Lady of Steel/Brothers Five - Blu-ray Review

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Lady of Steel/Brothers Five


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Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2stars:
Final Score: :3.5stars:




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Movie

Shout Factory has been on a mission to release a ton of the old classic Kung-Fu movies with regards to Jackie Chan and Sonny Chiba as of late, but one of their biggest (and latest) undertakings has been to release massive 11-12 disc sets of the classic 1960s and 1970s Shaw Brothers classic films. Highly coveted and incredibly hard to get all of them outside of expensive imports, we get a lovely set of 12 films in this second box set (sadly we weren’t able to review the 1st boxset, but I can fully attest that it was just as great as this one as I bought it personally) that covers a six year period for the Celestial Pictures produced films. Today we’re going to be looking at the first two films in the box, 1970’s Lady of Steel and the incredible Brother’s Five (which was originally released by Well Go USA on their Sword Master series of films).

Lady of Steel :3.5stars:
Debuting for the first time on Blu-ray we get one of Pei-Pei Cheng’s first action films in her LOOOONG list of films with the Shaw Brothers series. Widely considered China’s first action heroine, Pei-Pei leads the way with this female centric revenge story that features some incredible action, and plenty of 1970s action cheese as well. Pei-Pei is Fang Ying-Chi, the lone survivor of the Fang family after a local robber baron murdered her entire clan. 20 year after the massacre, she is still out for blood, searching for the man who murdered her family, spending her days training on top of Dukom mountain by her aging master. When she is sent down to the local magistrate to deliver a message she gets sucked into a world of intrigue and vengeance as she finds the man that she’s been looking for, only to discover that he’s a double agent within the government selling secrets to a rival warlord.

Teaming up with the Chin Shang-Yi (Hua Yueh), the leader of the beggar’s gang, she devises a way to lure the murder out in the open, while pulling down his entire web of lies and deceit so that she can bring her own brand of justice to the party. The film is goofy, a bit laughable with the dialog, but pure 1970s Shaw Brothers to the core. Pei-Pei (her most famous film being Come Drink with Me) hadn’t truly gotten her Wuxia feet under her just yet, so the choreography and fight scenes with her in it are a bit slowed down in comparison to most Shaw Brother’s film, but her chemistry with Hua Yueh is fantastic. The two carve a bloody path of destruction throughout the film, and while this film has widely been considered one of her weaker efforts, still manages to fun and interesting as a fan of classic Kung-Fu flicks.

The cheesy blood, the middling choreography (comparatively, I’m still amazed at how many single cut fight scenes they used throughout this time period which required the actors to memorize whole minutes of fighting without showing a single cut) aside, this is a fun little entrance to the Shaw Brother’s filmography. Pei-Pei is absolutely adorable as always (she was a stunning beauty back in the 60s and 70s) an the 88 minute runtime means it never overstays its welcome. Simple, fun, and very lightweight watching for Shaw Brothers fans.

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Brothers Five: :4stars:
Brother’s Five was originally released back in 2010 as part of Well Go USA’s Sword Masters series that was dedicated to Shaw Brothers films (which was sadly dropped by the studio after a few years) and is considered one of the best Kung-Fu films of that era (like Lady of Steel it was released right in 1970) and also stars Pei-Pei Cheng in another leading lady action role. Directed by Wei Lo (who directed Fist of Fury with Bruce Lee the next year), the film is a stone cold classic, filled with incredible fight scenes, amazing period piece settings, and a gritty drama of revenge (sound familiar) that will be like Mac and Cheese for Kung-fu fans (e.g., pure comfort food).

Separated since their formative years, the Gao Brothers are unaware of their family’s powerful origins, or how their father was defeated at the hands of the villain Lung Chen-Feng (Feng Tien). Years later, the 5 brothers have each gone their own way in life, but are strangely drawn to the gangsters of Teng Lung where they seek an audience with the Gangster chief. No surprise to the audience, the master of the Villla is none other than Lung Chen-Feng himself, who has been searching for the brothers ever since he defeated their father decades ago. The siblings may never have known about their heritage were it not for the mysterious and beautiful Yen (Pei-Pei Chang) who identifies the 5 men, and brings them all together for a final showdown with their father’s killer in what is one of the best single cut fight sequences of the early 1970s.

Brother’s Five is pure Shaw Brothers comfort food. It has all of the trappings of the genre, with 5 brothers training to become the best fighters in the world so that they can take down a villain who destroyed their family years ago. A beautiful woman (who happens to be the daughter of the man who saved the 5 boys from Lung Chen-Feng all those years ago) to bring them all together, all culminating in a righteous battle of vengeance to clear their family name. The fight choreography also is a lot more impressive than Lady of Steel’s was, with more hand to hand Kung-Fu and better weapons work as well (the seen with the wooden weapons where Pei-Pei is laying waste is worth the price of admission alone). HOWEVER, there is one cheesy element to the film that really sucks out some of the fun. If you’ve watched the film before then you already know what I mean. The final 2-3 minutes of the film brings us the mystical “five tigers with one heart” super move that the boys had been practicing to take down Lung Chen-Feng. This seems all well and good considering the fight scenes had been incredible up to this point, but what we get on screen is a 5 person pyramid of people that spins around in a circle and looks like something out of a horrid nightmare. It’s SOOOOOOO incredibly cheesy and makes the Kung-fu fanatic in me absolutely cringe. But that is only a 2 minute sequence, so don’t let that dissuade you from watching one of the best 1970s Kung-Fu films.




Rating:

Not Rated by the MPAA




Video: :4.5stars:
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Lady of Steel: :4stars:
There’s no mention of it in the press release, but Lady of Steel definitely looks like it was taken from a newer master. I don’t know if Celestial has been using the same 4K masters that places like Arrow and the like have been using overseas, but this is a nice looking film. Maybe not perfect as the original cinematography showcases soft looking imagery with in focus up close shots, while the background objects retain a soft looking picture. Grain looks nice and natural, but I’m wondering if some minor DNR was done as it’s not as heavy as I was expecting. That being said, the colors look gorgeous, with flaming deep reds, dark rich greens, and lovely shades of pink, blue and orange to highlight it (look at the rose garden fight near the end as an example of a color blast). Blacks are generally great, but I noticed some baked in crush during shadowy sequences as well as some VERY minor banding. Shout Factory has given the encode a nice mid 30s bitrate so everything looks about as artifact free as it can outside of the original photography having some soft looking quirks.

Brothers Five: :4.5stars:
Brothers Five actually looks a nice step up over Lady of Steel, with a much brighter and more vivid image that sparkles in terms of clarity. You can see every bit of red/orange fake corn syrup blood, the hilarious makeup used for the time (caked on wounds, glued on beards/mustaches) and the colors truly sparkle. The first battle out in the forest is amazing, with luscious greens, bright fake blood reds, and deep browns all highlighted against wonderfully deep and inky blanks. Both this and Lady of Steel have definitely been cleaned up though, as I didn’t notice any print damage or debris anywhere. There were a few scenes where I noticed a smudge on the print here and there, but nothing that was ever there for more than a second or two. Fantastic looking image.








Audio: :4stars:
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Lady of Steel: :4stars:
For a low budget 1970’s action film Lady of Steel doesn’t sound too bad at all. In fact, it sounds really good for the most part. Dialog is clean and clear and the action effects are perfectly balanced with the track. The score is pleasant, but I did notice some distortion to the horns used, and the dialog always has a trace “rasp” at the very end of each sentence or word. A harsh distortion that was pretty typical of the era. Otherwise this is a lovely 2.0 Mono track that does everything well enough.

Brothers Five: :4stars:
Even though it was filmed the same year, the 2.0 Mandarin track found on the Brothers Five disc sounds a bit better than Lady of Steel. Still clean and clear for the most part, that nasty rasp at the end of words is not nearly as pronounced or obvious. There’s a little, but dialog is for the most part clean as a whistle. Like Lady of Steel, the sound effects and score make up the rest of the mix and everything sounds balanced and clear as a bell. Very nice.











Extras: :2stars:
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Lady of Steel
• Theatrical Trailer
• NEW Audio Commentary By Cult Film Critic Ian Jane

Brothers Five
• NEW Audio Commentary By James Mudge, Hong Kong Film Critic At easternKicks
• NEW Audio Commentary By Film Historian Brian Bankston (Cool Cinema Blog)
• Celestial Trailer














Final Score: :3.5stars:


Lady of Steel and Brothers Five is a good start to the Shaw Brothers Classics: Volume 2, with a fun pair of comfort food films to enjoy. Both films look great on Blu-ray, with strong bitrates but almost no extras and a single 2.0 Mono audio mix and English subtitles. A tad barebones, but for the price we’re getting this set at I’m not going to complain, especially with Lady of Steel getting it’s first ever Blu-ray release. Definitely a fun watch.

(as this is a single release from the massive boxset, our "buy now" links will go directly to the boxset and not an individual release)


Technical Specifications:

Starring: Pei-Pei Cheng, Han Chin, Yi Chang, Hua Yueh, Mien Fang
Directed by: Meng-Hua Ho / Wei Lo
Written by: Jen Liang / Wei Lo, Kuang Ni
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC (both)
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes / 106 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 15th, 2023
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Recommendation: Great Watch

 
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