Review for The Iceman Cometh - Deluxe Collector's Edition
Recently, the usual boutique labels have been addressing the absence of Yuen Biao movies from UK Blu-ray shelves, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating them all, not having seen most of them before. I’ve been even more eager to watch Iceman Cometh, although this is a title that I previously reviewed for MyReviewer on the Hong Kong Legends DVD. Unfortunately, that was a DVD that literally fell apart. The first time I watched it, it was fine, the second time it glitched and skipped at one point, and the last time, it just refused to play altogether. Most DVD delamination failures result in discoloration and/or sticky residue, which can usually be temporarily addressed with a wash in warm soapy water. The Iceman Cometh DVD had no such evidence. It just stopped working. So I’m glad that 88 Films are releasing Iceman Cometh (they’ve lost the ‘The’ from the title in the interim), although everything isn’t as perfect as usual with this release.
Given just how typically jam-packed this title is from 88 Films, you probably won’t notice that it’s comparatively anorexic in the extras department, but they are in the process of doing some damage control following a recent unwise series of decisions. They contracted a certain Weinstein #MeToo era individual to provide extra content for their forthcoming releases, and didn’t handle the subsequent, and predictable backlash well, leading to several of their regular contributors ending, or pausing their relationships with the label. The decision has been reversed, but damage control is a lengthy process, and obviously some of the pre-solicited extras have been dropped.
Fung-San has rejected his training and is on a hedonistic rampage, raping and murdering whenever it suits him. When his next victim turns out to be a close relative of the Emperor, the Emperor decides to execute his family in retribution, including Royal Guardsman Fong Sau-Ching. However there is a reprieve at the last minute, when Fong Sau-Ching pledges to capture his brother within 20 days. Fung-San has an escape planned though, for he is stolen the Black Jade Buddha, which when inserted into the Wheel of Life will allow instantaneous and repeated death and reincarnation, in other words, time travel.
Fong Sau-Ching wakes up in a world full of metal monsters and odd people, and bereft when he learns that the Ming Dynasty has fallen. Fortune favours him though when he comes to the aid of a prostitute that he assumed was a damsel in distress. Polla sees someone she can exploit, and she soon has a new bodyguard. She has to instruct him about the minutiae of modern life, but that’s a small price to pay for someone who waits on her hand and foot, and protects her from the more obnoxious client. But while Fong Sau-Ching is being domesticated, Fung-San is rapidly fitting in with the Hong Kong underworld, and soon formulates a plan to change history.
This is a two disc collector’s edition release of Iceman Cometh, with the Hong Kong version plus extras on disc 1, and the longer Taiwan cut on disc 2.
The Iceman Cometh comes with a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The Hong Kong version comes with PCM 2.0 Mono Cantonese, and classic English dub, as well as DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround newer English dub with optional subtitles and signs. Iceman Cometh comes from a period of cinema where film stocks weren’t the greatest. The image is clear enough, and has had enough of a restoration to eliminate damage, dirt and signs of age, with the film stable throughout. But the image tends to softness, detail levels are good but never great, and colours are easily saturated, but never really pop. The film certainly looks better than the DVD, but would probably require contentious post-processing to look good on Blu-ray. As it is, it’s watchable enough. It’s also a shame that 88 Films couldn’t source the same kind of Home Video audio mix that most other HK titles tend to get these days. As it is, the mono Cantonese audio on disc 1 can be harsh and strident, even while the dialogue is clear, and the subtitles accurately timed. It’s watchable, but I would have preferred something a little warmer and with better balance.
It seems Righting Wrongs was just a fluke. Iceman Cometh goes back to the sins of On The Run, with a rigid slipcase with blurb, studio and ratings logos printed on the case, taking up valuable artbox real estate that could have been more colourfully used.
There is a 2-sided foldout poster in the case which makes the most of the reversible sleeve art. There is also a 72 page booklet, with the text font nicely sized for the visually impaired. You get 2 discs in a BD Amaray style case with one on a centrally hinged panel. There is the aforementioned reversible sleeve, and there are six reproduction lobby cards in the case. The discs boot to static menus.
Audio commentary with Kenneth Brorsson and Kevin Gillon of the Podcast on Fire Network
Audio commentary with Hong Kong Cinema Experts Frank Djeng and FJ De Santo
On Thin Ice – Clarence Fok on The Iceman Cometh (24:46)
The Icing on the Cake – Tony Rayns on The Iceman Cometh (22:28)
Cold as Ice – David West on The Iceman Cometh (19:43)
Warrior Prince: An Interview with Yuen Biao (10:23)
“Nemesis” – An Interview with actor Yuen Wah (14:06)
“The Time Warriors” Opening and Closing Credits (2:50)
Before/After VFX Comparison (5:25)
Hong Kong Cantonese Trailer (3:30)
International English “The Time Warriors” Trailer (2:04)
Yuen Biao Action Showcase [Mute] (2:21)
Disc 2 has the Taiwanese Version of the film and nothing more.
Once again, it is the restored 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and you get PCM 2.0 Mono audio. There is the complete Mandarin track for consistency, but you can also have a hybrid Cantonese/Mandarin track, and a hybrid English/Mandarin track, with only the extra footage in Mandarin. There are three subtitle streams, one for each of these audio offerings. The Extended Version of the film runs to 127:01, just over 12 minutes longer.
It’s Highlander with Kung Fu! The idea of beings with supernatural powers from the past, battling for supremacy in the present is certainly familiar. The climax of the film atop a Hong Kong skyscraper in front of a massive neon sign with protagonist and antagonist hacking at each other with swords is practically lifted from the earlier film. The difference being that these two have reached the present by means of a mystical time travel device rather than immortality, and any supernatural powers they do have come from their mastery of kung fu rather than the Quickening. Also the journey to that point is markedly different from the Russell Mulcahy film.
The Iceman Cometh is quite an odd mix of light and dark. Much of the middle third is played for laughs, as Fong Sau-Ching goes through the typical culture clash of a medieval visitor to the 20th Century. He encounters prostitute Polla, played to comic perfection by Maggie Cheung, who sees to his introduction to a world filled with electric lights, electric kettles, electric phones, electric televisions, and electric wells. Polla is far from the hooker with a heart of gold, and sees a business opportunity in the apparently naïve guardsman. Naturally she is reformed by the end of the film, but it’s a gradual progression from heartless hooker to genuine affection.
The culture clash comedy is certainly clichéd if you have seen a few time travel movies, but it is judged well and thoroughly entertaining. In contrast, Fung-San as a villain is brutal and unrelenting, a man who takes pleasure in raping and murdering women. This is the main reason the film was originally cut in the UK, and it is a little jarring to see his depredations immediately after a moment of light slapstick.
Oddly, I got the feeling that there was a bit of two-way pollination with Highlander. The Iceman Cometh is certainly reminiscent of the first film, but there are elements of 1994’s Highlander III that appear in this film, the villain frozen in time for 300 years who preys on women, and the forging of a sword, that make me wonder if the makers of the second sequel hadn’t seen this film first.
The Iceman Cometh is certainly a good deal of fun, mixing comedy, action, kung fu and swordplay to good effect. It’s certainly helped by good performances from Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah and especially Maggie Cheung. However, while it is a multi-genre film, it doesn’t really stand out in any one of them.
I did look forward to watching the extended Taiwanese version, in the hope of seeing something new or different in the film. Alas, what we really do get is pretty much scene extensions, a little more dialogue or reiterating a plot or character point. It’s more bloat than anything else, and it’s understandable why the Hong Kong theatrical version is more tightly edited.
Also, having watched the film on Blu-ray for perhaps the fifth time, my appreciation of it has faded, leaving the sense that it is an uneven and disjointed film, where the action and fantasy just doesn’t mesh with the romantic comedy elements at all well. The biggest selling point is Yuen Biao of course, while there is certainly a first time glow to watching it. However I’m not as certain about the re-watchability of the film. Certainly I didn’t enjoy the Blu-ray as much as I was expecting, given the nostalgia I had for the DVD.
Iceman Cometh can be purchased from Terracotta, or direct from 88 Films, as well as the usual mainstream e-tailers.
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