Review for Dreadnaught
Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, the three kings of the golden age of Hong Kong martial arts movies; yet when it comes to Blu-rays, the last few years have seen many of the classic Chan movies come to the UK, and some seriously decent chunks of the Sammo Hung back catalogue revisited in high definition, Not so much when it comes to Yuen Biao, although naturally the films where he starred with his ‘brothers’ have been released. It is understandable though; Yuen Biao doesn’t quite have the same star power as Chan, and when it comes to acting, he doesn’t have the same kind of charisma as Hung. But when it comes to martial arts and action ability, he may just be the most impressive of the three. And finally, companies like 88 Films, Arrow and Eureka Entertainment, that have been championing classic kung fu movies of late, are turning their attention to Yuen Biao’s back catalogue. This spring, Eureka are beginning with two films, Dreadnaught and Knockabout. I previously reviewed Dreadnaught on Hong Kong Legends’ DVD, and I feel I should know what to expect.
Mok Geung is a timid sort of a chap. He runs a laundry service with his feistier sister, but has trouble working up the confidence simply to collect the money due, let alone actually stand up for himself. He has something working in his favour though, best friend Foon is a martial artist who tries to give him a little confidence, and Foon’s sifu is the legendary Wong Fei-Hung. Now if only Mok Geung could work up the courage to ask to become his student. Trouble is heading their way though, as notorious criminal White-Fronted Tiger is looking for a place to hide from the authorities, and he takes refuge with the local Opera troupe. Soon corpses are piling up, and Mok Geung will be called on to find that hidden courage within. Years of working with laundry have given him some unexpected skills though.
Dreadnaught receives a 2k restoration for HD presentation, and it’s a completely different experience from the old DVD release. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are excellent and colours are rich and consistent. I did feel that reds were a tad over-saturated and contrast was a little lacking in darker scenes, but this is par for the course for a film of this vintage and setting. The action comes across with more clarity than ever before, and you get a proper filmic experience, which of course is the whole point. You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Mono Cantonese and English, as well as an alternate English Home Video dub, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track translating screen text. I went with the Cantonese and found it more than fine, clear throughout, with no distortion or dropout. The action has the required impact, and the music is clear and warm. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, and for this release, we get a new translation. Gone is ‘Mousy’ to be replaced by the character’s actual name, ‘Mok Geung’.
The first run release from Eureka will get a 28-page booklet with writing on the film from James Oliver, along with plenty of stills and production imagery.
The disc boots to a static menu, and you’ll find the following extras.
Commentary with Frank Djeng and Michael Worth
Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
Archival Interview with Lily Li (21:44)
Original Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer (4:51)
US Home Video Trailer (1:33)
On the surface Dreadnaught bears a passing resemblance to the Jackie Chan film, Young Master. Both films have a lion dance, a violent escaped criminal on the loose, and a young hero in over his head. Dreadnaught manages much more thematically however, and quickly differentiates itself. It’s by parts comedy, action movie, psychological thriller, and even has a hint of the supernatural about it. What’s impressive is that it manages to get all this to work together.
Yuen Biao impresses as the cowardly Mok Geung, and in a similar way to Jackie Chan’s reluctant hero, it’s interesting to see a hero who would rather avoid confrontation and runs from a fight. Of course when the chips are down there has to be some serious kung fu. The main villain of the piece is an interesting character. White-Fronted Tiger’s introduction is very much in the style of a Spaghetti Western, and that theme continues for the character, as he remains a man of few words in this film. His introduction also sows the seeds of his psychosis. You can understand why he is a serial killer, what sets him off, and why he hides behind a painted face. It is a depth of characterisation that goes beyond what I have typically seen in this genre of film. Yuen Woo-Ping of the Matrix fame directs, and as you would expect, the action scenes are excellent, with not a wire to be seen. This film comes from that era when action scenes were carefully choreographed with tens of moves in a cut. It’s truly a pleasure to watch.
In many ways Dreadnaught is a typical film of the period, with slapstick comedy combined with drama to entertaining effect. But a little more thought has gone into the film to make it more than the sum of its parts. It’s never going to inspire philosophical debate, but there is enough under the bonnet to give something to think about after the credits have rolled.
I thought that the Hong Kong Legends DVD release was good when I initially watched it, but what did I know? This era has been a second golden age for people that want to appreciate the original golden age of Hong Kong martial arts cinema. The high definition restorations these films have been getting of late are bringing them to audiences as never before, and the quality can shame higher profile Hollywood studios that neglect their back catalogues. Dreadnaught looks spectacular on this disc, and the only sticking point might be the paucity of extra features outside of the new commentaries.