The Delightful Forest/The Devil's Mirror - Blu-ray Review

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The Delightful Forest/The Devil's Mirror


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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. For the third 2 disc case in the boxset we have the Well Go USA released Delightful Forest, as well as the absolute bonkers magic fest that is The Devil's Mirror.

The Delightful Forest: :3.5stars:
Many Chinese period piece films focus on classic Chinese literature for their inspiration, and The Delightful Forest is another one of those that takes the tale straight from classic Chinese novel “Outlaws of the Marsh”. Instead of simply taking a character and using him for inspiration, or a long period of time, it takes chapters 27-31 of the novel and tells the story of Wu Sung’s imprisonment after he kills his two timing sister in law.

The film opens up after finding out that Wu Sung’s (Lung Ti) Sister in Law is two timing around, and to satisfy his brother’s honor, he ends up killing him in a big restaurant brawl scene. Being the honorable folk hero that he is, Wu Sung turns himself in to the local authorities and prepares himself for the punishment he knows he rightfully deserves. However, his captors have great respect for the legendary martial arts master, and treat him better than someone in his position deserves. Even upon arriving at the local prison the warden’s son gives him preferential treatment. Turns out, Shi En (the warden’s son) wants to use Wu Sung for a sticky situation that they have going on. Turns out that Shi En is the boss of a small town named “The Delightful Forest”, but a huge thug by the name of Jiang has come in and basically taken the town away from him. Shi En desires Sung’s help in beating the big thug and helping him regain the town. Being that he’s a hero (and in sort of a predicament), Sung agrees to the man’s request and heads off to the Delightful Forest to bring down the fire on the hulking thug.

The Delightful Forest is a fun Wuxia film that is a delightful balance of Chinese physical comedy and great martial arts fights. However, the one weakness the film possesses is that it’s just a bit too slow paced to be really great. Even at 95 minutes I felt that the film could have trimmed a good 15 minutes out and been a much snappier paced film. That being said, the action is utterly superb. Gone is the revenge plots and over abundance of sword play, and we’re back to hand to hand Kung-fu fights galore. The fight choreography is superb, showcasing Lung Ti’s fantastic abilities at Wushu, and the speed at which everything is done just reeks of the new faster, snappier martial arts that Bruce Lee had recently introduced into the Martial Arts world. The finale alone is worth the price of admission, but beating the tar of out Jiang in the town square was a standout action scene that every Chop Socky lover should have a ball with.

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The Devil's Mirror: :4stars:
And here we go full on weird. The Devil’s Mirror is a complete 180 degree turn for the studio, as they take a classic Wuxia tale and then just throw in a heavy dollop of black magic, a bit of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and just go for freaking broke. Directed by Sun Chung (one of the most under rated Shaw Brothers directors), this film is absolutely zany, absolutely crazy, and a whole barrel of monkeys level of fun as well. Don’t take this too seriously, and you’ll be in a for a pleasant surprise.

Yeah, lets not even kid ourselves here. The Devil’s Mirror doesn’t have a whole ton of plot. It’s more of a nonsensical Wuxia magic film that you’re just along for the ride in. The film opens up with an assembly of Chinese clans who have pledged themselves to dispersing all of the evil in the land. And while they have succeeded for the most part, there still remains a great evil alive and well that they’ve not been able to take care of as of yet. That happens to be the Jiuxuan witch and her Bloody Ghouls clan who are terrorizing the world. She’s out on a mission to steal the Wind magic Mirror and the Thunder Magic Mirror in order to (according to the legends) open the Emperors tomb and take the fish intestines sword (yes that’s what it’s called) and the Thousand Years Ganoderma and become invincible as a sorceress. So naturally it’s up to a couple of young kids named Wen Jianfeng (Lau Dan) and Bai Xiaofeng (Pei-Pei Cheng) to foil the witches plan before she can destroy the world.

Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. This is pure Wuxia insanity mixed with black magic in a hilariously fun combo that should have been a bigger hit than it was. The movie bombed at the box office back in 1972, but has garnered a bit of a cult following with every physical home video release. The film some how manages to blend both Wuxia and black magic while not really leaning one way or the other too heavily. It somehow just WORKS even though it has no business doing so. The movie manages to avoid the over complication and philosophical ramblings of the Wuxia genre, and doesn’t go TOO silly with the black magic either. Sure, there’s some insanely silly stuff going on (the Blood Ghouls read and pink wigs was downright hilarious), but overall it’s played straight with just enough self deprecating humor to let the audience know that they’re definitely self aware.




Rating:

Not Rated by the MPAA




Video: :4stars:
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The Delightful Forest: :4stars:
While it’s not an AMAZING transfer, the new encode by Shout Factory walks circles around the highly disappointing Well Go USA release over a decade ago. The film looks much sharper, with much better visual clarity and detail levels. Colors are rich and vibrant, compared to the dulled and dimmer colors on the Well Go USA disc. Black levels are really nice too, and outside of some crush in darker shots I have very little to complain about. The film is still a bit soft and sometimes out of focus (especially in background shot), but overall looks like a really nice upgrade if you still have your old Sword Masters series Blu-ray.

The Devil's Mirror: :3.5stars:
Most of the encodes have been really good to great so far, but this is the first one that I’m slightly disappointed in. It may not even be Shout or Celestial’s fault, but the film looks really soft and and objects look really out of focus a lot of the time. So much so that I started wondering if it was simply the filming style vs. an actual encode or master problem. The bitrate for the film is still in the mid 30s, and there are scenes that look amazingly sharp and clear. But then there are a ton of shots that look soft and blurry to the eyes. Colors are warm and bright, but still lightly wonky when that blurriness kicks in. Overall the film looks GOOD, but not that good, let alone great.








Audio: :4stars:
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The Delightful Forest: :4stars:
There is sort of a baseline level that all the films in this set up to this point have maintained, and this one is no different. However, this is the first time in the set that we actually have an English Dub to include along with the Mandarin DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono tracks. Not that it’s something you actually want to listen to (the dub is HORRENDOUS), but fans of Dubs will at least be satisfied that it’s there. Dialog is crisp and clean with minimal hiss at the end of words like usual, and the score comes through ferociously. Combat sound effects crack with gusto, and every crunch and crash as a human body slams through something is satisfying and punchy. Overall, good track.

The Devil's Mirror: :4stars:
The Devil’s Mirror is more of the same. Good dialog, minimal hiss (actually one of the best for dialog harshness), and great use of the score. Impacts and magical blast show a strong sense of presence, and the overall balance of the track is near impeccable. Due to the dialog hiss and a few drops in volume here or it’s not going to be legendary, but it is more than capable.











Extras: :2stars:
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The Delightful Forest
• NEW Audio Commentary With Cult Film Critic Ian Jane
• NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Brian Bankston (Cool Cinema Blog)
• Celestial Trailer

The Devil's Mirror
• NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Brian Bankston (Cool Cinema Blog)
• Theatrical Trailer














Final Score: :3.5stars:


This is probably the most hilariously opposite pairing in the entire box set, but The Delightful Forest is a good film that blows the Well Go USA Sword Masters series film straight outta the water, and The Devil’s Mirror is a fun bit of absurdist fare that is welcomed after all of the over serious flicks that came before it. Bit of an odd couple, but still very much a blast.

(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, Lung Ti, Mu Chu, Ching Tien, Dan Lau, Hsieh Wang, Lin Tung
Directed by: Cheh Chang, Hsueh-Li Pao / Chung Sun
Written by: Cheh Chang, Shu-Mei Chin, Kuang Ni / Yang Chiang
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC (both)
Audio: Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono (The Delightful Forest)
Subtitles: English
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: NR
Runtime: 93 minutes / 90 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 15th, 2023
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Recommendation: Fun Watch

 
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