Man of Iron/The Water Margin - Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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Apr 4, 2017
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Man of Iron/The Water Margin

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :3.5stars:
Extras: :3stars:
Final Score: :3.5stars:

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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. To keep things different, this set includeds the 1920s gangster film Man of Iron as well as the follow up to The Delightful Forest with The Water Margin

Man of Iron: :3.5stars:
I know most of us imagine Wuxia whenever we think of Shaw Brothers, but the studio pumped out more than it’s share of differently themed films as well, including 1972’s Man of Iron which billed itself as the sequel to The Boxer from Shantung, as a 1920s gangster film. Reality is, while it billed itself as a sequel, and other sources have tried to claim that it’s a REMAKE, I’d say reality is that Man of Iron’s only connection to The Boxer from Shantung is that it uses a similar narrative involving the up and coming new crime lord. That and the fact that it’s based in the same location as the first film. Either way, no one really cares. It’s just an excuse to watch Kuan-Tai Chen kicks some gangster butt.

Man of Iron is set 20 years after the end of The Boxer from Shantung, and the streets and people who have come before this time period have moved on, leaving new gangs and new thugs to infiltrate the city streets. The two major opposing forces are Chang Gen Bao (Chu Mu)’s gang and his rival, Yu Zhen-Ting (Chi-Hung Yeung). The son of Yu ends up gambling his savings away to a nobody named Qiu Lian-Huan (Kuan-Tai Chen) and ends up getting humiliated in front of his father. Yu takes a shine to the sheer charisma and strength of Qiu, and the nobody suddenly has a path to power in front of him.

Now Qiu is thrust into the world of gangs and gangsters, making new friends and even more enemies every day. His sheer force of will and insane combat abilities have him rising through the ranks with alarming alacrity (much to the chagrin of rival gang lords). Soon Qiu is the target of not only rival gangs, but also his own friends as the Scarface esque mobster finds out that the streets are not always kind to people in his line of work.

What seems like a setup to a thrilling gangster movie ends up just being a decent one. The main Scarface like narrative of rags to riches is decent enough, but the story itself never really exceeds where others have. It just simply is a decent gangster film. The real appeal of the film is Kuan-Tai himself, as his charisma and screen presence is INCREDIBLE. The man can fight like a demon out of hell, and every fight scene he’s in is downright mesmerizing. I won’t say that it’s the ONLY reason to watch Man of Iron, but his fight scenes are probably the single most attractive part of this crime drama.

The Water Margin: :4stars:
Set as the successor to Delightful Forest, The Water Margin is one of those movies that got some seriously diametrically opposing opinions back in the day. Adapting chapter’s 64-68 of Shi Nai-An’s sprawling epic novel, it focuses on the 108 rebels of the Liang Shan marshes and their constant battle against the corrupt government officials. Cheh Chang’s 2+ hour long epic film is meant to be a step up from the extremely focused tale of Delightful Forest and expand it out into a more sprawling format. In some ways it works, and other ways it doesn’t, but The Water Margin still is a fun effort by the famous director.

The 108 rebels of the Liang Shang marshes are a constant source of trouble for the corrupt ruling government in ancient China, and their ongoing battles have wearied both sides to the point of frustration. On one hand the government forces fear they may never wipe out the rebels and their guerrilla warriors, while the 108 and their loyal following know that they will never be able to fully wipe out their enemies either, resulting in an effective eternal seeming war. The governmental forces have gained new support in the form of legendary general Shi Wen and his forces to ally themselves to the cause, meaning the rebels are now the weakest they have been since they initially formed themselves to combat evil.

Fearing for the safety of his brethren, rebel leader Sung Chiang decides to seek out the strength of his Kung-Fu colleague Lu Chun, who is busy perfecting his own style and technique rather than engaging in wars, in hopes of evening the playing field a bit. Unfortunately his pleas fall on deaf ears when Lu’s son lets it slip Sung Chiang’s identity, leaving the rebel leader without any hope of allying himself with the powerful fighter. HOWEVER, things get even spicier when Lu’s slimy assistant frames him for treason and the now detached Kung-Fu master finds himself accused of collaborating with the rebels, even when all he wanted was to stay out of things. Lu’s own son Yen Ching is forced to join the rebels in hopes of breaking his father out of jail and saving him, while hopefully forming a new alliance that may take the fight to the governmental forces.

The Water Margin IS a bit of a mixed bag in reality, and I can understand why reviews for the film are so polarizing. For those of you who have read the sprawling novel, this is going to be a bit of a truncated experience. It only follows a short few chapters, thus the massive character list and development is structured just around a few main characters. This is both a benefit and a curse, as it allows us to ignore some of the larger over arching plot points that would not be fleshed out enough in a bare 2 hour film, but also means that the film feels “cropped” as well. The intrigue and political machinations are fun, but also watching someone get imprisoned, then escape, then imprisoned again gets boring real fast.

The film benefits from a couple of really great battle sequences, as well as a few well placed hand to hand combat scenes as well. But this isn’t a non stop action Wuxia film like usual, but a slower burn political drama with some fighting interspersed. As I said at the beginning, I understand why this film gets some controversial reviews and opinions on it. I tend to fall more on the “like it” vs. “don’t like it” category, but still recognize that it has some distinct flaws.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video: :4stars:
Man of Iron: :4.5stars:
Man of Iron comes to Blu-ray with a snazzy looking 1080p encode from Shout Factory, and looks to be the newest and shiniest of them all so far. Gone is the period piece trappings and instead we get a more modern (ish) cool look with normal looking filters, and the backgrounds are no longer so colorful and bright. White clothing and deep black jeans pop off the screen, as does the burnished orange/red of the fake blood still being used. Fine details are generally excellent, with plenty of clarity (check out the scene near the end where Chou is sweating bullets in his white shirt. You can see every drop of sweat dripping down his face). Blacks are generally good, and except for some random scenes that look to be of lower quality (usually during a camera angle change) this is a really nice looking disc.

The Water Margin: :3.5stars:
I’m not sure what’s the dealy-o with this particular master, but this is the first time out of all 8 movies (so far) that I’ve viewed where I stood up and said to myself “well now, this is different”. All of the previous films have looked very clean, very print damage free, and the natural grain has always looked like it MIGHT have had some digital tinkering going on (for better or for worse). However, this one looks very untouched, with a really strong grain level (not wildly grainy in a negative way) and DEFINITELY looks rougher around the edges. Colors don’t look as bright, there’s a ton of vertical lines in the film, and you can definitely see the print debris going on. Don’t get me wrong, the film still looks rather nice, with decent detail levels (I noticed sometimes things looked a bit blurry in backgrounds), but it’s just not as polished and “wow” material like previous films in the set. Sort of looks like the odd man out. I almost wanted to give it a 4/5 at times due to certain scenes looking REALLY nice, and sorta feel like 3.5/5 is too low, but since we don’t have a 3.75/5 rating 3.5 is probably the most accurate rating I can give.

Audio: :3.5stars:
Man of Iron: :4stars:
Yeah, yeah yeah. I know, I’m a broken record with the 4/5 ratings for audio. But simply put, it’s true. These films were all put out in a few year period (with half the films in this entire set being from 1972 alone) and naturally they’re going to sound VERY similar as they were recorded with near identical audio devices. Thusly you’re going to hear very similar mixes with very similar quirks to them. Dialog is still crisp and clean, but still has that audio distortion with loud voices or S’s. The 1970s disco style score sounds good enough, and the fisticuff and impact sounds carry more than enough weight. Good, never great, but still more than capable as usual.

The Water Margin: :3.5stars:
I finally got to break the 4/5 record for audio ratings! Ok, that may not exactly be an amazing thing, but much like the video score, the audio track feels just a bit “rough” if you know what I mean. Dialog distortion shows up a bit more, and the score sounds a tad weak and tinny. There’s still quite a lot of really well done effects throughout the movie, and the dialog is more than capable, it’s just those flaws that I noticed in every other film in this set feels a bit more “pronounced” than the others.

Extras: :3stars:
Man of Iron
• NEW Audio Commentary With James Mudge, Veteran Hong Kong Film Critic At easternKicks
• NEW Audio Commentary With Chris Poggiali, Co-Author Of This Fists Break Bricks And Brian Bankston (Cool Cinema Blog)
• An Iron Will – Meredith Lewis, Author Of Ask For The Moon: Innovation At Shaw Brothers Studios, A 77-Minute Documentary On The Genesis, Rise, Peak And Fall Of The Shaw Brothers Movie Empire
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• German Trailer
• Celestial Trailer

The Water Margin
• NEW Audio Commentary with film historian Brian Bankston (Cool Cinema blog)
• The Master: Chang Cheh
• Elegant Trails: Ti Lung
• Elegant Trails: David Chiang
• Extended Love Scene
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Celestial Trailer
• TV Spot for the U.S. release SEVEN BLOWS OF THE DRAGON

Final Score: :3.5stars:

Another oddball pairing in this 2 pack, with 1 film being a 1920s gangster flick, and the other one a period piece Wuxia film that is sort of a followup to The Delightful Forest. Both films look and sound great, and this is actually the first set of the box set that has a substantial bit more extras than the meager couple of commentaries and a trailer that we had seen to date. Fun watch for sure.

(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: David Chiang, Lung Ti, Kuan Tai Chen, Li Ching, Mu Chu, Chiang Tien
Directed by: Cheh Chang, Hsueh-Li Pao / Cheh CHang, Hsueh-Li Pao, Wu Ma
Written by: Cheh Chang, Kuang Ni / Guanzhong Luo, Kuang Ni
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC (both)
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono (Man of Iron)
Subtitles: English
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: NR
Runtime: 99 minutes / 125 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 15th, 2023

Recommendation: Fun Watch

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