Iceman
Well Go USA // R // $29.98 // November 11, 2014
Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 3, 2014
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
To be clear upfront: there's no question that Iceman, a Hong Kong action-comedy released in its home country in 3D, is a patently silly movie. The story follows He Ying, a Ming Dynasty royal guard, who, after being wrongfully accused of treason and sentenced to death, ends up caught in a blizzard along with his former friends and is frozen alive for 400 years, re-awakening in 2013 to a whole new world. That said, there's good kinds of silly and bad kinds of silly, and Iceman consistently lands on the wrong side of that divide, on top of its awful pacing, disappointing lack of action, and an ending that leaves the story dangling, in anticipation of a sequel slated to open in late 2014.

From the trailers, it appeared Iceman would begin in the past and transition to the present as a mid-movie game-changer, but the movie wastes no time getting to the modern world. The very first scene features a spectacular van crash, unleashing not just He Ying (Donnie Yen), but also two fellow guardsmen who were in hot pursuit before the cold front moved in, the irritable Sao (Wang Baoqiang), and the more stoic Niehu (Yu Kang). They are separated right off the bat, with He Ying unexpectedly spending Halloween with May (Huang Shengyi) and her friends, who are perplexed by his strange behavior, while Sao and Niehu take over a street gang with their impressive martial arts. All the while, a corrupt policeman named Cheung (Simon Yam) is tracking all three of them, having brokered a black market deal to try and buy the three men when they were still frozen.

Another unfortunate impression one might get based on the trailers is that Iceman is an action movie, or worse, a martial arts movie. There are a couple of martial arts sequences, which offer some fleeting thrills, but the movie is mostly a comedy. He Ying's first order of business upon waking up? A fire-hose like piss, the spray going at least ten feet. In another flabbergasting sequence, He Ying becomes trapped in a small house with an entire SWAT team outside, so he builds up gas in a toilet by taking a nasty dump, which causes a massive explosion that flings feces on his would-be captors. A key piece of the film's mythology rests on Linga, a yellow, stalactite-like rock with a bit of a face at the top of it, which is believed to be Shiva's penis, and may also be the key to time travel. I've got nothing against low-brow humor, but the exaggerated way these moments are executed which makes them feel more gross than funny.

In truth, the core of the movie is about the relationship between He Ying and May, which starts out with her drunk, and begins to creep toward a deeper loyalty. It's a love story, but more of a platonic one (so far, anyway), with May's awe at the kindness and nobility of He Ying growing as the film goes on (she's not around to see the toilet bomb). Meanwhile, the other two popsicle people adjust to modern living, enjoying the food and the women (as long as they're not Japanese). Too much of the film meanders in a bit of a holding pattern, with the two antagonistic guards doing nothing to find the Iceman, and the Iceman seemingly unsure of what it is he's supposed to be doing, or hoping someone will do it for him. He seems generally unconcerned with the idea that he's stuck in the 21st century, and he has no idea his two friends are out to get him, leaving the story with nowhere to go until he arbitrarily pushes it forward himself.

In terms of what action there is, director Law Wing-cheung is building it up for a big finale, an elaborate action sequence set on a bridge, but the payoff isn't worth it. The fight is frequently listless, even when He Ying finds a white stallion to ride into battle. There's so much wirework and CGI used in these sequences that they lose a good amount of their punch, and the film basically puts all its eggs in one basket by waiting until the end to deliver what the audience probably wants to see. Worst of all, that disappointment is only the foundation for another, the film's big reveal. Without explaining what it actually is, the big reveal is that Iceman doesn't have any answers, it's all just preamble for that sequel that's reportedly on the horizon. If you like your movies crude, tedious, and unsatisfying, reheat Iceman immediately.

The Blu-ray
Well Go USA brings Iceman home with cover art that maybe misses the right balance between Donnie Yen's imposing medieval hero and the contemporary setting, which is really the appeal of the movie -- will people notice the modern skyscrapers and helicopter in the background? The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-ray case, with a spot-gloss, embossed slipcover surrounding it. There is also an insert inside the case advertising other Well Go USA Blu-rays.

The Video and Audio
Iceman re-awakens with an impressive 2.39:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. Nearly every Well Go USA title I've seen has had serious banding problems in low lighting, but their recent release of Firestorm suggested they might be turning over a new leaf. That film took place mostly during the daytime, but Iceman continues Well Go's improvement streak despite an opening in the middle of the evening. Rich, inky blacks -- almost too inky until after the credits, when they even out -- surround razor-sharp detail and strong, occasionally vibrant color (wide cityscapes are nice and vivid, but alleys appear more intentionally yellow).

Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in Cantonese, with optional English subtitles. This is a big, bold cartoon of a film, and the soundtrack is big and bold as well, with energetic fight sequences full of whipping limbs and punishing blows. Furthermore, atmospheric effects, such as the bustling city nightlife, or a pulsing club beat, provide other opportunities for the mix to pull the viewer in (at one point, the sound of a honking car approaching was so convincing it actually caused me to jump). Dialogue can sound dubbed, but that's undoubtedly an aspect of the original production, rather than this specific audio track. A lossy 2.0 version of the Cantonese track, an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dub, French and Spanish Dolby 5.1, and French and Spanish subtitles are all also included.

The Extras
Only one supplement is included here, a making-of (20:13, HD). It's split up into multiple parts, but clicking on the first one will play the entire set of them all the way through, so that's probably preferable. As with so many Asian films, these are basically like webisodes, each featuring an intro and outro, and a mix of on-set footage and interviews. A little bland.

Trailers for Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, Kundo, and Special ID play before the main menu, and are selectable again under the "Previews" option. An original trailer for Iceman is also included.

Conclusion
I went into Iceman expecting to see something silly, something like The Visitors with more martial arts. What I got was a slow-paced slog that's playing the long game by saving the resolution for another chapter, which smells like a rip-off to me. Skip it.



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