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Dumpster diving: a review of "Martial Arts Masters"

Old 01-07-06, 06:15 AM
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Dumpster diving: a review of "Martial Arts Masters"


So you see this in the Wal-mart dumpster or cheapie bin of your local haunt. You wonder, 14 hours of martial arts, for $5.50? Killer! Well, sort-of. Here's the breakdown of what you get:

Disc One

"The Real Bruce Lee" A montage of news-reel footage and other stock footage cobbled together to make a movie of sorts. The print used was damaged, so the audio contains lots of skips and jumps. Useful only if you need some killer Bruce Lee trivia for that next kegger or game of Trivial Pursuit.

"Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth" The ultimate Bruceploitation flick. A biography (?) of Bruce Lee's life with imitator Bruce Li at the helm. Dig the raging 'fros and the leisure suits. The butterfly collars and bell-bottoms are as lethal as the kung fu vs. karate plot. This film is best watched under the influence of something. The laugh factor is all that saves this film.

"Fists of Fury" Also known as "The Big Boss". The only real Bruce Lee movie in this set. A horrible, mangled print with distorted audio and horrendous dubbing. While not totally unwatchable (at 2.35:1 non-anamorphic letterbox), the recent Bruce Lee mega-set has an infinitely superior transfer.

The disc also includes a biography of Bruce Lee as a 'bonus feature'.

Disc Two

Sonny Chiba goodness. Includes "The Street Fighter", "Return of the Street Fighter", and the spin-off "Sister Street Fighter". These are merely transfers from the laserdisc editions of these films. Presented in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 letterbox. Video quality is soft and a bit fuzzy. Audio is in 5.1 or 2.0, a bit quiet but decent. If you are looking for the trilogy on the cheap, and don't need the absolute best transfer, these fit the bill. But, there are far superior versions out there.

The 'bonus feature' here is a useless biography of Sonny Chiba.

Disc Three

Ouch. Oy Vey. Damn. Ay carumba. D'oh. This disc is a mess, nay, a disaster. You could use it as an example in your 'how not to master a DVD' class. A random selection of Sonny Chiba's lesser works:

"Shogun's Ninja" Mastered from a pan and scan VHS tape, the resulting 1.33:1 image is masked off with black bars to give a non-anamporphic 1.85:1 letterbox. But since the original aspect ratio is 2.35:1, you get less than 1/4 of the original frame. Hiss and cracke abound in the audio. Colors are washed out and diluted. Near unwatchable.

"Ninja Wars" Amazingly, encoded at anamorphic 1.85:1, but done the same as before: from a zillionth generation VHS tape, cropping off the top and bottom of the frame. The image is blurry and colors bleed together. The audio is even worse. Electronic buzz, hiss, and feedback drown out the soundtrack. Unwatchable.

"Rage of the Masters" Same as the other movies on this disc. Anamorphic 1.85:1, but again from a pan and scan VHS tape with the top and bottom of the frame cropped off. Defects abound, where the source tape has been damaged. Image is blurry and the colors are washed out, almost non-existant in places. Audio is not as bad, though it's muddy and distorted, and suffers from drop-outs in places. Again, unwatchable.

Here, the 'bonus' feature is a text history of martial arts, useless as before.

The three discs in the set are all dual layer, but don't use the whole capacity, averaging 6.4 Gb. The video bitrate averages 3 Mb/s. Audio on all discs is offered in separate Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 tracks, but only encoded at 192 Kbps.

Bottom line: caveat emptor. You get what you pay for. And in this case, what you get is not worth even one dollar. You might get away with this as a gag gift for someone, but then again, your money is better spent elsewhere. Leave this in the dumpster where you found it.
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