The Prodigal Son (Bai Ga Jai): Special Collector's Edition (1982)

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Released 23-May-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Comedy Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Bey Logan (Hong Kong Cinema Expert)
Notes-Tribute To Lam Ching-ying
Theatrical Trailer-2
Interviews-Cast-The Heroic Trio: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao And Frankie Chan
Featurette-Life Imitating Art: An Interview With Guy Lai
Notes-The Art Of Wing Chun
Trailer-Hong Kong Legends
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1982
Running Time 99:59
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (92:29) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Studio
Distributor
Fortune Star
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Biao Yuen
Ching-Ying Lam
Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Frankie Chan
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music Frankie Chan


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The prodigal son of the title is Leung Chang (Yuen Biao), known in his native Fut Shan as the Street Brawler, the best martial artist in the town. But unbeknownst to him, his rich father has been paying his opponents to lose, and his martial arts teachers to delude him into thinking he is a superb martial artist.

    When the female opera singer with the travelling opera company rejects the advances of one of Chang's friends, Chang goes to confront him. But the opera singer is actually a man, Leung Yee Tai (Lam Ching-Ying), and he soon demonstrates to Chang that his kung fu is no good. Finally realising the truth, Chang begs Yee Tai to take him as a disciple, but Yee Tai refuses. So Chang has his father buy the opera company which then takes Chang on as an extra.

    In another town Yee Tai is confronted by Ngai (Frankie Chan), a martial artist of some talent who wanders around looking for masterful opponents. Ngai challenges him to a duel, which ends without a result when Ngai realises that Yee Tai is unwell (he suffers from asthma). But it turns out that Ngai is also a prodigal son; while he is a talented martial artist, his father has paid his bodyguards to kill anyone who might injure his son. The bodyguards hire some Chinese Ninja to kill everyone in the opera troupe, but Yee Tai manages to escape with the help of Chang. Yee Tai goes to stay with his kung fu brother Wong Wa Po (Sammo Hung) to recuperate, and here he learns that it is wrong not to pass on his skills to Chang.

    This film is often described as the best or at least one of the best of the traditional martial arts films. Such accolades are often erroneous, but not in this case. This is a very entertaining film with spectacular and exciting fight sequences. The kung fu style used by Leung Yee Tai is Wing Chun, designed for close-in combat. While it was not generally thought of as a style appropriate for the cinema, director Sammo Hung and his action directors have portrayed it on the screen as well as could be imagined. The choreography is superb. Not just in the fights, but also in the training sessions and Wong Wa Po's martial arts calligraphy.

    Leung Chang (or more correctly Leung Jan), Leung Yee Tai and Wong Wa Po were real Wing Chun martial artists in the middle of the 19th Century. From what I can gather the story of the film is mostly made up, though the Peking Opera company to which Leung Yee Tai belongs also really existed.

    The film also has comedy relief, supplied by Wong Wa Po and his daughter Twiggy (the name is ironic). For once the comedy is actually funny rather than just silly, and I found myself laughing out loud several times.

    Lam Ching-Ying was a graduate of a Peking Opera school and had a long career in kung fu films. Although he is probably best known as the One-Eyebrowed Priest in the Mr Vampire series, here he plays a no-eyebrowed female impersonator. His martial arts skills do not pale in comparison to kung fu legends Hung and Biao. Nor do those of Frankie Chan, who adopts a Northern style for his Manchu character. The acting throughout is excellent, even in minor roles. Frequent viewers of Hong Kong films will recognise Wu Ma as a red-nosed man with a pockmarked face at the beginning of the movie, while regulars from 1970s kung fu films like James Tien also have small roles. Dick Wei plays one of Ngai's bodyguards.

    The direction by Sammo Hung is excellent, and the production design has lots of detail. The film requires more than one viewing to be fully appreciated. Anyone who enjoys kung fu films will want to watch this more than twice.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Unfortunately, some aspects of the transfer are disappointing.

    The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The major problem with the transfer is smearing of the image. This is probably due to the use of noise reduction filters, as there is no grain evident. This means that motion causes some slight blurring. While the transfer is reasonably sharp, the continual motion of the actors and the camera renders the result less than ideal. It is watchable, and certainly the excessive noise reduction problems are not severe, but it does detract from the visual experience.

    The print also seems a little lacking in vividness when compared to other Hong Kong Legends restorations. Judging by some screencap comparisons I have seen, the transfer is a little dark. Colour is also a little bland and lacking in life. It appears to be slightly faded in comparison to the Region 1 release. Again, it is not a severe problem but it could have been better. Where the Region 4 does suffer is in shadow detail, which is not very good at all. This is not helped by blacks appearing to be blue, as can be seen across the bottom of the screen at 86:50.

    The transfer is relatively clear of other artefacts. There is some aliasing, but it is very faint and appears as a slight jagged appearance to diagonal straight lines. Film artefacts are few. There are a couple of instances where short horizontal translucent lines appear. If I was watching the film in a cinema I would guess that there were tears in the screen. I presume that this is some form of negative damage.

    The optional English subtitles are well-timed, free of any spelling errors and are in an easy to read font.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change placed at 92:29 at a cut. It is not disruptive.

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

Audio

    Unlike other releases in the Hong Kong Legends range, the film has just a two-channel track, in Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0, with an alternative English-dubbed version. The Cantonese track seems to be mono as I did not notice any stereo separation in the effects or the music.

    It's something of a relief to review one of these films with the original audio configuration rather than a remastered surround presentation. The audio is adequate, with clear dialogue and effects. The music sounds a little boxy and anything loud is slightly distorted, but otherwise the sound is acceptable.

    As with virtually every Hong Kong film made prior to the mid-1990s, The Prodigal Son was shot silent, with a professional dubbing studio providing the audio track later. Audio sync here is not too bad, though it is rarely perfect.

    The music is by Frankie Chan, who apart from being an actor is a composer, director and writer. And probably a few other things as well. Much of the score is compiled from other sources, with only some of it original. It works well and there are no serious anachronisms.

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

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

    A short animated introduction.

Menu Animation & Audio

    The menu has some generic music plus animated graphics and scenes from the film.

Audio Commentary-Bey Logan (Hong Kong Cinema Expert)

    As usual, an enthusiastic and detailed commentary by Bey Logan, who was actually on the set at one time. Apart from identifying most of the actors and stunt men and giving some biographical information, he also explains Wing Chun and how it was used in the film. Well worth listening to in order to increase your appreciation of the movie.

Notes-Tribute To Lam Ching-Ying

    Twenty-one screens of text detailing the life and career of the late Lam Ching-Ying, who died from liver cancer at the age of 45.

Theatrical Trailers (6:28)

    A Hong Kong Legends promotional trailer and an original theatrical trailer.

Interviews-Cast-The Heroic Trio: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao And Frankie Chan (26:53)

    A series of separate interviews cut together, plus clips from the feature. Each discusses aspects of his work on the film. Both Sammo and Frankie speak in English, while Biao is subtitled.

Featurette-Life Imitating Art: An Interview With Guy Lai (27:49)

    This is an interview with the Wing Chun Grandmaster who served as a consultant on the film. Included are demonstrations of the technique.

Notes-The Art Of Wing Chun

    Nine pages of notes explaining this martial art and its history.

Trailers-Eastern Condors, The Big Boss, Story of Ricky, Mr Vampire and Project A (8:02)

    Trailers for other Hong Kong Legends releases.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 is a port of the UK Region 2 release, with different trailers and additional Dutch subtitles.

    The US Region 1 release has surround tracks, in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts 5.1. The transfer is grainy but does not have the smearing of the Region 4. The dts track is reported to have a mastering fault, with the front channels collapsed into the left front channel, though this fault does not extend to the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. There are also additional sound effects used to add weight to the existing effects. It has trailers but no other extras. The English subtitles are apparently very poor, with the sort of grammar normally associated with older Hong Kong releases.

    Speaking of Hong Kong releases, the Mega Star All Regions disc is not 16x9 enhanced, though it does have Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. The only extras are trailers and cast and crew biographies. Another Hong Kong release from Universe is similarly specified, but without the English soundtrack. Both releases have cuts, with the Mega Star missing one scene.

    None of the available releases seem ideal, but the Region 4/Region 2 editions would be preferred given that they present an unadulterated (and uncut) version of the film.

Summary

    An excellent martial arts film which is required viewing for fans of the genre.

    The video quality is acceptable but problematic.

    The audio quality is satisfactory.

    A fine range of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, May 09, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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