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.
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.
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.
The question remains though: do they offer enough of an improvement to make you part with your hard-earned cash?
** Please note **
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.
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.
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.
So, in summary Fox just nicks the Best Picture award, followed closely by HKL, with Universe crawling across the finishing post in third.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Animated menus are present on both of the new releases, and are far better than Universe's amateurish efforts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although not as polished as the other two covers, I can't help but have a soft-spot for Universe's sleeve.
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.
All prints are identical, apart from the opening credits which feature different colour text.
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.
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.