With the emergence of IVL, Shaw Brother's extensive back-catalogue of so far unseen (on DVD) movies finally get to see the light of day.
Never before having been able to track down a copy of Lau Kar-Leung's critically-acclaimed 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, I jumped at the chance to purchase IVL's latest release.
The premise of the film is one which will not be too unfamiliar to old-school Kung-fu movie enthusiasts: revenge.
After being ambushed during a battle, two of seven brothers survive - Gordon Liu and Alexander Fu Sheng.
The latter is driven insane by the images of his Father and brother's slaughter, whilst the former is hell-bent on killing those that betrayed him.
Liu's quest for an answer to the undefeatable weaponry used against his spear technique, lead him to Shaolin Temple.
Whilst his request to be trained falls on deaf ears, due to his obvious desire for revenge being at odds with the monk's "peace-giving" nature, they do offer him temporary shelter.
It is during this time that Liu masters his new staff technique, and also realises that his quest for revenge may just perpetuate a continuing cycle of destruction.
Meanwhile Pan-Mei, a traitor and double-crosser, is also desperately searching for the remaining brothers, as it was he who originally brought about their sibling's demise.
In the unavoidable final confrontation, Liu's staff must prove itself against Pan-Mei's versatile weaponry, and in the process bring justice back to his grieving family.
Co-star Alexander Fu-Sheng died during production, as the result of a high-speed car accident.
Because of this, much of the film's tone is bleak and angry, with no real humour to speak of punctuating the storyline.
Wanting to keep
the footage featuring Fu Sheng in the finished production, Director Lau Kar-Leung subsequently adds rather a confusing thread to the storyline - one which remains unresolved, even at the film's conclusion.
As with many films from Shaw's studios, the acting often borders on the melodramatic, and because of this makes for some rather cringe worthy moments. Sadly, it is Fu Sheng's few scenes in which this is at its most noticeable, as his character veers towards madness and hysteria.
The always charismatic Gordon Liu does his customarily solid job of 'Kung Fu Monk Hero', but whilst the actors are undoubtedly important, it is the action sequences which remain the real star.
From the film's opening battle, featuring the seven spear-wielding brothers, through to the intensely choreographed finale, Lau Kar-Leung serves up some utterly stunning sequences.
The pole and spear-work is breath-taking at times, and the unrelenting imagination exhibited during the film's conclusion is a spectacle to behold, as Liu battles atop a pyramid of coffins, whilst fending off his opponents with his sister strapped to his back!
Fans rightly point to this production as one of the finest showcases for pole combat, and I would certainly not disagree.
However, the rest of the films drama is not nearly as well executed, and often left me yearning for yet another slice of delirious action, instead of over-played melodrama.
For a film made some 20 years ago, IVL have produced an amazing transfer.
Almost totally spotless, with impressive detail throughout, the anamorphic image displayed is excellent - although don't expect anything akin the standards set by new film releases.
On the not so positive side, black levels are occasionally disappointing, appearing rather grey.
Colour and detail also suffer at times, although not to any major degree, but the simple fact remains that you're unlikely to ever see this film looking better.
Whilst this is touted as a 5.1 remix, the original Cantonese soundtrack is completely centre-focused, and all the better for it.
Distorted dialogue is only present on a few occasions, and is otherwise clear, with music rarely sounding shrill.
Featuring a very nicely sized set of subtitles, the disc also translates the script to a high standard.
Frustratingly, signs and symbols are left un-translated, although this doesn't effect your enjoyment of the film.
Slight irritations arise upon the inclusion of some westernised lines of dialogue, but these are otherwise very good subtitles from IVL.
A very smartly designed slip-case protects the excellently composed front cover, and equally impressive reverse.
HKL should take note - sepia-toned artwork isn't the only way to package a Hong Kong DVD.
Sparse extras are included on the disc, although their quality is high.
Trailers for 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, Return To The 36th Camber of Shaolin, Heroes Two, Executioners From Shaolin, and Five Shaolin Masters.
Something that other DVD producers could do well to take a look at are IVL's short, but welcome, biography and filmography notes on the leading players and directors - namely Lau Kar-Leung, Gordon Liu, Alexander Fu Sheng, Hsiao Hao, Mai Te-Lo, and Wang Yu.
They aren't awe-inspiring in their scope and depth, but they at least pay respect to the people involved in the film-making process.
A print of the original poster art, alongside some behind-the-scenes, and film stills round off the disc.
With the vast back-catalogue of Shaw Brother's films at their disposal, IVL could easily have eschewed quality in preference for churning out average DVD, after average DVD.
Thankfully, they seem to appreciate the love many people have for films from this revered studio, and as such, provide a superb DVD which will hopefully signal bright things to come.
Definitely worthy of an immediate purchase.