Yamada: Way of the Samurai (Blu-ray) (2010)

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Released 22-Nov-2012

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Historical Epic Audio Commentary-Asian film expert Bey Logan
Featurette-Masters of the Ring
Trailer-UK trailer, Original Theatrical trailer
Trailer-x 4 for other films
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 91:10 (Case: 90)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Nopporn Watin
Studio
Distributor
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Seigi Ozeki
Kanokkorn Jaicheun
Sorapong Chatree
Winai Kraibutr
Thanawut Ketsaro
Buakaw Banchamek
Somjit Jongjohor
Bin Bunluerit
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Paphas Silp
Nantapat Amornchai


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Thai DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Thai Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Japanese samurai Yamada Nagamasa (Seigi Ozeki) has moved to the kingdom of Ayothaya (Siam) to start a new life after his master in Japan was defeated in battle. In Ayothaya he joins a group of Japanese mercenaries in the service of King Naresuan, helping to fend off attacks from the neighbouring Hongsawadee king. When Japanese dressed as Hongsawadee soldiers are killed attacking an Ayothaya village, Yamada is asked by his chief to investigate. Before he can make any progress he is attacked by a group of ninjas and badly wounded. He is, however, saved by some Thai villagers led by Kham (Thanawut Ketsaro) and taken back to their village where Yamada is healed by wise monk Phra Khruu (Sorapong Chatree). In the village Yamada becomes attached to Kham’s sister Champa (Kanokkorn Jaicheun) and comes to appreciate the simplicity of the villagers’ values. He also, under the tutelage of Monk Phra, learns “Muay Thai” fighting techniques which, when blended with his samurai sword training, make him a formidable martial artist, so much so that he becomes a bodyguard for King Naresuan. But before he can settle into life in Ayothaya, Yamada must return to confront his old Japanese comrades.

     Yamada: Way of the Samurai (also called Samurai Ayothaya and Yamada – The Samurai of Ayothaya) is based, we are told at the beginning, on historical fact and the imagination of the producers, an interesting but not unusual juxtaposition. The real Yamada Nagamasa was indeed a Japanese man who rose to positions of trust in the kingdom of Ayothaya, dying in 1633. Unfortunately, this film about his early life in Ayothaya does not do him justice.

     I enjoy historical epics, martial arts films and Asian and Thai cinema and really wanted to like Yamada: Way of the Samurai; but this was difficult as the film does a number of things not very well. The plot is really two different films, with the Japanese subplot relegated to the first 20 minutes and the last 10 minutes of the film. In the middle Yamada: Way of the Samurai becomes one of those films where the hero drops out of sight after being defeated / wounded and from a monk / master hones his fighting skills while being integrated, and appreciating, a different, simpler, way of life. But there are many martial arts films, such as The Prodigal Son (1982), which have done this better, for during this section of Yamada: Way of the Samurai the interest comes to a grinding halt. The training scenes are perfunctory and the film is mired by far too much dialogue, including tracts of Buddhist philosophy and discussion about the nature of duty to King and country. It also does not help that the “love interest” between Yamada and Champa has no spark, and the acting by both Seigi Ozeki and Kanokkorn Jaicheun stilted.

     There is also nothing subtle about the story or the storytelling. When we first see the female lead, for example, the camera gives her a long, lingering reveal in soft light (and she is indeed very beautiful) with swelling music; the annoying young child is introduced with a jaunty theme and there is never any doubt who is good, or who bad. I think the main issue is that the film tries to be far too reverential to Thai history, the Buddhist philosophy and monkhood and the legacy of Yamada, and loses sight of what makes a good historical epic.

     This would not matter in the end if the action sequences were spectacular and worthwhile but in Yamada: Way of the Samurai they are a mixed bag. The unarmed Muay Thai unarmed combat scenes between real Thai fighters is brutal and exhilarating, showing the full range of contact with punches, kicks, knees and elbows without trickery (except for a bit of slow motion), excessive wirework or CGI. This reality makes the other fight scenes with edged weapons look ponderous in contrast, as extras just stand around waiting to be run through, not shaping up to deliver any blows. In these sections there is also a lot of CGI swords piercing bodies and CGI blood that looks very unrealistic and, in one combat, 10 Ayothaya fighters defeat 200 enemy tribesmen almost without breaking into a sweat.

     Yamada: Way of the Samurai tries to be worthy but ends up staid and slow, the action mostly uninspiring. If you want to see a Thai historical epic covering a similar period check out the far superior Bang-Rajan (2000), reviewed on this site here.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Yamada: Way of the Samurai is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the original ratio, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     This is not the sharpest HD print but close-up detail is reasonably good and some of the colours absolutely beautiful, with vibrant golds, yellows and reds: for example the costumes and colours at 69:42. The main issue is that the film has a lot of night sequences, most of which show excessive digital noise leading to mottled backgrounds, blacks that are not solid and indistinct shadow detail; see 4:27 or 30:15 for only a couple of examples. The wide shot at 7:05 is also almost a blur. Elsewhere, skin tones, especially the oiled and bronzed Thai male bodies, were natural enough, contract and brightness consistent.

     There is minor blurring with some motion, but otherwise marks were absent.

     English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and seemed error free.

     While there were some spectacular scenes and colours, this HD print evinced excessive digital noise.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is a choice of Thai DTS-HD MA 5.1 or Thai Dolby Digital 2.0. There is also an English audio commentary track.

     The 5.1 audio is loud and enveloping. The dialogue is clear and centred, the surrounds frequently employing music and ambient sounds, such as insect noises, in the quieter sections. During the action sequences there are swishes and thumps but they are often drowned out by the music which is very loud, employing a lot of percussion. Indeed, the music score by Paphas Silp was frequently overpowering, being very epic and bombastic even in some of the non-action sequences. The subwoofer provided support to the thumps and the music, but did call attention to itself on occasion.

     Lip synchronisation was excellent.

     An enveloping audio, somewhat unbalanced by the overwhelming musical score.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Trailers

     On start-up there were trailers for Act of Grace (0:54), Yellow Rock (1:47), Lifted (2:14) and Elevator (1:43).

Trailer Gallery

     The UK trailer (1:35) and the Original Theatrical trailer (3:26).

Masters of the Ring (38:16)

     With some dramatic film music playing, the head coach of the Essex Kickboxing Academy in England and a couple of his champion fighters talk about, and demonstrate, the techniques of Muay Thai fighting. There is discussion about the differences between Thai and European techniques, the difference between Muay Thai and other traditional martial arts, the legacy of Ayothaya and the influence of Bruce Lee. It includes some footage from Yamada: Way of the Warrior but really this is nothing to do with the film. Of interest to martial arts fans I guess but for those interested only in film it goes on too long.

Audio Commentary – Bey Logan

     Bey Logan is an Asian film expert based in Hong Kong who has provided numerous good value commentaries for Hong Kong Legends and CineAsia releases. He speaks non-stop about the real historical figures, the locations, the martial arts styles, the actors, the score, Buddhism the Thai Royal Family and the Thai film industry. He is knowledgeable and humorous and is a pleasure to listen to; indeed, this is an instance where the commentary is better than the film itself!

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region A US release is called Muay Thai Warrior. It has the same specifications but includes only a trailer as an extra. The Region B UK is similar to our release, but in addition to the audio commentary and trailers it includes four deleted scenes. That may or may not be sufficient to consider importing. Reviews of both these alternative releases indicate that the video has the same issues as our release.

Summary

     I really wanted to like Yamada: Way of the Samurai but the storytelling is staid and slow, the action mostly uninspiring. It is hard to recommend except for fans of Thai films, and even then there are far better examples.

     The video shows excessive digital noise, the audio is good. The extras are mixed, but include an excellent commentary by Asian film expert Bey Logan that is well worth a listen.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, June 17, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
runtime & WHO plays the villain? -
different cuts? -