House of Fury
Tai Seng // Unrated // $19.95 // December 13, 2005
Review by Joshua Zyber | posted December 16, 2005
M O V I E
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A U D I O
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:
A cross between True Lies and Spy Kids for the Hong Kong market, House of Fury is a family-friendly action comedy from Jackie Chan's production company and director Stephen Fung (Gen-X Cops). The enormously likeable Anthony Wong (scene-stealing supporting actor from just about every movie made in Hong Kong for the past decade) stars, with Daniel Wu (young co-star in half those movies), Gillian Chung (Twins Effect), and a handful of other faces that should be recognizable to anyone who's watched an HK film in recent years. Stunts and action are choreographed by the master Yuen Wo-Ping. Quite an assemblage of talent has been compiled here, and you'd hope the result would be something special. It isn't, really, but the picture is an entertaining and agreeable enough way to pass 102 minutes.

Wong plays middle-aged father Teddy Yu, mild-mannered chiropractor by day and super kung-fu secret agent by night, or at least that's the way he tells it to anyone who'll listen. His teenage kids consider dad an embarrassment, always bothering their friends with outlandish "big fish" tales about his exploits against supernatural ninjas and diabolical madmen, and Teddy accepts his status as a good-natured fool. The twist, as you can see coming, is that Teddy really is a super kung-fu secret agent. His cover is in being so open about his identity that no one could possibly believe him, least of all his own children.

Soon enough a shadowy figure from Teddy's past appears and trouble starts brewing. Teddy is kidnapped by a Blofeld/Dr. Evil wannabe, leaving his kids to discover the truth of his identity and race into action to rescue their old man. It's a good thing that Pop taught them kung-fu, just in case something like this should ever happen. Much martial arts mayhem ensues.

House of Fury has a cute concept and in execution attempts to provide a little something for every demographic. There's goofy humor for the youngsters, a set of heartthrob leads for teens (though, disturbingly, the closest the film offers for romance is some flirtation between one character and his own cousin; maybe something hasn't been translated correctly), and quite a bit of kung-fu and excitement for action fans. The problem is that the movie just doesn't break any new ground. Not that every movie needs to be an innovative masterpiece, but everything here feels so familiar and warmed over. The picture is highly derivative of many other films, both Chinese and American. Unlike better pastiche projects (such as Tarantino's Kill Bill opuses), this one never comes together to develop its own identity. Everything feels recycled. Even the fight scenes, well choreographed by the redoubtable Yuen Wo-Ping, feel repetitive and fail to innovate. We've seen all these moves before.

Worse, the movie can't quite decide what type of action film it wants to be. The majority of the kung-fu is staged in a "realistic" manner (I hesitate to use that word, given how ridiculously difficult it would be for a real person to attempt this sort of thing), but then every once in a while director Fung will throw in a Wuxia element where characters can suddenly fly through the air with superhuman grace. The movie tries to be Jackie Chan with random bursts of Jet Li mixed in for no discernable reason. A novice viewer probably wouldn't notice, but it's quite distracting for anyone who watches a lot of this stuff and can tell the difference.

Nonetheless, House of Fury has its charms. It's worth a viewing if for no other reason than to watch Anthony Wong, a star usually associated with gangster and police thrillers, bust into some kung-fu moves and kick ass. The opening scene in which he nonchalantly takes on hordes of ghostly assassins is a total blast. I wish the rest of the movie had lived up to that promise, but even if not it's still a reasonably fun adventure that won't waste too much of your time.

The DVD:
Tai Seng has released House of Fury in a 2-disc edition that I would assume contains a direct port of the audio and video transfer from the earlier Hong Kong release by Joy Sales. The bonus features appear to be more English-friendly, however.

Don't be misled by the cover art, which shows all of the characters dressed up in costumes they never wear in the film. It even has one character standing in a kung-fu pose even though in the movie itself he's wheelchair-bound for the entire feature.

Video:
The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 video transfer is just plain terrific. The picture is very sharp and detailed, with next to no edge enhancement ringing (I only spotted some in one shot). Vibrant colors pop off the screen. The contrast range is also extremely vivid, from the gleaming white of Anthony's Wong's first kung-fu uniform to deep, inky blacks, always with plenty of shadow detail. Digital compression has no significant errors. This is a first rate job all around.

Audio:
The movie's original Cantonese soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS. Switching between the two, the DTS track is slightly preferable, though to be honest both were disappointing. The mix is very directional with active use of the surround channels, but fidelity is just not as full-bodied as the best soundtracks. Most upsetting is the fact that the entire audio wusses out during the action scenes when it should become the most aggressive. Instead, most dialogue and comedy scenes have crisp sound effects and some moderately effective bass, but as soon as a real fight starts up the volume level for the entire track drops as if a dynamic range compression filter were used. The opening scene starts off pretty good, but afterwards this volume drop happens consistently throughout the movie any time an action scene begins.

Also annoying is the fact that the dialogue is poorly recorded in a number of scenes, with echoes or hollow ambience. Under normal circumstances, ADR looping should be used in post-production to re-record the lines, but apparently that wasn't done.

Alternate Mandarin and English dub tracks are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1. The English dub is hilariously awful, especially the nasally voice given to Anthony Wong. As a matter of fact, all of the characters have nasally voices. Optional English and Chinese subtitles are available. The English translation is quite good for the most part, but some of the verbal jokes in the dialogue just don't translate well. The subtitles appear entirely within the 2.35:1 image in anamorphic mode.

Extras:
Both discs in the set start with lengthy, unskippable forced trailers. Worse, they are the exact same trailers on both discs! Hitting STOP and then MENU as soon as the disc starts up should get you past them on most DVD players.

Disc 1 contains only 3 non-anamorphic letterbox trailers for the film. The rest of the supplements are on Disc 2, starting with the 45-minute Behind the Scenes featurette. The piece consists entirely of raw production footage of the actors and crew doing their thing on set. Subtitles appear sporadically when people talk. Despite its length, I would hesitate to call this a "documentary" since there is no narrator to explain what is happening and no sense of deliberate editing structure at all. It's really as if a couple of cameras were plopped down on set waiting for people to walk in front of them, and now we get to see everything they shot. I watched a few minutes of it and then skipped around to see more of the same. I can hardly imagine anything more tedious.

Following this are 55 minutes of Cast and Crew Interviews from stars Daniel Wu, Gillian Chung, Josie Ho, Michael Wong, and director Stephen Fung. Wong's interview is conducted in English, while the rest are Cantonese with English subtitles. Daniel Wu seems like an intelligent young man and struggles to find interesting things to say. The rest mostly just recap the movie's plot or their character's role in it.

A 10-minute Making Of featurette comes straight from the EPK packet. The disc finishes with 8 TV Spots.

No ROM supplements have been included.

Final Thoughts:
House of Fury is a lightweight but modestly entertaining action comedy. The DVD has great video, but disappointing audio and nothing special for bonus features. I doubt this is an essential purchase for most viewers, but I enjoyed it enough to give it a mild recommendation. A rental may suffice for most.

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