I got these reviews in an email from Atomic Mystery Monster. Since I'm not the biggest Kung Fu fan, I thought I'd post these for those of you interested in the Treeline Action DVDs. Thank you again Mr. Monster for these reviews!
3 Treeline single disc DVDs. Reviewed using an APEX AD 660 model player
General notes: All the DVDs have a basic menu screen offering the option of either playing the movie or selecting a chapter. There are only four chapter stops encoded on the disc. Also, there is no button on the chapter selection menu that can take you back to the main menu. All of the DVDs are of video tape quality, but some are better than others.
Ninja Death 1 (aka Ninja Death and Venom of the Ninja)
What they say: 90 minutes - What I say: 83 minutes
Movie: The movie begins with ninjas attacking a fleeing group of people. One of the group members is forced to escape with a baby after its mother-a princess-commits suicide so that she can’t be used as a hostage. Flash forward. We meet Tiger, the bouncer at a brothel. In a interesting new twist on the whole “China vs. Japan” convention of martial arts movies, Tiger is having some problems with a rival Japanese brothel. But what Tiger doesn’t know is that the brothel is only a front for an evil group that’s out which man is the baby that had escaped from them. You see, baby had a special tattoo on its chest and they figured that the easiest way to get a guy’s shirt off was to open a brothel. Not that it helps them, because the tattoo keeps disappearing, either from some magic spell or bad continuity. I honestly don’t know. Anyway, Tiger’s master realizes that the ninja are in town and starts Tiger in a regime of bizarre martial arts techniques so that he’ll be strong enough to defeat the ninjas. Lots of new characters get introduced randomly, Tiger’s master gets seriously injured in a battle with a seemingly invincible ninja in a demon mask, and…just watch the movie and quit reading my piss-poor attempt at describing it. It’s got something for everyone: Interesting fights, nudity, and hilarious dialogue. I should note that they killed a snake for this movie, so all PETA-types should avoid watching it.
The random appearances of characters, bizarre and seemingly unexplained scenes (like when Tiger forces himself on a ninja girl while he’s asleep. I’m still trying to figure that one out), and the lack of any credits despite a segment that was obviously supposed to be a title sequence suggests that this is a bunch of episodes of a tv show that were edited together. According to my online research, the movie is made up from episodes of the “Venom of the Ninja" tv series.
Memorable dialogue: Hell, every other line is an example of memorable dialogue.
“I don’t like homosexuals…not in the back door!”-Tiger, thinking that a guy trying to see if he has the special tattoo is an overly aggressive gay prostitute.
“Master, why don’t you just beat the shit out of them?”-Tiger, reacting to his master’s concerns about the ninjas.
Presentation: This is sourced from a VHS tape. There are many video glitches at the beginning, but they lessen in frequency as the movie goes on. Some minor artifacting occurs during some of the fight scenes, but it’s still watchable. It’s full frame, but since this is made up of episodes of a tv show, that’s probably the correct aspect ratio. Sometimes its obvious that new music has been crudely inserted into the movie because you can still hear the original music faintly playing under the new stuff. However, that’s a fault of the distributor and not of those who made the DVD. I should also note that the accents switch from American to British at times. Apparently, the “movie” was partially dubbed in one country and was then completed in another country for some unknown reason. Unlike the other DVDs I watched, this one had no problems with fast forwarding or rewinding.
All in all, this was the best dollar I've ever spent. A nice introduction to the Venom of the Ninja series for those who can't afford to do a blind buy of the Crash Cinema packs. I know that Ninja Death II and Ninja Death III were released at one point and hopefully Treeline will release them sometime.
Headhunter (aka The Long Goodbye, The Head Hunter, and Hunting Head)
They say: 90 minutes - I say: 97 mintues
Movie: Chow Yun Fat stars as Nguyen Dich, a Vietnam war veteran who moved to Hong Kong and now kills people for some evil guy in order to send money back to his family. Now this might sound like a recipe for an intriguing thriller, but that's not the case in this movie. Instead, you get a muddy plot that involves an evil film company distributing nerve gas(?), a female reporter who falls in love with Fat's character, and the "headhunter" of the title who only appears in the title sequence and near the end of the movie. Random war flashbacks appear as if they're supposed to mean something, but add nothing to the story or characters. If you're expecting any of the gun use that Chow Yun Fat is famous for, you're going to be very disappointed. You'll also be disappointed if you're expecting actual martial arts. The fighting is limited to a few punches and kicks that you'd expect to see in a low budget American action movie. The movie's greatest sin is that it's boring. The one minute segment that I saw of City on Fire during that "Chop Socky Fest" awhile back was a million times more exciting than Headhunter's entire runtime. I can only recommend this movie to people who have to see every one of Chow Yun Fat's movies. For fans of unintentional humor, the only thing worthy of note is that one of the dubbed characters sounds amazingly like StinkoMan (http://homestarrunner.com/underconstruction.html).
Memorable dialogue: None
Presentation: The movie switches from letterbox to a close-up letterbox that seems like full screen presentation, but you can still see part of the black bars. It's a dark print, so it can be hard to make out details in some scenes. Although there is no artifacting, there are some specks and minor print damage. The word "Screening" appears on screen about one minute into the movie and then reappears around forty minutes into the movie. Despite being letterboxed, the movie is not presented in its correct aspect ratio. This is most obvious during the opening credits. For some reason, trying to fast forward at a speed over "2X" makes you atuomatically skip to the next chapter. If you attempt to rewind, the DVD will either skip or freeze.
Fighting Mad (aka Death Force and Fierce)
They say: 96 minutes - I say: 89 minutes
Movie: What? Vietnam again? Dammit...
The movie begins with three soldiers from stopping in the Philippines in order to get paid for some black market gold they got in Vietnam. After getting paid, they head back to America via boat with a shipment of black-market gold. However, two of them decide that they'd be better off without their partner (Doug), who would likely oppose their plans of becoming crime lords back home using the gold and the skills they learned in Vietnam, stab him, and shove him off the boat. Unbeknownst to them, he isn’t dead, he just got washed on the shore of an island and was nursed back to health by two Japanese soldiers who don’t know that WWII is over. Said soldiers are dubbed in the most stereotypical manner I have ever heard. Faux Asian accents, mixing up L’s and R’s, that sort of thing. Starting off as their servant of sorts, Doug manages to convince the general to teach him how to use a katana. Eventually, the comic relief soldier dies and a US military boat lands on the island. So, with newly acquired katana in head, Doug hitches a ride with them. Back at home, he finds out that his former friends all but rule the city and that one of them is trying to move in on his wife. So Doug whips out his sword and starts killing henchmen in an attempt to find his former friends. The movie doesn’t use martial arts that often. Occasionally, Doug will do a few kicks and then the fight is over as soon as it started. Even his fight with a swordsman hired by his enemies fails to generate excitement. And while the movie’s goofy fashions, bad voice acting, and bizarre dialogue provide some amusement, it quickly wears off. At least it did for me; your mileage may vary. All in all, I wasn’t bored by the movie, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled by it either. Still, it’s far more entertaining than Headhunter was. I only recommend buying it if you know a store that offers generous trade-ins on used bargain bin DVDs.
Memorable dialogue: “They do that to you? They no friends. We your friends. We mother-humpers.”-The comic relief Japanese solider, after hearing Doug explain that the “mother-humpers” who tried to kill him were “just some friends”.
[The fish speech]: I'm too lazy to type it out, but I'm noting it because Quentin Tarantino reused it in "Kill Bill". It's the scene where Sonny Chiba's character gets into an argument with his helper over fish. I still can't believe that Tarantino decided to quote "Fighting Mad"...
Presentation: The print seems to be from a full screen EP mode tape. The picture is a bit jumpy for a short time at the beginning and video glitches occur every now and then. The colors are faded and there is an odd yellow tint present during all the night scenes. Minor artifacting occurs during some scenes involving fast motion on the island. However, this is not too distracting. Still, it’s watchable and the quality is what one would expect for a dollar.
Other thoughts about Treeline:
At the store I bought these DVDs at, they had one Treeline martial arts title that wasn't on the martial arts section of the Treeline website: One Down, Two to Go. Considering the presence of that movie, Black Fist, Fighting Mad, and Black Cobra in the Treeline "martial arts collection", I think it's safe to say that the 50 pack will be padded with blacksploitation movies, just as the science fiction pack was padded with Hercules movies and how the horror pack was padded with Mr. Wong movies. I also feel that it's safe to say that the Black Cobra sequels will also show up on the 50 pack, due to the availability of the Black Cobra sequels on other cheap DVDs.
The martial arts set was supposed to have come out earlier this month, but it's been a no-show at stores and most online retailers. Those that do list it only use the same vague promotional text about the set featuring the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Fred Williamson, etc. I did find on online retailer (ccvideo.com) who had it listed as having a January 11, 2005 release date. Perhaps rights problems forced them to push back the release date.
However, I’ve heard bad stuff in the past about Treeline’s horror or science fiction pack having a “slowed down” look to the films due to cramming 4-5 movies on both sides of a DVD, but I’ve also heard some positive stuff about their family and serial packs, so I don’t know what to expect quality-wise. Since it’s fifty movies on 13 DVDs, I’m guessing that it’ll be 3-4 movies per side. If anyone picks this up, please post about it (and make sure to buy it at a place with a good return policy in case that slow down thing or rampant artifacting occurs). My local Borders Booksellers has it listed in their database for around $14.99, so that might be a good place to get it if their return policy is good.
I can't help but wonder about the martial arts set’s box art. If it’s anything like these, it’ll be good for some cheap laughs. http://treelinefilms.com/product/video/multipacks.shtml
I picked these up at the Microcenter in Cambridge. Massachusetts.