It’s hard enough trying to compare two versions of the same film, but possibly due to the balmy weather, or a particularly heavy bang on the head, I took it upon myself to place head to head HLK and Fortune Star’s Once Upon a Time In China Trilogies.
To save my sanity, and to make for easier reading, each film will be tackled one by one, with my overall conclusion at the bottom of the page. So without further ado, let's get going...
Tsui Hark’s first entry of the trilogy is still as immensely enjoyable and intelligently textured as it ever was, and looking at both films reveals no differences in content.
At the time of its release, HKL’s disc was superior to any other release on the market. However, times have changed and the contrast between the two releases is massive.
Grain is still evident on Fortune Star’s transfer, but it’s less pronounced than HKL’s. Whereas Hong Kong Legend’s drab, somewhat old-looking image made for a slightly disappointing viewing experience, Fortune Star make major improvements. Not only is detail far superior, but the overall look of the transfer gives the film a nice cinematic sheen.
Also worth noting is the artifacting noticeable on HKL’s transfer: fast-moving objects (and let’s face it, there are plenty of them in OUATIC!) are affected quite badly by this throughout, and make Fortune Star the clear winner.
NOTE: The Screenshots below are Rollover images from the HKL discs - place your mouse over the picture to view the Fortune Star capture.
With options of DTS, 5.1 and Mono Cantonese, Fortune Star certainly provide a wider variety of sound mixes. HKL provide only a 5.1 remix, yet whilst its front left and right channels often over-power dialogue, it’s still better than both the FS DTS and 5.1 remixes.
That aside, the best option of all is the original mono dub from FS. True, it does occasionally fall slightly out of synch with the image, but it provides clarity of dialogue and punchiness to the special effects not found anywhere else.
HKL did a good job with their subtitles, albeit with some irritating exclusions such as Wong Fei-Hung’s unsubtitled fan. FS provide subs of a similarly high standard, with their translation differing little from HKL’s. Sadly, the fan is yet again left unsubbed and it’s a great shame that Fortune Star didn’t completely redo the translations rather than relying on HKL’s as a template.
Very little to choose between the two.
Note: HKL refer to Rosamund Kwan's character as '13th Aunt', as do Fortune Star.
As with Once Upon A Time In China, Once...2 is identical in content on both Fortune Star and HKL's releases.
Hong Kong Legend's transfer was and still is, an excellent representation of the film, with detail remaining well-defined throughout. However, blacks were recreated rather schizophrenically throughout , and grain was evident at times.
Fortune Star's reproduction is more naturally-lit, although this reduces the impact of some of the incredible lighting seen on HKL's disc. Also, grain is slightly more noticeable throughout, and at first is disappointing. However, when you realise that detail is a big step up from HKL's disc it doesn't seem to really matter.
I was hoping that Fortune Star might have righted the wrongs perpetrated in OUATIC's Mono soundtrack, but frustratingly, I once again became aware of the lag between visuals and sound, with it being far more noticeable than before.
Almost entirely identical, both sets of subtitles simplify lines of dialogue on a regular basis.
However, Fortune Star make the unexpected move of translating the old singer's lament, which is left unsubbed by HKL.
NOTE: HKL now refer to Rosamund's character as 'Aunt Yee', whereas Fortune Star stick with '13th Aunt'.
The fight sequence featuring Jet Lee kicking a horse's leg and its subsequent fall (amounting to about 4 seconds) is missing from HKL's version, whilst it remains intact on Fortune Star's. Aside from that, no other differences are apparent.
I was never convinced by HKL's transfer of the third installment in this trilogy, and when placed alongside Fortune Star's disc, the differences are striking.
OUATIC3 is quite possibly the finest representation of any of the films seen so far, and badly shows up HKL's below-par image quality.
HKL's 5.1 remix was neither a huge success, nor a complete disaster, with its fairly restrained remixing meaning dialogue and sound effects remained clearly defined.
Both discs provide identical subtitles, FS porting over HKL's often inaccurate translations instead of mastering them afresh. Sadly, Fortune Star also manage to miss-time some of the lines, making them harder to follow.
NOTE: Hong Kong Legend's again change their translation of Kwan's character to 'Cousin Yee', with FS sticking to '13th Aunt'. This inconsistency by HKL is ridiculous, and annoying.
Aside from Fortune Star's trailers and the fascinating, though short, 3-part history of Wong Fei-Hung, there is no competition between the two companies extras. The disappointing commentary on OUATIC is the only minor point in an otherwise very good selection of extras.
An Easter Egg is available on HKL's OUATIC3 disc: by going to the special features section, interviews and then selecting the Fei-Hung silhouette, you're treated to a short behind-the scenes-look at OUATIC's ladder fight sequence.
Whilst Fortune Star provide professionally designed menus and a sinister score to accompany their discs, Hong Kong Legend's more extravagant presentation wins out.
Hong Kong Legend's packaging is fairly lacklustre, and when compared to Fortune Star's gorgeous silk-print cover, pales in comparison.
s can be seen from many of the screenshots, there is no doubting the superiority of Fortune Star's picture quality in comparison to HKL's. However, with the inclusion of some disappointing remixes and out-of-synch mono tracks, plus the insistence of using HKL's original subtitles, there isn't quite as much to separate the two sets as I would have thought.
It's quite simply really - if you own HKL's discs, don't bother upgrading. If you don't, go for Fortune Star's. Whilst the extras are nice, the step-up in image quality is too obvious to over-look.