Tai Seng's third Blu-ray offering is the over-produced, underwhelming House of Fury (Jing mo gaa ting, 2005), a shameless if innocuous Hong Kongese rip-off of Spy Kids (2001). In the earlier film two children, brother and sister, don't appreciate their parents until learning Mom and Dad are secret agents - and have to rescue them when their elders are kidnapped. In House of Fury, two much older children, also brother and sister, don't appreciate their widower father until learning he's a secret agent and must rescue him from ruthless kidnappers. Beyond this rather brazen bit of larceny, as an action-comedy-family melodrama House of Fury falls flat in all three departments, mainly due to the unambitious writing and extreme over-stylization - a case of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Tai Seng's Blu-ray looks and sounds quite nice however, though the extras are little more than a video presskit that only hardcore fans of the film will want to touch.
Widower Yue Siu Bo (Anthony Wong) works as an old-fashioned Chinese chiropractor in Hong Kong. His children don't get along with one another and are embarrassed by Dad's tall tales of epic martial arts battles. Son Nicky (Stephen Fung) works as a dolphin trainer while Siu Bo's daughter Natalie is a student. Early on we're also introduced to Natalie's friend Ella (Charlene Choi), whom Nicky is attracted to; and Jason (Daniel Wu), Natalie's soft-spoken boyfriend.
Bitter Eurasian former spy Rocco (Michael Wong) is looking for retired agent, Tai Chi-Lueng, who paralyzed him from the neck down and left him a wheelchair-restricted paraplegic. Aware that the retired agent is under Siu Bo's protection, Rocco threatens the mild-mannered spy and his two kids. Later, it's up to the kids to rescue Pop from Rocco's clutches.
Though inoffensive matinee fun, just about nothing in House of Fury lives up to its potential. Verbal and sight gags fall flat (including some painfully unfunny references to Bruce Lee; even They Call Me Bruce? had more laughs), misplaced sentiment comes off as corny and artificial, and there's not one action set piece that's memorable. The biggest mistake the filmmakers make is in over-producing and over-stylizing every scene with sweeping dolly shots, wireworks, CGI, slow- and fast-motion effects, helicopter shots - you name it. Given the featherweight script, a more straightforward storytelling approach would have been preferable. As it is all the jazzy camera work and music video-style cutting only accentuate the feebleness of the material.
The script also badly botches its premise. The film opens with a fantasy action sequence with Yue Siu Bo, apparently an embellished take on an actual mission. The film then spends time with Dad and his bratty kids - Nicky really comes across as a big jerk - and then that's followed by a singularly disconnected scene where Rocco tortures and murders and prisoner. Next Rocco appears at Yue Siu Bo's clinic. The problem here is that the script doesn't position its audience either from the kids' perspective of not having a clue about their father's secret identity (in other words, reveal the Big Surprise 30 minutes into the film), nor do we stick with Dad's vantage point and his problem of wanting to win his kids' respect without blowing his cover (which might have had some comic potential). Instead this leaves the audience merely impatient: okay, Dad's a spy and the kids don't appreciate him - so get on with it already.
The sloppy screenplay is also rife with plot holes: Why don't Nicky and Natalie get suspicious when musician Jason inexplicably demonstrates an expert understanding of voice encryption computer firewalls? Why when Yue Siu Bo's life hangs by a thread does Jason have a long cheesy flashback about a keychain Natalie once gave him? Worst of all is an especially embarrassing bit of shorthand Kurosawa: desperately needing the assistance of a character reluctant to offer it, sunny skies give way to a tumultuous downpour within seconds, over-symbolically signaling the man's acquiescence.
Where the film ought to deliver it doesn't. The martial arts action sequences are routine, and all the quick cutting, too-tight shots, and wire and CGI manipulation are overused to the point of deadening their impact instead of enhancing them. In the old days Jackie Chan (who co-executive produced this) took the Fred Astaire approach: do it all yourself in long takes and wide medium shots where the acrobatics can be appreciated. In House of Fury everyone gets to be a martial arts superstar, even Rocco's kid, but it's all boring and unconvincing. (The single surprise about the film is that Rocco doesn't somehow jump into the action for the big climax, a la Enter the Dragon's iron claw-fisted Han.)
Video & Audio
House of Fury was filmed in anamorphic Panavision, and this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer generally is pretty strong. The DNR is under control, with the image showing a pleasing level of fine grain and detail. Ironically enough the detail is most apparent during the end titles, where the tiny Chinese font in the bilingual credits is sharp and readable despite its size. Back in the laserdisc days Hong Kong masters were often spicily, scratchy theatrical prints that look like they had just come back from a long run at the grindhouse, but House of Fury looks as good as any Hollywood studio release. Color and contrast are strong and consistent.
The five audio options are pretty impressive: the original Cantonese LPCM and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 tracks, Mandarin-dubbed 5.1 Dolby Digital Stereo, English-dubbed 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Vietnamese-dubbed 2.0 stereo. Subtitles are available in English, traditional and simplified Chinese. (The disc defaults to Cantonese with no subtitles.) I tried the English-dubbed track but found the voice characterizations so poor I quickly switched to the Cantonese tracks and the easy-to-read English subtitles. Given that the film cost just $4.4 million (estimated) to make, one shouldn't expect the same audio standards as a high concept Hollywood blockbuster, but I found the range and the mixing close to those premium standards.
The supplements are all 4:3 standard definition with the exception of some cast interviews, which are standard def but 1.78:1 full frame. At least everything is English-subtitled.
Extras are limited to what are basically promotional materials: cast interviews, a making of and behind-the-scenes featurette, a couple of trailers, TV spots, and a U.S. home video promo (erroneously billed as a trailer). If you loved the movie or one of its stars you might want to watch this, but most will want to skip it.
This is a generally weak film that looks and sounds fairly impressive on Blu-ray. Older children and younger teenagers might enjoy. For Hong Kong action connoisseurs, however, this is pretty tepid material and at most you'll want to Rent It.
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