Heart Of Dragon: R2 Vs. R0 Vs. R1
 
Producer: Hong Kong Legends
Languages:
CANTONESE 5.1 , English 5.1
Subtitles
English, Dutch, English SDH
Extras:
Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer, UK Promo Trailer, Further Attractions, Commentary, Interviews, Easter Egg
Menus:
Animated
W/S Subs:
Ratio
1.78:1 Anamorphic
Region
PAL 2

Producer: Universe
Languages:
CANTONESE 5.1 , Mandarin 5.1
Subtitles
Removable Chinese (S+T), English, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese.
Extras:
Theatrical Trailer, Further Attractions, Star Files (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung)
Menus:
Static
W/S Subs:
Ratio
1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Region
NTSC 0

Producer: Fox
Languages:
CANTONESE DTS, Cantonese 5.1, English DTS, English 5.1
Subtitles
English
Extras:
Theatrical Trailer, Fox Heart Of Dragon Trailer, Further Attractions, Unseen Fight Scenes
Menus:
Animated
W/S Subs:
Ratio
1.78:1 Anamorphic
Region
NTSC 1
MOVIE

I still sight Heart Of Dragon as Jackie Chan's best film to date. Many will disagree, but none can deny that in this Sammo Hung directed feature he's forced to stretch his usual on-screen persona further than he's ever done before, or since.

Chan's character is a somewhat selfish cop, trying to look after his sibling, and also his own interests. He's frustrated by the constraints Sammo's mentally retarded big brother puts on his personal and work life, and has to juggle these aspects constantly, much to his frustration.
Sammo puts in yet another sterling performance, under-playing scenes when other Hong Kong actors would certainly have over-played them, and is equally matched by Chan's mature take on his character's plight.

Whilst there are undoubtedly a few off-notes during the film, the production as a whole still stands head and shoulders above much of Chan's work, offering a strong emotional power, rather than just a handful of action scenes.
Jackie's final action sequence IS brutal and remarkably choreographed, yet is really only there to demonstrate the lengths one brother will go to to save another.
The film's title really does say it all...

Having written my original Heart Of Dragon review some years ago, and at the time being very pleased with Universe's disc, I was looking forward to bringing myself up to date with this great film's latest incarnations on DVD.

With the sudden emergence of Fox, and their Martial Arts Legends label, another heavy-weight has entered the Hong Kong DVD ring, with so far mixed results.
Hong Kong Legends have also been making great strides recently with their releases, combining excellent print restoration with much improved subtitling.

The question remains though: do they offer enough of an improvement to make you part with your hard-earned cash?
We shall see...

** Please note **
Due to problems with my screen-capture software, the images featured are not perfect representations of the colour/detail displayed by each DVD. Please follow the written comparison, rather than the screen-grabs until this can be rectified.

PICTURE
Fox

First things first - neither the R1 or R2 transfers are cropped. In fact, the Universe disc is slightly zoomed in, therefore cropping the sides, top and bottom of the print marginally as the screen-shots below show.

Detail, along with colour reproduction is slightly superior on Fox's transfer, exhibiting an improved clarity over the Region 2 disc.
Both the Region 1 & 2 discs are massively more detailed in both foreground and background shots when compared to Universe's Region 0 disc.
Universe's print appears bolder in its colour reproduction, although unnaturally so at times.

As with their Bullet In The Head release, HKL seem to have sourced a rather too bright print, leaving blacks grey rather than solid black. This also has the side effect of making the constant grain more noticeable, along with the minor artifacting on display.
Fox balance their print with greater care, providing more solid blacks, and less grain, although neither disc is perfect in this respect.
Universe on the other hand present a much darker print, which lends the film's finale a far tenser atmosphere, as Chan's adversaries appear from the shadows, and also reduces the grain on display.

Of the three discs, HKL offers the cleanest print, showing almost no signs of damage. Fox's print is also fully restored, although a few speckles still appear from time to time.
Universe has easily the worst the print on offer, as it exhibits constant dirt and sparkles, and can be quite distracting at times.

So, in summary Fox just nicks the Best Picture award, followed closely by HKL, with Universe crawling across the finishing post in third.

SOUND
Universe

Whilst the inclusion of a DTS soundtrack from Fox is impressive, it does little to add to the film's impact. It's louder, and offers a little more separation than both its, and the other disc's, 5.1 remixes, but nothing awe-inspiring.
Sadly, both of Fox's soundtracks are completely ruined by the inclusion of some awful added sound effects during the fight scenes. A great shame, as dialogue is crisp and clear.

HKL on the other hand, seem to have accidentally turned the Bass Boost knob up in their mixing studio, as dialogue and sound effect clarity is severely hampered. Separation is adequate, although nothing spell-binding, but the aforementioned lack of treble during the entire film makes a mockery of this dialogue driven movie.

Universe are the only company of the three to have gotten it right: No misplaced mixing, clear dialogue, and good bass.

Clear winner: Universe.

SUBTITLES
Universe

The strongest aspect of Universe's disc were always the subtitles. Supremely accurate, free from errors and timed perfectly, Fox and HKL would've needed to produce something extraordinary.
Thankfully, they do, although not in the way you'd expect...

Both Region 1 and Region 2 discs offer dubtitles. Fox re-dubbed the whole film, and are further away from the original dialogue than HKL, who base theirs on the English dub originally released on VHS (which is included).
Neither job sticks closely to the film's script, often completely mistranslating dialogue and names.
I'm incredibly angry and disappointed with HKL over this aspect of their disc. After offering ropey translations for quite a few of their previous releases, they seemed to have finally realised that consumers want accurate subs, not Westernised ones.
Fox, on the other hand, also disappoint, but have to date only offered dubtitles with their range of Hong Kong eleases, so it wasn't such an unpleasant surprise.

Universe remain firmly ahead of the pack, and considering this film is about characters and their relationships, and not a montage of action sequences, both Fox and HKL should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

MENUS
HKL & Fox

Animated menus are present on both of the new releases, and are far better than Universe's amateurish efforts.
HKL provide the better composed menus, although Fox use the film's soundtrack to score their main menu, rather than HKL's typical action-themed commissioned score.

EXTRAS
HKL

Universe only provide the badly worn theatrical trailer, alongside 'Star Files' for Jackie and Sammo. Extra trailers are included for The Young Master, Winners and Sinners, Dragons Forever and Wheels on Meals. Aside from the Star Files, none of the other features are English subtitled.

Fox do well to provide the Theatrical trailer, along with their own well-made trailer. The much talked about Unseen Fight Scenes are rather a wasted exercise, as they have no lead-in text to show where they fit into the film, and are also backed by a generic rock score. No subtitles are provided, but then again, the score is mixed so loudly over the dialogue, that you can't hear what's being said anyway.
Trailers for Hong Kong: 1941, Magnificent Butcher, Magnificent Warriors, Naked Killer and City Hunter.

Hong Kong Legends, as you'd expect, provide the finest selection of extras. Alongside their quite awful UK promo trailer, they provide a re-mastered and fully subbed Theatrical Trailer.
Trailers for The Killer, Crime Story, Bullet In the Head, Wing Chun, Winners and Sinners, Moon Warriors, The Grudge, Champion, Volcano High, Bang Rajan, Bichunmoo and The Warrior are also found on the disc.

An excellent commentary courtesy of Bey Logan is on offer, and only goes to underline the incorrect subtitling provided for the feature, as Bey translates a line from the film's Cantonese dialogue.
'Different Strokes' provides a welcome interview with Sammo Hung, providing background information on the film and its cast and crew.
Arthur Wong, a long-standing cinematographer, is also interviewed for his work on Heart Of Dragon. Some interesting anecdotes are included, but as with the Sammo interview, the depth of information provided is fairly shallow.
'Deleted Scenes': Featuring the lead-in and out scenes, plus subtitles in English, along with an extra scene of Jackie using an axe during the final fight sequence, this HKL extra should be untouchable.
Unfortunately, the print used features burnt-in Japanese (?) subtitles, and the image is of an extremely poor quality. Fox's footage comes minus the axe scene and any subtitles, but is far superior in terms of picture quality.
An Easter Egg (hidden extra) of the Japanese prints out-take footage can be viewed by entering the Trailer Gallery and selecting the 'HKL' symbol on the left. Although the quality is poor, you do get to hear Jackie sing in Japanese, whilst watching a fun selection of no-good footage. A very welcome addition.

In conclusion, the out-right winner is HKL, although its baffling as to why their deleted scenes should look so much worse than Fox's.
Also, it's a great shame neither company thought to create a branching version of the film, in which viewers get to choose which scenes they do and don't want to have included in the main feature.

PACKAGING
Universe

Fox do a nice job with their packaging. Not overly flashy, but nicely composed, the front and back covers strike a balance between the dramatic nature of the piece, and also its action elements.

HKL provide a very misleading cover. Just as with their Promo Trailer, they attempt to sell this release as an all-action fight-fest, even going so far as to replace the gun used by Jackie on the front cover, with a more modern fire-arm.
Why they didn't feel brave enough to sell this film on its dramatic merits, I don't know, but their sleeve design is intentionally misleading nonetheless.

Although not as polished as the other two covers, I can't help but have a soft-spot for Universe's sleeve.
It's the most honest of the three designs, showing a still of Jackie and Sammo, which sums up the bond between the pair perfectly.

Not much to separate the Region 1 and 0 disc, but I've got to give it to Universe due their insistence on basing their design around the spirit of the film, rather than dressing it up as something it's not.

CUTS/CHANGES
Draw

All prints are identical, apart from the opening credits which feature different colour text.
There is a miniscule (half a second at most) "cut" which occurs on the Universe print, just as Jackie connects with his slow-motion kick to Dick Wei's face, during their showdown.
It's not noticeable, and I only spotted it because I was going to take screen captures of that particular scene originally.

CONCLUSION
Universe

Problems, problems...
I was desperately hoping that this comparison would produce a clear winner, and I could finally whole-heartedly recommend a definite DVD for this superb piece of filmmaking.
Sadly, that's not the case, as the ratings below make clear.

If you're a fluent Cantonese speaker (or own the Universe disc and just want the extras) then the Hong Kong Legend's release beats the other two releases, although it's sound quality is weak.
For everyone else, I'd recommend sticking with Universe's disc, as this is a film driven by its dialogue, and its massively superior subtitles and sound mean more to me than a sharper picture and extra features.

All I can hope is that IVL's forthcoming 'Jackie Chan & Sammo Hung' box-set, featuring this, Wheels On Meals, City Hunter, My Lucky Stars & Winners And Sinners, finally treats this film with the respect it so readily deserves.
Until that time comes, all that is left is for Fox and HKL to take a long hard look at themselves, and realise what missed opportunities their discs have become.

COMPANY
Hong Kong Legends
Universe
Fox
Winner
MOVIE
10
10
10
Draw
PICTURE
7
5
8
Fox
SOUND
4
7
2
Universe
SUBTITLES
4
10
2
Universe
EXTRAS
8
4
6
HKL
MENUS
7
4
7
HKL&Fox
PACKAGING
4
8
7
Uni.&Fox
OVERALL
6
8
5
Universe