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After barbarically slaughtering his parents, 16 year old Ryo is sent to a prison for boys. Continually tortured by his fellow inmates, Ryo takes up karate training after a savage beating leaves him for dead. Returned to society after 3 years, Ryo catches the attention of the local triads for his natural ferocity and dedication to destruction. Convinced to enter underground, no rules fighting tournaments, Ryo easily demolishes the competition. Seemingly unstoppable, Ryo's inevitable confrontation with champion Sugawara may be his only chance for respect by the society that has so completely rejected him.
For more about Shamo and the Shamo Blu-ray release, see the Shamo Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on May 31, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Shawn Yue, Francis Ng, Masato
Director: Pou-Soi Cheang
» See full cast & crew
Shamo Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 31, 2009
Based on the bestselling manga by Izô Hashimoto, Cheang Pou-Soi's moody action extravaganza "Shamo" (2007) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Tai Seng Entertainment. The disc contains two exclusive audio commentaries. It is Region-Free and attractively priced.
A young man, Ryo Narushima (Shawn Yue, In Love with the Dead), goes berserk and kills his entire family. He is captured by the police and sent to prison where he is gang-raped. While trying to recuperate, the man meets a karate master, Kenji Kurokawa (Francis Ng, Infernal Affairs II), who transforms him into a fearless fighter.
Years go by and the man earns his freedom back. He immediately begins looking for his sister, Natsumi Narushima (Weiying Pei, Look for a Star), who has become a prostitute in order to forget her past. Along the way, he meets the beautiful Megumi (Annie Liu, Black Night), also a prostitute, who introduces him to LF (Lethal Fight) a semi-legal confederation where rivaling martial arts schools compete.
The founder of LE, Kensuke Mochizuki (Leung Siu-Lung, Kung Fu Hustle), decides to use the man to get rid of one of his enemies he would stage a fight between him and the current LE champion, Sugawara Naoto (Masato, Dead or Alive 2: Runaway), that will discredit his enemy and solidify his reputation. However, the karate master who once mentored the man while he was in prison appears and things get complicated.
Based on the bestselling manga by Izô Hashimoto, Shamo is a genre film directed by Cheang Pou-Soi, the man responsible for the violent Dog Bite Dog (2006). It is a Hong Kong-Japanese co-production that was filmed in Cantonese and English (hence, the unusual dubbing throughout the film).
While few will be surprised with the story of Shamo, many will find its main character quite amusing. I know I did. He is a convicted murderer who gets served a dose of his own cruelty while in jail and then goes on to become a man of principle. His opponents are often more likable than he is, yet he always ends up being on top.
The secondary characters are also strange. The karate master Kurokawa has an obvious drinking problem, yet his words promote self-discipline, wisdom and courage. The LE champion is supposed to be an evil man, but his words and actions are honorable. Megumi, the beautiful prostitute, likes Ryo, but takes advantage of him every step of the way.
The balance between action and drama is also odd. As mentioned earlier, Shamo is a genre film where the action is of key importance. There are numerous very well choreographed fights in it that would appeal to martial arts connoisseurs, though, admittedly, none of them are as violent and brutal as the fights seen in director Pou-Soi's Dog Bite Dog. Yet, the elaborate dramatic overtones Shamo reveals detract heavily from the film's action-only image.
Punctuated with intense close-ups, Fung Yuen Man's bleak cinematography conveys a sense of dark elegance (inspired by the manga) that serves Shamo well. Unfortunately, there is a lot of off-key humor scattered throughout the film that does not blend with it. Patrick Lo's original soundtrack is intense a mix of industrial punk, electronica and rock enhancing the main protagonist's violent outbursts. Lastly, Hong Kong veteran Kwong Chi-Leung's editing is good but not stellar.
Shamo Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Shamo arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Tai Seng Entertainment.
I have been nothing but utterly impressed with Tai Seng Entertainment's output thus far. I know that many of their releases are replicas of HK Blu-rays, but the US distributors have been adding plenty of additional audio options and supplemental features that make their discs very attractive.
Shamo, however, is the first disc that I have seen with Tai Seng Entertainment's logo that isn't truly impressive. The video presentation is still good, but most certainly not as stellar as I was expected it to be. Contrast and clarity for example vary quite a bit. Certain scenes in Shamo look exceptionally strong with great contrast, clarity and detail while others appear notably softer. I also noticed a small amount of digital noise, particularity during the second half of the film. This said, the color-scheme looks acceptable. Yellows, reds, greens, blues, blacks and whites look fine, but they are not consistently rich and well saturated. Macroblocking is not an issue of concern, though edge-enhancement is noticeable during specific scenes. Finally, even though there are a few of tiny specks popping up here and there, the actual transfer is healthy. (Note: Even though this Blu-ray release is marketed as being Region-A, it is in fact Region-Free. Therefore, you will be able to access its contents regardless of your geographical location).
Shamo Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are five different tracks on this Blu-ray release Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Vietnamese Stereo 2.0. I opted for the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks for the purpose of this review.
Even though there isn't a great deal of activity in the rear channels, certainly not as much as I've heard from some other recent Blu-rays of HK action films, there is enough in Shamo that will test the muscles of your audio equipment. For example, many of the fight scenes convey excellent surround movement, strong bass and pleasing high frequencies. Balance is also handled well. Furthermore, the dialog is crisp, clear and easy to follow (I must warn you, though, that there is some awkward dubbing throughout the film that some of you may find slightly annoying. This is, however, how Shamo was filmed). For the record, I did not detect any disturbing dropouts, pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review.
The Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track appears to be identical to the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. I tested four different scenes where there was a good dose of bass and surround activity and found them all to be identical on both tracks. The dialog on the Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track is also as crisp and easy to follow as it is on the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track (I assume an option available only on the US release courtesy of Tai Seng Entertainment) would be helpful only to those who do not want to use the English subtitles for the Cantonese tracks. I personally found it inferior to the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 tracks the dynamic amplitude is notably weaker on the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. For the record, Tai Seng Entertainment have provided optional English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese subtitles for the main feature.
Shamo Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Audio Commentary three key members of Subway Cinema, the organization responsible for the New York Asian Film Festival, offer their thoughts and comments on Shamo. The commentary does not offer optional English subtitles.
Audio Commentary A second audio commentary with Rick Meyers, a movie columnist for Asian Cult Cinema (Inside Kung-Fu), and Jeff Robin, a martial arts expert who has written extensively on comic books and martial arts films, and Frank Djeng from Tai Seng Entertainment. The three gentlemen offer a wealth of information addressing the film's relationship to the Japanese manga, its technical construction, unusual characters and production history. The commentary does not offer optional English subtitles.
Making Of a standard featurette offering plenty of raw footage from Shamo (4 min).
Interviews cast and crew members answer questions pertaining to their contribution to Shamo. Additionally, there is a good deal of raw footage showing the cast working on key scenes from the film. With English subtitles (32 min).
Original Hong Kong Trailer -
Shamo Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Tai Seng Entertainment have put together a competent though not exceptional package for Cheang Pou-Soi's at times truly bizarre Shamo. Fans of the film will be delighted to know that the disc contains two exclusive audio commentaries. Recommended.
Shamo Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Shamo Coming to Blu-ray in May - April 13, 2009
Tai Seng Entertainment has announced that they will bring the action film 'Shamo' to Blu-ray on May 26th. Video will be presented in 1080p accompanied by a Cantonese 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. The special features for this release include a making of featurette ...
Shamo Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
Shamo Blu-ray Screenshots
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