Armageddon (HK)

Armageddon (HK) (1997)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Andy Lau, Anthony Wong, Michelle Reis
Extras: Commentary Track, Making Of Featurette, Trailers, Filmographies

Unlike the Michael Bay blockbuster of the same name, Gordon Chan’s "Armageddon, " also known under its original title "Tian di xiong xin," does not predict an end of the world by forces from outer space, but from force much more within ourselves. In a film that is turning one man’s search for the truth into a voyage to save the world, director Gordon Chan is delivering a supernatural film in which nothing is what it seems. Tai Seng Video Marketing has now created a domestic version of the movie for release in the US, which also includes some interesting supplements.

Through a series of mysteries, some of the world’s top research scientists are killed. Through combustion, their bodies literally disintegrate from one second to the other and following the string of deaths leads the police to Dr. Ken (Andy Lau) who may very well be the next victim in line. No one knows exactly what triggered the deaths but it seems clear that is not happening by accident. Protected by his friend, policeman Chiu Tai-Pang (Anthony Wong), Dr. Ken tries to figure out a clue to the killer, when suddenly he has a frightening vision. His dead fiancé (Michelle Reis), suddenly appears in front of him! At first everyone believes he was hallucinating, but shortly after, the dead girl reappears with an entire group of policemen assembled to witness the appearance.
Immediately Ken begins to search for traces to find his lost love and as he puts together the pieces he begins to suspect that the end of the world is near, and that he is the only one able to save the human race from Armageddon.

"Armageddon" is a great mixture between science fiction and the supernatural. The story opens up straight-forward but soon twists in the storyline catch the viewer off-guard, making the film a remarkably interesting experience. In many cases the plot masterfully misleads the viewer and disguises events as something else, as it builds to the climax. With a running length of 113-minutes, this uncut version of the film is a little long and drags occasionally, but it works very well when regarded as a whole.

For what is almost atypical, "Armageddon" is a film where the focus is not solely on the physical action, but much more on the emotional distress Andy Lau’s character is going through, as well as the pain his friend has to deal with, knowing in what mortal danger Dr. Ken is. The feelings between the two ping-pong all the time and director Gordon Chan does a great job, giving each character enough space to wrestle with these emotional parts for the audience. It all culminates in the film’s furious finale, where the viewer is not only rooting so strongly for the main characters but finds himself engrossed by the sacrifices they are willing to make. Don’t worry, though, the action is never falling short in this explosive film and there are a great many scenes with big explosions and plenty of gunplay. The movie’s great opening in the laboratory will quickly put you in the right mindset for that.

"Armageddon" is presented in a non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> version on this DVD in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The print is mostly clear, although occasional scratches are evident. The transfer is a bit soft, most likely a result of the digital noise reduction applied to rid the transfer of all minor blemishes, but the presentation in general is rich and shows a good level of detail. Color reproduction is very good with strong hues and tinges, creating a strikingly rich presentation that nicely captures the movie’s imaginative cinematography. The transfer’s black level is perfect, making sure blacks are absolutely solid while shadows always maintain a good level of definition.
The compression is good and no distracting compression artifacts are evident in the presentation of the movie, creating a truly pleasant viewing experience.

The disc contains the movie’s original <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track in Cantonese, as well as Mandarin and English Dolby Digital tracks as well. The track makes fairly aggressive use of the surround channels and creates a sound field that is wholly enveloping at times. Dialogues are well integrated, giving us a presentation that is always understandable and lines are never drowned out by sound effects or the music. The English dub is adequate, although the English subtitled Cantonese version is clearly to be preferred as it much more captures the essence and flair of the film. To me it just doesn’t feel right to hear Anthony Wong in a cheesy overdub.

Being a domestic release by Tai Seng, the disc also contains a great <$commentary,commentary track> by director Gordon Chan. He is accompanied by Hong Kong Film Expert Stefan Hammond, who serves as a moderator and interviewer on this track. Knowledgeable about the film and the subject matter, Hammond is able to create a <$commentary,commentary track> that is oftentimes coming across as an open conversation rather than an interview per se. Together, they explore various areas of the film, ranging from the basic thematics, the cast, the characters, the production and other aspects. It is an entertaining and very informative <$commentary,commentary track> that will give even uninitiated viewers a lot more understanding for how Hong Kong filmmakers work and approach their films.

The DVD also comes with a 25-minute "Making Of" Documentary that features cast and crew interviews as well as some behind-the-scenes footage from the set. The featurette is a nice addition, although it doesn’t really go in-depth on the production and is rather focused on discussing the story’s characters. The original Hong Kong trailer as well as the domestic trailer for "Armageddon" are also found on this DVD, together with cast and crew filmographies.

"Armageddon" is a very cool film that wraps up a few great genres to create a thrilling mix between a science fiction and supernatural thriller. The film clearly shows Chan’s trademark action elements, but combined with the other elements he managed to create a very cool film. I know many of you will definitely dig this film, because it play like the Hong Kong counterpart of the "The X-Files" with the physical action kicked up a notch. Tai Seng has prepared a great DVD for this movie and especially the addition of the director’s commentary is a bonus feature that weighs in heavily, as it offers a rare glimpse in to the workings of an acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker.