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Will the Real Chinese Boxer Please Stand Up?

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I am a sucker for bargain-priced DVDs.

50 orphaned musicals, several of which feature Frankie Darro, for $17?  I’m in.  A $4 used DVD of a film I might have once seen a trailer from that is also in French?  Let me check my wallet.  Two Asian movies I’ve never heard of for $2.99?  Sold!

Pamida¹, my local retailer of choice for those unable to drive out of town to a real big-box discount store, routinely tempts me with diverse offerings of movie merchandise of questionable value.  It’s possible to get all of those shoddy premise knock-off films from The Asylum (2012 Doomsday, Deathracers, etc) on Blu-ray from my Pamida.  Echo Bridge and its doppelganger Mill Creek are very well represented at Pamida, hence the reason I own the first season of Lexx².

Both “the Bridge” and “the Creek” are best known for bundling collections of films that have been thrust into the public domain by company failures where the question of rights was bungled.  There are some very good films that fall into this category, like Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, so a serious collector will probably cross the path of one or both of these companies before too long.

Not long ago, I was killing time waiting for a prescription to be filled at Pamida and discovered a new batch of promo-priced titles, most of which still weren’t worth the ridiculously low asking price.  I did find one DVD that intrigued me:

The cover of Revenge of the Samurai

Revenge of the Samurai / Karate Gangsters

Needless to say, there is not a lot of foreign language film to be found at Pamida, and the price was only $2.99.

Last weekend I finally watched the first film, Revenge of the Samurai.  I quickly realized what I’d bought:  a late-seventies/early eighties martial arts film from Hong Kong.  You probably remember them if you’re old enough:  badly dubbed and filled with fighting sequences, often the sort of thing that a television station might use to fill-in its late night programming.  These films are actually quite entertaining if you can get past the cheese factor.

The movie was, to be honest, quite a good example of the genre.  I couldn’t really follow which side was supposed to be the good side and who was bad, but it didn’t really matter.  There are all sorts of silly gags, including one fatality via turnip-impalement, chain-bombs, zombies, fan-shaped multiple-barrel guns, and two buckets of pearl bran glue used to ground a Thai boxer.

I suppose, if you really, really know Hong Kong cinema, you have already detected what I’m about to say.

Per IMDB, I found no record of a movie by the name of Revenge of the Samurai.  I’ve never found such a dead-end on IMDB before.  Even after working through some of the cast listed on the box looking for an alternate title, I found no evidence that this film existed.  What a puzzle!

Eventually, I stumbled onto a resource which I’ve since added to my research toolkit, the Hong Kong Movie Database (relax, it’s in English!).  HKMDB said my film was actually Return of the Chinese Boxer.  Making this identification dubious, the cast listing on HKMDB was completely different, even if you allow for dodgy phonetic spellings of Chinese names.

So where was the error?  I ended up finding footage on YouTube to compare with my DVD version, which also appears to be missing the original title sequence.  What I had bought really was Return of the Chinese Boxer.  Here’s the trailer, which is easily confirmed to be from the same movie as the DVD:

I don’t think this was Echo Bridge’s mistake, even though they should have done some verification on the film before releasing it to DVD.  They dutifully copied the credits as show on the film.  The error probably occurred much earlier, perhaps when the print was edited for U.S. television (remember the missing intro and titles?).

At least it provided me with a nice mystery to solve.  And the movie is quite entertaining.  I haven’t watched Karate Gangsters yet, maybe there’s another jumble to unscramble?

1 For those readers who grew up in Laramie like me, Pamida now also owns Alco.
2. German-Canadian science fiction production featuring a Teutonic gal with blue hair.  Please don’t armchair psycho-analyze me.

Written by Bill

April 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Movies

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The DVD Is Dead; Long Live the DVD

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My movie collection is…not small.

When I left Connecticut for more graduate school in 2004, I owned enough DVDs to fill a small shelf, if that.  Starting around 2006 when I graduated from Indiana, I have built a collection that I would guess is the fourth largest in Wayne, Nebraska (population 5500), ranking after the two libraries in town and one private collector friend who I suspect has more.  Two movie rental businesses and the town’s sole theater have failed in the same interim.

At the start of 2009 on my short-lived blog, Film and Libraries, I declared the Blu-ray tipping point had been reached.  It hasn’t been as drastic a shift as the arrival of the DVD, but I stand by my call.  Retail has slowly pushed more and more Blu-ray and players have gotten ridiculously affordable.  Prices are finally starting to kindle demand.

I’m glad the format is taking off, if only because the back title list is finally getting interesting and prices are dropping a bit.  In my own purchasing, I now intentionally buy films that benefit from the format, sometimes willingly, at new release prices.   Yet, I still buy at least 3 DVDs for every Blu-ray I purchase.  Why?

This is a golden age for movie collectors

As retail rental businesses implode and the DVD format takes on an increasingly dire outlook, the market has been utterly flooded with supply.  Wal-mart helped push the slide down with their infamous $5 DVDs several years ago, but the bottom has fallen out of the market in spectacular fashion in the past year.

Hastings, perhaps the closest thing we have to a national storefront retailer of used DVDs, has pretty much gone on permanent buy-one-used-DVD-get-one-for-a-dollar sale.  Routinely, I find the lowest demand titles at Hastings for 1.99 to 3.99 before the sale is applied.  For the $30 you might spend on a new release Blu-ray, you can easily buy 12 used DVDs.  A $10 adult movie admission could get you 4 used DVDs.  If you’re a discerning and patient collector with a taste for foreign languages, they might even be amazingly good films.

Blockbuster, while it lasts, appears to be pushing the speed with which DVDs decrease in price in the initial couple of months after release in an attempt to minimize their inventory.  For mainstream releases which you know are getting gigantic pressings, why would you ever pay more than $5 for a title used, so long as you can wait a month?

The failure of retail business offer even better one-time prices.  When our local Movie Gallery finally went down, DVDs were going for $1 a piece at the end of the closeout.

The prices are telling us the DVD is dead, as far as being a viable retail product is concerned.  It’s also the best and, possibly, most important time for serious movie collectors to be buying.

The collector’s buying power is great at this time, but the most important reason to be snapping up titles right now is that the title catalogue on Blu-ray will take a long time to catch up to catalogue currently available on DVD.  Looking back, we see that there still are many films of interest that still aren’t available on DVD.  Given the slow adoption of Blu-ray, I expect that many more films will get left behind on DVD.

What gets left behind?  Anything business people think won’t make money.  Minor American studio films, of the sort you see currently pressed on demand by outfits like the Warner Archive, are one possibility.  Independent films appear to be moving rapidly to digital distribution, so I expect the second and lower tiers of indies might never see the format.  The worst potential loss for me as a collector is in the foreign film category.

Sure, we’ll see the most successful foreign films make the Blu-ray cut, as well as a healthy selection of foriegn-language classics.  But several national film industries turn out a great number of solid films every year, most of which don’t get out of LA/NY during their theatrical runs, like The Page Turner.  These films are likely to get small DVD runs, but often go out of print with surprising speed.  Given the financial difficulties of New Yorker Films, one of the largest distributors of foreign films on DVD, I worry that many of these films will be indefinitely locked out of the U.S. market.

Maybe digital distribution fixes all of this, but I’m and old-fashioned kind of guy when it comes to media.  I like having something in my hand.  I like knowing that my collection won’t disappear when a hard drive crashes.  I like being able to watch something without the stutter of download queuing.  Most people elsewhere in the country have significantly better home interenet bandwidth than I do, so I’ll probably be the last convert when the day comes.

So until that day, I will continue to scrounge the shelves of Hastings and watch carefully for DVDs that may soon be lost.

Written by Bill

November 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Movies

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