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John Woo
Tao-Liang Tan, James Tien, Jackie Chan
Writing Credits:
John Woo

A survivor of an attack on a rebel group opposing the Manchu invasion of China creates the Goose Fist fighting technique and tries for revenge on a traitor.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Mandarin DTS-HD MA Monaural
Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Cantonese DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 5/9/2023

• Audio Commentary with Film Historians Frank Djeng and Michael Worth
• “From Hong Kong to Hollywood” Featurette
• “A Cool Conversation” Featurette
• “Interview with Sammo Hung” Featurette
• Alternate Opening Credits
• Trailer Gallery
• Image Gallery


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The Hand of Death [Blu-Ray] (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2023)

For the most part, US audiences wouldn’t get hip to the talents of Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo until the 1990s. However, his career started in the mid-1970s, and 1976’s The Hand of Death represents one of his earliest features.

Set during the Qing Dynasty, a warrior called Shih Shao-Feng (James Tien) hunts down Shaolin disciples. Unsurprisingly, this leads to resistance.

As the Shaolin train at a remote camp, Yun Fei (Doran Tan) emerges as the best student. Aided by others, he gets the assignment to take on Shih and redeem the Shaolin.

Given that Woo’s Western fame comes from movies set in modern times and focused on cops and gunplay, it feels a little odd to see him make a more traditional martial arts flick. That said, I find it interesting to watch the young Woo dabble in something outside of what would turn into his trademark wheelhouse.

Hand also comes with two other actors familiar to Western audiences: Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. Actually, I don’t think Hung ever reached a wide non-Asian base, but obviously Chan earned broad fame decades ago.

Should one expect Hand to deliver glimmers of future greatness from Woo, Chan or others? Not really – this becomes a stock-issue martial arts movie without much noteworthy about it other than the future work of some participants.

Woo became a major filmmaker largely due to the fluid and dynamic way he handled action scenes. Unfortunately, those abilities didn’t seem to exist in 1976, as Hand provides a surprisingly stiff effort.

The movie’s fight scenes tend to seem weirdly slow and awkward. They rarely display a kinetic sense of energy.

Woo even resorts to cheap tactics like cut frames to attempt a quicker pace. However, this doesn’t work, and the martial arts pieces lack much to impress the viewer.

The movie’s “story” doesn’t help. Not that Hand attempts a particularly complex plot, of course, as it sticks with the basics.

Nonetheless, even with a pretty rudimentary tale, Hand plods. It barely offers a narrative, as instead it feels more like a collection of little episodes linked together by a loose theme.

As I watched Hand, I found it tough to believe it came from a director as skilled as Woo. Well, I guess many young filmmakers experience growing pains, and Hand shows a director with a long way to go to reach cinematic maturity.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

The Hand of Death appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie delivered a better than expected image.

For the most part, sharpness worked well. Although I found occasional soft shots, these remained in the minority and didn’t create any real distractions.

Hand lacked shimmering or jaggies, and I saw no edge haloes. With a layer of grain, I didn’t suspect problematic noise reduction, and print flaws failed to impair the presentation.

With a natural palette, the movie boasted pretty solid hues. The colors felt largely lively and full.

Blacks seemed deep and dense, while shadows came across as reasonably tight and clear. I felt pleased with this satisfying image.’

In addition, the movie’s remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack came across in a more positive manner than I anticipated. Although the soundscape didn’t dazzle, it opened up matters in a moderate manner.

Music showed decent stereo spread, and effects used the spectrum in a reasonable way. This mainly meant ambience from the five channels plus occasional instances of localized elements, but the track nonetheless managed to create a perfectly adequate sense of the settings.

Audio quality worked fine given the age of the material. With reams of dubbed dialogue, the lines never felt natural, but at least they lacked edginess or other problems.

Effects also showed inconsistencies, and I suspect that some – much? – of this 5.1 remix used re-recorded stems. In any case, these didn’t seem out of place. These elements boasted fairly good clarity and range, even though they – like the dialogue – could seem less than organic.

Music managed acceptable range and clarity, though the score could lean toward the shrill side of the street and lacked much low-end. No one should expect an objectively great remix here, but the track nonetheless worked pretty well.

As we shift to extras, we open with an audio commentary from film historian Frank Djeng and filmmaker Michael Worth. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at cast and performances, stunts and martial arts, sets and locations, genre domains and connections to other films, and their general thoughts about the movie.

Expect a decent but not really deep track here – and one that runs out of steam as it goes. The movie’s first half offers a fair amount of useful movie info, but after that, it feels more like a general appreciation. As such, this ends up as a listenable but average track.

An archival piece called From Hong Kong to Hollywood runs 22 minutes, 52 seconds. It brings notes from writer/director John Woo, cinematographer Peter Pau, and actor Chow Yun Fat.

From 2003 or 2004, “Hollywood” delivers an overview of Woo’s career, though not a particularly deep one. We get a mix of movie clips and general thoughts in this mediocre summary.

Next comes A Cool Conversation, a reel that provides a late 1990s interview with actor Tao-Liang Tan. Conducted by Michael Worth, the 29-minute, 50-second chat covers aspects of his career.

Given his love of martial arts films, Worth makes sure we get insightful questions. Tan becomes an engaging subject who delivers good notes about his work.

An Interview with Sammo Hung spans five minutes, 44 seconds and includes the actor’s memories of Hand. We find a short but reasonably informative chat.

Alternate Opening Credits go for five minutes, three seconds and show mildly different material. They’re useful for archival reasons but not very interesting in an objective sense.

In addition to two trailers - one Mandarin, one English – we end with an Image Gallery. Its 43 frames mix shots from the film and ads to become a decent compilation.

As an early effort from legendary filmmaker John Woo, The Hand of Death offers intrigue. However, it does not work well as a movie in its own right, so expect a surprisingly slow and dull martial arts effort here. The Blu-ray comes with pretty positive picture and audio as well as a mix of bonus materials. The movie seems interesting to see as a historical curiosity but it lacks much entertainment value on its own.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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