never really developed and the humor from the beginning also stands in contrast to the tragedy and dark nature that the film goes into as the story progresses. There are also a few moments where it is clear that the scene is taking place on a sound stage.

In Summary:
Opium and the Kung Fu Master is a film with some amazing choreography and also a good deal of humor that may appeal to many fans of the genera. It does get darker as the film progresses as a good deal of what happens revolves around opium and the effects that addiction can take on different people and those who rely on them. It has a lot going for it but some may find the drug message a touch heavy handed. The film holds up fairly well even with the melodrama aspects as it tries to aim for making the moments more than just charactures but actual results from decisions in the film.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, Cantonese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Reciever with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, JVC DVD player XV-FA95GD

Grade: B
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: N/A
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Hong Kong Godfather

When the spark of betrayal lights the fuse of revenge the resulting explosion has little mercy on the guilty or innocent.

What They Say
The Triad underworld is at war in 1985's Hong Kong Godfather, a blood-splattered tale of revenge, sex, and corruption. A violent new gang is hacking away at crime boss Szetu Han's power. When the old man and his family are viciously murdered, Han's three most trusted men - retired killer Mad Wei, hitman Playboy Lung, and city cop Sergeant Wen - undertake a brutal campaign of street justice. Featuring iconic martial arts villain Shih Chien (Bruce Lee's diabolical nemesis in]Enter the Dragon), Hong Kong Godfather has long been considered one of the hardest to obtain titles from the Shaw Brothers canon-until now.

The Review!
Audio:
The only audio present is Cantonese stereo. With that in mind there are were least no distortions or dropouts during the viewing though it wasn't even the most impressive use of stereo.

Video:
The feature was made in 1985 and is presented in 16:9. It appears to be a decent transfer with only a few moments of aliasing but no other major problems noticed. The film does not look to be restored and there is noticeable grain as well as the fact the film looks it's age and that it may not have been shot on the highest quality film. While it maybe a transfer issue I have noticed some Hollywood titles of a similar age with similar problems so it may be more a product of its time than anything else in terms of overall picture quality.

Packaging:
The packaging is split in half horizontally with a white banner in the middle with Hong Kong written in black type set and Godfather appearing in cursive writing in a bright green. The top and bottom look like a psychedelic with the tops green background and Kanji background and the main three characters (Man, Lung, Wei) tinted with red versus the bottoms red background with Lung and Wein carrying out violence tinted in green. The back follow a similar pattern with the top featuring Chi and the bottom the crime boss Han they all worked for.It also contains a snapshot of what appears to be the original theatrical poster with the three friends on it and details on the year made as well as the director and three stars names. The Disc comes with a cardboard sleeve that mirrors the case.

Menus:
A fairly simple affair with the main three characters from the cover taking up the screen and the white log banner about a fifth of the way up. The menu is quick to respond and some generic music (perhaps from the film...it is really generic) playing in the background.

Extras:
This feature contains no extras. There is a pack in postcard check list for the 15 films from the Shaw Brothers FUNimation has the rights to.

Contentplease note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film begins with two robbers knocking over a gambling establishment in 1982 (and sadly DVD shows up the effect as one can clearly see the "bullet holes" that were drilled to cause the explosions to make it look like bullets are hitting it and causing them) and introduces Jiaxi Lan-presumably to show he is the bad guy as he mercilessly guns people down looking for one person who knows him in particular. The film says he is sentenced to life in prison.

Cut to almost three years later and Playboy Lung who is entertaining a naked women whose name he can't remember when he sees the time and realizes he has to go. As he is speeding down the road a bus that cuts him off happens to be carrying his friend and ex-gang member Wei. Lung discovers this as he has gotten into a fight with the bus driver. Wei is also on the way to boss ("Godfather") Han's birthday and gives Wei a lift after easily handling the bus driver before some of his other colleges take over so he can go. As Lung and Wei are about to enter the building they are confronted by an officer threatening to arrest Wei but turns out to be an old friend named Man (though the DVD cover lists him as Wen) who is a sergeant in the police force. All three men arrive at a very busy party as many higher ups in the underworld and society have come to pay their respects to the boss. The three friends run into Chi, a fellow gangster who is a bit adversarial with Lung as it turns out both are in roughly the same position as a potential successor to the boss-though Lung seems favored. It is learned that Wei left the gang and is raising a plant nursery and trying to raise his 15 year old rebellious daughter alone since he is a widower.

The boss then gets a gift care of another Godfather-Ting No. 3-from Lan (presumably he escaped prison) who is trying to impress Han. Han tries to refuse the gift as he doesn't know Lan. As they are trying to figure out if Ting will return it to Lan a man assaults Chi and it is discovered Chi really has earned the nickname "Rotten" given his poor treatment of someone who owed him money and violating the code the organization lives by. The lack of respect that Lung has for Chi is displayed and Chi is also undercut by Han who compensates the man who attacked Chi. Ting sees an opportunity and makes seemingly sympathetic talk with Chi and discovers Chi has a bit of an inferiority complex. At the table Han talks about retiring and the conversation turns to how Lung would be perfect and Ting notices how Chi is crestfallen no one mentions him. From there the trio of Lung, Wei and Man go out drinking and remembering the past. Wei expresses distrust of Chi who he just met which the other two downplay as they have known him longer and think they have a better read on his character. Wei returns to his home and the conflict with his daughter and her choices in boyfriends is shown (hint: If your would be girlfriends dad used to be in a gang you might not want to be disrespectful).

The scene shifts to Ting's house as Chi is brought in to meet with Lan and is buttered up with both naked female swimmers and money as well as having his ego stroked as Lan says he just wants to get Han to meet with him. It turns out Lan is supported by the mafia and some society members while posing as a legitimate business man but aiming at taking over the underworld. Another shift shows Lung attempting to woo a women he really likes named Connie but just as she is about to finally give in to his advances he gets a call saying the boss is in danger. Lung rushes there to find out Chi made up the danger as he has decided to go along with Lan and try to encourage a meeting between Lan and Han. Lan makes a hard sell to Han about supporting him and his quest to control the underworld which Han refuses to do.

Lan decides that since Han won't join him he will destroy him and gang warfare breaks out with Lan's men attacking Han owned businesses and Han's men. Lung plans to retaliate but makes the plans in Chi's presence and Chi sells them out. Lung is serious wounded in the assault and Chi is put into the position of completing his betrayal and killing Han as with Lung unable to take over the task will fall on Chi. With Han dead and his entire family killed Chi comes to terms with his new power as well as subservience to the one who helped him acquire it while Lan grows in power. Meanwhile the task now falls on Wei and Man to protect a wounded Lung and all three to figure out first who the traitor is and then to get revenge in the only way they know how-gangster style.

The film has a very nice mix of martial arts as well as story telling as it sets up most of the main characters in such a way as one can see their motivations and gain sympathy for some of them even though they are criminals often carrying out brutal actions. The story line is a nice balance of characters and plot, though Lan remains mysterious and a bit of the unexplained villain wanting power for its own sake. There is plenty of blood shed though either the lighting or the type used makes it often look bright pink rather than red. A few characters such a Connie are a tad underdeveloped and she disappears with no warning or real explanation. There are also a few places where product placement are not subtle. Also for those who may wish to know there is some full female nudity and a film act of violence against a dog.

In Summary:
Hong Kong Godfathers is a high action film about the bonds that unite some in the criminal world while also the events that drive some to betrayal. It presents a front of an organization that looks mostly harmless but when one looks deeper the find the underlying violence that exists which is carried out in some frenetic and fairly spectacular action scenes. It is well choreographed and fairly well accomplishes the task of showing how the characters come to take the actions that they do a well as the dire chain of events and consequences that come from these choices.

Features
Cantonese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Reciever with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, JVC DVD player XV-FA95GD

Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: N/A
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Orphen Season 1 and 2


A lazy sorcerer, his new apprentice, a selfish girl and a dragon that looks like a dog maybe all that stand between some ambitious people and/or the end of the world.

It might be time to start packing.

What They Say:
He was the star student at the Tower of Fang, the most prestigious (if somewhat treacherous) university of magic in the land! Unfortunately, when you're tracking down a deadly dragon known as the Bloody August, even a master's degree in spelling is just so much help! Given that his old alma mater will do almost anything to get him back and that there are plenty of other rogues, monsters and general cut-throats out for his blood, this may explain why Orphen's willing to take any help he can get; even if it's from such unlikely sources as diminutive trolls, air-headed heiresses, and junior magicians whose training is, to be polite, rather incomplete. On the other hand, it could just be that he's crazy!

There's black magic, dark sorcery and trolls with attitude galore as, at long last, both complete Orphen series Sorcerous Stabber Orphen and Sorcerous Stabber Orphen: Revenge are combined in a single epic complete collection

The Review!
Audio:
For the purposes of this review the original Japanese audio track was used. The Japanese track is a 2.0 track that mostly uses the center speaker for the dialogue. There were a few instances of dropout during the first disc but after that the rest of the discs played without dropouts or distortions. Spot checking of the English track during those moments failed to produce the effect there so they seem to be limited to the original track.

Video:
The video quality doesn’t hold up as well. Having been produced in 1999 the series is in 4:3 format and shows its age a bit. While the colors are vibrant and the blacks free of problems the screen has numerous moments where the screen jumps-sometimes quite often in a short span of time. There are also the usual pops and scratches that accompany most cell TV programs. There is also a considerable level of noise that can be noticed and stands out from the grain. A few moments of color bleed and aliasing can be found as well. Outside the noise nothing that is too uncommon in many anime discs but this series does present a unique problem. Starting with episode 11 and lasting the entire first season the subtitle encodes are faulty. At times there will either be a line across the screen just above them or the bottom of other words-presumably from the lines just before or after-can be seen just above them. Even better the PS3 cannot process these errors and when they are on screen the entire screen turns a reddish shade of purple. Anyone wanting to see this series subbed would do well to think about looking for an older release as these flaws are terribly distracting to completely not playable depending on your player.

Packaging:
The packaging for this series is in two 4 disc Stackpaks with a slipcover to contain hem. The front of the slip cover features the emblem for the Tower of Fangs as well as the series title over it. The sides each have a different image of Orphen casting magic. The back has a close up of Orphen holding the Sword of Baltanders in front of his face with a really good look at the design of the sword. There is an insert over it given the specs of the story as well as the box copy and six stills from the series as well. The first StackPak has an image of Orphen in the center biting his glove as if adjusting it with a bright and smiling Cleao in front of him and a profile view of Majic behind him. The back lists the episodes and has a side view of Orphen. The second season set has Cleao talking to Lycoris while she is leaning on top of a perturbed looking Orphen’s head. The back has a pointing Cleao with Leki holding on to her head. Both sets and the slip cover have a black and grey marble look for the boarder that really adds to the imagery.

Menus:
The menus are all basic affairs with the title on the screen as well as the various selections. They are all colorful and marble patterned and have music from the series playing in the background. Choosing between options is fast and when selected the menu responds at a decent rate.

Extras:
Clean Open/Close, Production Sketches, Japanese TV Spots, Cape Day & Other Silliness, Second Clean Open/Close, Interview with the Japanese Cast & Staff, Outtakes, Second Season Clean Open/Close, more Outtakes, Second Clean Open/Close, Outtakes and finally even more Outtakes.
The extras on this set seem like an oasis in the desert of the releases that have been coming out lately as this set seems to all but throw the kitchen sink at the viewer.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Orphen introduces the viewer to a world that has many similarities to a medieval setting in our own but also a good number of differences-Sorcery, canned food and the presence of ruins of a previous great civilization know as Heavenly beings among then. In this world there exists an organization of sorcerers know as the Tower of Fangs who both train future sorcerers but also look to research and keep the ruins of the Heavenly beings under tight wrap as no small number of them contain artifacts of great power-mostly of the destructive kind. Like many powerful organizations they greatly value their reputation and quickly eschew those who make great mistakes that may tarnish their reputation.

In this world exists a young man who calls himself Orphen and who was a promising member of the Tower of Fangs before he left on a personal quest to help one of the people who made such a mistake believing he is the only one who cares enough to help her. As he finds a city where he believes he can make contact he falls under the gaze of a young woman (Cleao) who sees his profile and a year later still carries a torch for him. During the year from his first appearance before her he takes on a young apprentice Majic who lives in the town though his father who owns a local tavern suspects that Orphen may be stringing his son along to make money while doing nothing. Cleao finally returns home from boarding school to discover that a young man has been peeping on her sister for the past year and also peeps on her. As she storms out she encounters the young man she remembers and her illusions of him are shattered. It turns out however that Orphen is not peeping on either sister but keeping track of a sword in the family’s possession known as the Sword of Baltanders. Orphen has even placed two short comic relief characters in the house to also keep an eye on it while paying back a debt the older sibling owes Orphen.

As Orphen tries to defend himself from Cleao’s verbal assault and clumsy swinging of the sword which she grabbed on her way out the skies darken and the wind picks up unnaturally while black lightning streak from the sky. Orphen has Majic grab Cleao and take her back to the family’s manor as something dangerous is forthcoming. Majic recognizes the signs as a portent of the arrival of Bloody August-a giant monster that has appeared destroying cities over the last few years. As reality is ripped in front of Orphen a giant menacing dragon-Bloody August-emerges and towers over him. Rather than trying to fight it however he addresses it as Azalie and says he now has the Sword of Baltanders as he tries to calm the creature saying he will figure out a way to save her but the sword can’t do it alone. As it looks like he is about to finish a capture spell on it a fireball interrupts him and allows Bloody August to escape. The fireball was thrown by Childman, one of the top sorcerers in the Tower of Fangs and also at
one time Orphen’s mentor. As harsh words are cast by Orphen about Childman’s attempt to kill Bloody August rather than save her Childman’s cold demeanor only serve to further enflame Orphen. As he leaves he assigns his apprentice and Orphen’s former friend Hartia to watch over the manor as he has some suspicions that he doesn’t voice.

Hartia instead decides to challenge his old friend whose real name is Krylancelo the real danger of Bloody August is revealed. The creature posses the reasoning ability of a human and came to the conclusion that by kidnapping Cleao and her sister it could exchange them for the sword. Despite Hartia trying to stand in his way Orphen makes his way to the place where Bloody August is holding the two women. As Orphen is again trying to reason with it and contain it Childman again appears and looks to be standing in Orphen’s way. During the standoff Bloody August gets a hold of the sword and rather than curing it the creature further mutates. This causes Bloody August to leave and Childman and Hartia then return to come up with a new strategy. Orphen decides to set out to try to find more about the sword while being accompanied with his apprentice Majic who wants more training and the stowaway Cleao who is searching for some adventure.

The series then introduces the audience to more of the world and introduced are some of the more mystical wonders of the world including a village that worships the Deep Dragons. Deep Dragons are a race of incredibly powerful giant creatures that appear as wolves and the child of which appears to be a small blue pup that takes to Cleao and follows her which she names Leki. As the group travels they continue to cross paths with both Volcan and his sibling as well as danger as the layers of Orphen’s past and his relationship with Azalie and the path that lead them and Childman to the place where they currently reside are revealed. Along the way the group faces giant monsters, the arrival of a masked hero who also bears a relation to Orphen and his past and more stunning to Orphen that Childman may not be the heartless being Orphen imagines him as being. As the series progresses further machinations from the Tower of Fangs are reveled along with a new opponent as well a sliver of hope when it is discovered that not everyone’s goals are as they have been made out to be. The story takes a twist with a major act of treachery and a change in two major parts of the story that further deepens the tragedy underlying the events leading up to the creation of Bloody August and any possible resolution. Will Orphen be able to continue fighting when motivations are laid raw and the very one he was trying to save turns on him? Will he gain the strength to finally be able to properly wield the Sword of Baltanders? Even if he does, do some sins carry such a deep price that salvation may not even be possible?

With Orphen’s previous task accomplished he now has nothing motivating him but having a good time and being lazy. The second series picks up on this lack of a clear path by engaging in more humor and often a very monster of the week approach to episodes. Rather than have an obsessed and goal driven Orphen it chooses to focus on the groups day to day functions and their discovery of a plot that will wind up engulfing Orphen if he makes a misstep in the journey to discover who is trying to get him and why. The second season-titled Orphen’s Revenge-begins with the three humans and the Deep Dragon having joined back together to journey once more as they seek a good time and trouble seeks them. A few new gags are introduced in that Majic is now a character who has an uncanny ability to unconsciously sway women while Cleao keeps sleep walking into Orphen’s bed and using Leki to blow him up every morning. The season also introduces a new character in Lycoris Nielson who says she is looking to scout Orphen for the Royal Public Order of the Knighthood.

The second season starts with Orphen having terrible nightmares of a bizarre place and various people in his life. After he wakes up and receives his morning blasting from a half-asleep Cleo she pushes the group to go to a local hot springs town. This is complicated by the efforts of those who control the town to keep Orphen from bathing in any of the waters at any cost. As Orphan is battling the local thugs who are aided by Volcan and (a less than willing) Dortin and discovering the secret that they were trying to keep him from a brand new type of enemy suddenly attacks. In the process of defeating the new enemy Orphen also rescues Lycoris who follows Orphen attempting to get him to come with her for a meeting with her superiors at the Royal Public Order of the Knighthood. As the group travels they continue to run into more of the new type of monsters while also facing troubles with ghost possessions, former Tower of Fangs’ sorcerers seeking eternal life at any cost, fish bones in the throat as well as what might be the ultimate test of the groups cohesiveness-running out of money. Along the way old friends will return, a masked hero will be reborn and gain a partner in crime fighting and an old rival may have returned from the grave looking for revenge. Even more daunting might be the prospect of having to find part time jobs to continue to fund their journey.

With all this on their plate it may be impossible for the group to continue to advance-but if they do what will they learn about the strange red haired woman who appears in odd places playing a piano and seems to be following them, Orphen’s nightmares and the bizarre dreams that Lycoris has been having that suggest there maybe something deeper about her than appears on the surface. And what role does the Tower of Fangs play in the whole situation and could it possibly be that a long believed extinct race may not be as gone as advertised? And will Orphen and his friends have the power to seize a happy end for their new friend or will tragedy rule the day?

Orphen is an enjoyable sword and sorcery series that was fun to revisit after the better part of a decade. The characters are still fun and shine when the script gives them the opportunity to do so. It is fun watching the growth of the timid Majic, the selfish Cleo and the obsessed Orphen as the events play out. The first series holds together a bit better as Orphen having a goal seems to focus the characters in a way that the monster of the week stuff in the second season doesn’t quite do, which is a shame as there are some strong characters to be found there and a potential for them to have really shined seems to have been missed. Also the video is not the best to come out of the late 90’s but holds up fairly well. The biggest problem is the change in tenor from the first to second season as the second season seems to play up gags to a far greater extent than the first though neither shy from situational humor to keep the story from getting too dark.

In Summary:
Orphen and its sequel Orphen’s Revenge are a fun trip with some interesting characters put in to some fantastic situations. The mix of drama and humor may not be for everyone and the second season’s even greater use of gags while seeming to be lacking a cohesive plot maybe off putting to some but those who enjoy a series that can balance (normally fairly well) the split between heavy drama and comedy would do well to give this series a try. Note: PS3 users who want to watch the series subtitled need to go looking for one of the older editions of this title as this version has issues the PS3 cannot process.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Open/Close, Production Sketches, Japanese TV Spots, Cape Day & Other Silliness, Second Clean Open/Close, Interview with the Japanese Cast & Staff, Outtakes, Second Season Clean Open/Close, more Outtakes, Second Clean Open/Close

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, JVC DVD player XV-FA95GD, PS3 set to upscale.

Grade: B
Audio Rating: B_
Video Rating: C-/F
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A+
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Shaolin Prince

Two princes in hiding for 20 years must combine their martial arts abilities to overthrow the villain who usurped their birthright and is making life miserable for the common man.

What They Say
Twin brothers are marked for death by an iron-fingered villain who covets the throne on which they were born to sit. Starring Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow, The Legend of Drunken Master) and written by the legendary Jing Wong (Naked Killer, God of Gamblers), this Shaw Brothers' masterpiece introduced audiences to the 18 Buda attack, a fire-fisted assassin, holy fools with deadly moves, badass brothers bent on revenge, and a magic sword with the power to exorcise your demons!

The Review!
Audio:
For the purposes of this review the Mandarin audio track was selected. The track exists as a mono track only but it is a very good representation of the effort that can go into such a track. There are no distortions or dropouts noticeable during the feature and the dialogue comes through clear and is never muddled do to background music or effects.

Video:
The video is disappointing on a number of fronts. Originally shot in 1982 the feature is presented in 16:9 but is not anamorphic. Another flaw in the presentation is that characters and objects at the edges of the screen are distorted because of the filming method used. The film picture is also softer than some of the Shaw Brothers other works and at times there are color fluctuations as white clothing sometimes turns yellowish likely do to print damage.

Packaging:
The front cover features a shot of the younger brother with sword drawn in a combat stance while the far right has a half picture of the older brother looking to be in a meditation pose that takes up a bit more than half the cover. The logo then takes up about 20% and the bottom of the cover has a picture of Lord 9 with his iron hand extended. The back features both brothers with swords drawn and a black and white picture of Lord 9 between them. There is also a small banner with the original Ctheatrical poster shown and the details of year released, director and stars names. Like FUNimation's other Shaw releases this feature comes with a cardboard slipcover that mirrors the cover.

Menus:
The main menu is a close up of the two brothers from the front cover art with a track from the movie played in the background. The scene select screen uses the black and white image of Lord 9 from the back against the blue and yellow-white background seen there and the audio menu uses a blue and yellow-white pattern fond on the inside cover that appears on a number of Shaw Brothers' works. The menu is basic but quick to respond to chosen selections.

Extras:
The feature contains no extras.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The film opens with the rightful ruler of the lands castle under assault by traitors acting in the name of Lord 9. In order to keep the country from falling to him the ruler entrusts he two most loyal retainers with his most precious treasures-one gets the treasured sword while the other gets the imperial jade seal-but each is given an even more important item as they are each charged with the care of one of the very young princes. Before the retainers can escape Lord 9's men breach the castle and attempt to capture everyone.

The ruler foresaw the possibility and the other members of his personal guard as well as the two most trusted are dressed identically-each carrying a sword, pouch that looks like it could hold the seal and a small child. When the fight goes poorly the ruler is taken hostage in hopes the princes and treasures will be handed over. The dedication of the ruler is underestimated as he uses the weapon threatening him to take his own life so his men are not torn in their duty. The retainers then manage to elude the invaders and escape the castle.

As the retainers attempt to flee the land they encounter two powerful opponents working for Lord 9-the Fire and Water generals who are capable of using the elements they are named after to their great advantage. The fight is disastrous for the retainers as the men carrying the princes are split up and only four retainers escape. Lord 9 confronts the retainer with the crown prince and seal and overwhelms the 3 retainers though the one with the prince escapes. As the lone retainer manages to get the younger prince to the sympathetic Prime Minister the other retainer can only get the crown prince to the Shaolin Temple's disciplinary hall.

There three very talented but incredibly eccentric monks who are being punished witness the retainer's demise. The monks decide to save the child but the retainer lives just long enough to pass along the seal but not the child's identity. The three monks decide to raise him themselves since he can leave the punishment hall that they are forbidden to and create some of the trouble they miss making.

20 some years then pass in a flash and the crown prince is seen practicing his martial arts. As he attempts to come to where his masters have called him he experiences some lessons from his masters that are actually more like pranks. At the same time the younger prince is suddenly set upon by an assassin at the Prime Minister's residence. His training in the martial arts as he overcomes the task and finds the assassin was actually the last retainer who had been training him the last 20 some years giving him on final test. While the younger prince is skilled in swordsmanship the retainer fears he still is no match for Lord 9's skills.

The film then intercuts scenes of the two brothers going about their training as the younger one tries to figure out how to beat Lord 9 and hide his skills when Lord 9 arrives at the Prime Minister's house and sets upon him while the older brother will have to deal with a set of spies in the Shaolin temple as well as the envy and loathing of some of his fellow monks who he does not train with everyday. With spies about to discover the identity of the younger brother he sets out for the Shaolin Temple to learn the last arts he may need to beat Lord 9 and runs into his brother who is performing an exorcism. The elder brother leads the younger to the Shaolin Temple where machinations put both in the cross hairs of the Temple elders. With mutual foes the two unite to challenge Lord 9. Will their combined forces be enough, and will the true identities of the two become known to all?

Shaolin Prince presents some beautifully choreographed fighting that includes some very good wire works and effects. The story plays out in almost a Shakespearean manner with the brothers first becoming allies, the temporary foes before going back to allies and the audience waiting for the big revelation of identities to be know. On the downside it seems that the Shaw Brothers were not handed their largest budget for the film as the film stock itself seems poor and many of the sets lack the care and attention other of their pieces had to disguise their nature. One scene in particular near the climax is particularly noteworthy as in the close up of Lord 9 one can clearly see the studio doors behind him that were painted to become part of the set.

In Summary:
Shaolin Prince is yet another ambitious undertaking by the Shaw Brothers. While fans of the genera will find lots to love (including the most interesting fight involving a palanquin that I have ever seen) non fans will likely find that the reach of the filmmakers exceeded their grasp. There are a good number of ideas and characters presented but few get fully developed and a few events seem to transpire more because the film needs to bridge a scene than to really add depth to what is going on. Overall it is an enjoyable work that is missing a bit of meat to it to connect all the ideas together in a way that seems less than just superficial.

Features
Mandarin 1.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B-
Video Rating: C-
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: NA