Digi-Schlock: CRIME STORY/THE PROTECTOR (Shout! Factory Blu-Ray)

Shout! Factory has a reissue campaign planned for the films of Bruce Lee during 2013 but that’s not the only martial arts fare they have up their sleeves for this year.  They’ve also got a few Jackie Chan releases planned, the first of which is a blu-ray that pairs Crime Story with The Protector.  Thematically, it’s a pretty savvy combination because both films feature Chan stepping outside his comedy kung-fu comfort zone to do grittier work in the cop-movie genre.  It also throws in a number of extras to further sweeten the deal for fans – and this review will assess how this generous assemblage of fare stacks up.

In terms of the transfers, this disc looks good but not great.  Both transfers are clean and free of debris yet lack the superior clarity and image depth that you usually associate with the blu-ray format.  The results look more like a really good DVD than a sterling blu-ray presentation.  Of the two, Crime Story looks the best, probably because it is the more recent film of the two.  The bright, primary-colored lighting really jumps out at the viewer in this presentation of that film.

The audio component of the transfers is more impressive.  There’s a generous variety of options: Crime Story features lossless 5.1 Cantonese and English tracks as well as standard-def 2.0 mixes in both languages while The Protector features lossless English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks.  The Cantonese 5.1 track on Crime Story and the 5.1 track for The Protector are what were listened to for this review and they do well, each offering a bit of rear-speaker activity to deepen the sonic experience.  The Protector is the more impressive of the two because the mix is a bit more aggressive: for example, there are a couple of hard-hitting explosion effects that will make the viewer sit up and take notice.

Each title also boasts its own compliment of extras.  With Crime Story, the most substantial item is a ten minute interview with director Kirk Wong.  It’s very much an EPK type proposition, complete with lengthy clips from the film and effusive praise for the film’s star – but Wong does offer a fun tale about how the film came to be.  A bit more interesting is a six-minute reel of deleted scenes.  They all deal with the relationship between the cop hero and his female psychologist and it’s obvious why they were cut, as they would have felt like padding and been too jokey for the film’s otherwise serious tone.  The Crime Story extras are rounded by Hong Kong and English trailers for the film: there are no subtitles for the former.

The Protector features a few extras produced especially for this disc.  The most noteworthy is “From New York To Hong Kong,” an interview with writer/director James Glickenhaus.  In ten minutes, he discusses how the project came to be, his desire to pull Chan out of his “comedy kung-fu” genre into something tougher and his thoughts on the reworked version of the film Chan produced for Asian markets.  His style of commentary is dry but informative and refreshingly frank.  His thoughts on Chan and his traditional style of filmmaking are likely to get the star’s fans talking.  The other new featurette is a four-minute short that provides a “then and now” comparison of the film’s New York locations, set to the tune of the film’s Chip Taylor theme song.  A few have changed noticeably: the most amusing is the dive bar seen in the early scenes has been replaced by a law school(!).

There are also a few vault extras thrown in.  For example, a behind-the-scenes featurette from Golden Harvest is included.  Sadly, it is in Chinese without English subtitles but it’s worth watching because it is simply a quick montage of behind-the-scenes footage from the film’s various action scenes.  On a similar tip, the Hong Kong trailer is basically a four-minute highlights reel with some title cards included.  The U.S. trailer is also present and it’s an interesting contrast: it runs one minute and attempts to sell the film as taking place solely in New York.

However, the biggest extra is the inclusion of the Hong Kong, Chan-supervised cut of The Protector, presented in standard definition with English subtitles.  If you’ve never seen this version, it’s worth noting that it has many difference from the U.S. cut.  Not only are the fight scenes more elaborate in the traditional Chan style, it also re-edits a number of scenes and includes an entirely new subplot involving Hong Kong starlet Sally Yeh (you might remember her as the accidentally-blinded singer from The Killer).  It’s a very different experience in both form and content and its inclusion is a nice touch on Shout! Factory’s part.

In short, this is a good bargain for the value conscious fan of martial arts fare.  While the video quality isn’t what it could have been, the generous three-for-one package plus all the extras (especially the alternate Protector cut) make this worth the modest price.

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