God of Gamblers (1989)
Director - Wong Jing
DVD Released by : Mei Ah
Player reviewed with : Panasonic RP91 and Malata 520
Receiver reviewed with : Sony 925
Cantonese and Mandarin Soundtracks
English and Chinese, Subtitles
Enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs
Interview with the director
Running Time : 125 mins.
Region - All

Wong Jing’s GOD OF GAMBLERS - Starring Chow Yun-Fat
Review my Matt & Matt

When one thinks of Hong Kong cinema, one thinks of Chow Yun-Fat. When one thinks of definitive Chow Yun-Fat, one thinks of THE KILLER. However, the runner-up to that thought is GOD OF GAMBLERS, the 1989 blockbuster from director Wong Jing, easily the most bizarre and unscrupulous filmmaker on the planet. To me, Jing is a lousy hack who occasionally makes an entertaining movie. GOD OF GAMBLERS is one such example. Probably the #1 example.

Unfortunately, this highly regarded film has never been available in a worthy version for English language speaking fans of the film. Originally released to VHS and Laserdisc in a pan & scan version with burned in subtitles, the picture was as bad as anything ever released in Hong Kong, taken from a worn 35mm print that looked to have been through a major battle. The subtitles frequently fell below the frame and even when they could be seen (which was rare), they were incomprehensible, due to the "EngRish" like translation and pale white text that would blend into the background.

When DVD appeared on the mid-1990's, Mei Ah released that old transfer onto DVD, resulting in a product that was even worse than what we had before. The compression was lousy and couldn't handle the excessive DVNR (digital video noise reduction) used in a vein effort to clean up the print, so motion trail artifacts were everywhere. Many consider the initial Mei Ah DVD release to be among the worst DVD's ever made. I concur. The inferior sequel, GOD OF GAMBLERS RETURNS was also released onto DVD (using the quite good Laserdisc transfer) and it too suffered from terrible DVNR artifacts.

Note: There are other God of Gambler films that do not star Chow Yun-Fat, so be careful.

Recently, the highly respected UK company MIA (sarcasm on) had a chance to do justice to GOG, but dropped the ball, big-time. Their DVD contained a slightly cut & dubbed version from a decent pan & scan print, plus a Cantonese widescreen version, which was actually zoomed in significantly, with subtitles that despite being advertised as brand new, were just a virtual copy of the old, sometimes incomprehensible translation. Yes, it was better than we had before, but it was still a terrible disappointment, with obvious cropping across the top and more subtitle frustrations. There was no excuse for a company based in England to simply pass along the old subtitle translation.

We all figured that was that and we had the best we were going to get. Thankfully, we were wrong.

Mei Ah has released both Chow Yun-Fat GOD OF GAMBLERS films on DVD in remastered 16X9 R0 editions, with new optional English subtitles, the original soundtracks, plus DD5.1 and DTS remixes. These releases are similar to Mei Ah's recent HARD BOILED remaster, which I think is the best version of the that film available on DVD. The Ringo Lam auctioneer FULL CONTACT has also been given a remaster.

This review will focus on the original Gambler film, which will be abbreviated to “GOG.”

GOG Video image/Framing:
Matt Stevens’ comments: This is a very good 16X9 transfer and easily the best the film has ever looked. Even the festival prints running around the world here and there are inferior, due to the ravages of time. While no one should expect the kind of quality seen with U.S. studio releases, one can appreciate the fact that Mei Ah has improved greatly over the years and is doing an admiral job of creating detailed transfers. My only real gripe is that it appears they are still doing PAL transfers and converting them to NTSC. This can sometimes result in stability and blurring issues. What I’d give for a proper 1080p/24 transfer. I can dream, can’t I?

Image Comparison: The older VHS/Laserdisc transfer, which was ported to one of the very worst DVD's ever released by Mei Ah, is essentially useless. Unwatchable. An abortion. So considering it as a valid viewing choice isn't even in the cards.

Anyway, using the Mei Ah remaster and the R2 PAL DVD, we compared the opening gambling sequence almost shot by shot. What was immediately apparent was the R2 PAL version looked dull, muddy and soft compared to the Mei Ah remaster, which was colorful, detailed and clean. There was some grain and the MPEG2 mastering has resulted in some slight mosquito noise, but less so than the PAL release. On a 47 inch HDTV, there is a definite WOW factor when comparing the three transfers.

The framing is where the Mei Ah release just obliterates the 16X9 widescreen & cropped versions on the R2 abortion. The R2 16X9 release is well known for the obvious cropping at the top, left and right of the picture. It's blatant at the top, where heads are frequently lopped off. Even if you have a Malata DVD player and Zoom out on the image in order to eliminate overscan, the framing is insanely tight. The new Mei Ah remaster is the exact opposite. It has slightly less picture visible at the bottom of the picture, but significantly more at the top, left and right. There is a huge difference in the framing and for the first time you do not need a Malata's scaling features to see this film closer to the way it was intended.

Take a look at these screenshots. The left is Mei Ah's remaster, the center is the R2 16X9 transfer and the right is the R2 cropped transfer. These shots do not show a real world-view, with overscan (we’ll get to that in a bit). Observe not only the framing differences, but also the difference in color and sharpness.

One interesting point is the pan & scan version having much more headroom compared to the two 16X9 transfers. However, it is clearly cropped at the left and right, so much so that it is distracting. The Mei Ah transfer is the most pleasing to the eye and does not have a cropped look. The PAL 16X9 transfer does.

The bottom of the frame for all three is very similar. While the new Mei Ah transfer is cropped more than the other two, it is so minor that it simply cannot be factored in as a negative. It’s a non-issue.

Now look at these shots, where we zoomed in a bit to mimic standard television overscan. Here is where you really see the difference. The left is the Mei Ah remaster and the right the R2 PAL 16X9. Those of you with 16X9 HDTV’s will appreciate the framing of the Mei Ah remaster:
So that you can see the true difference in the cropping at the top of each transfer, we have zoomed in on the top portion of each frame. The top is the Mei Ah remaster, the middle the R2 16X9 and the bottom the R2 cropped.

Anyone can see not only the headroom issue, but the absolute superiority of the Mei Ah remaster. The other two look fog covered in comparison.

Matt Brown's Comments - After only seeing this movie on a tape of the laser disc, the Mei AH DVD is a welcome site. GOG can be appreciated without the presentation detracting from the movie. I have compared it with certain scenes from the MIA version and you can see the large screenshots on this page that show the differences in image quality. On the 47 inch set, the Mei Ah DVD is colorful and detailed. The film print is in very good shape and does not have burned in subtitles. In comparison, the MIA DVD has muted colors that remind me of some of the older import DVD's. The Mei Ah DVD shows more of the image than the MIA version which is slightly cropped. There is one scene on the Mei Ah DVD that looks a little washed out but it is very quick. It is a scene towards the end with Andy Lau. You'll know it when you see it. It does not affect my overall opinion of this DVD. This may be the best this movie has ever looked on home video. If you already have the MIA DVD, it may be worth the upgrade if you are a real fan of this movie.

Mei Ah
GOG Subtitles: We wish we could say No more EngRish! But we cannot. This translation is very similar to the old one used by Mei Ah and also for the R2 PAL dvd (there was no excuse for a British company to be so damned lazy). While the words are on screen long enough to read with ease, the grammar is laughably bad and sometimes mind-boggling. At least you don't have to pause the damn subs every few seconds to try and figure out what was said this time.

Matt Stevens comments: There are times when you have to just guess what was really said because the text makes no sense. That used to be part of the fun with Hong Kong movies, but after being an HK film fanatic for nearly 15 years now, I can say that I am just sick of not being given properly translated subtitles.

Matt Brown's comments : The subtitles are reasonably timed with what is being said on screen. They are easy to read even though they contain some spelling and grammatical errors. I didn't find them overly distracting or that much more than the average import. It's just great not having subtitles that go off the screen for this movie like the laser disc version.

GOG Audio: The original mono soundtrack is included! OK, so Mei Ah sort of makes up for the lousy subtitles. The old mono sounds fine and is what it always has been. Thank you Mei Ah for once again including the original audio.

Matt Stevens comments: Being a purist, I first sampled the mono track. If only all studios would just include the original audio, there would be far fewer complaints out there. There are DTS and DD5.1 remixes included and both are surprisingly good. The GOG theme, well known to fans of Hong Kong cinema, is used aggressively in all 5 speakers and just rocks. It sounds great. Unlike many older remixes, this one sounds like it was created by professionals who cared, instead of monkeys playing with the equipment. Sometimes you will hear sounds that come across as somewhat harsh or strident (the claps of onlookers at the opening Gambling duel) but for the most part I was genuinely surprised by how professional the DTS and DD remixes sounded. They are not impressive compared to modern soundtracks, but they are worthy remixes of a mono soundtrack. Now I will point out that I sampled about 10 minutes of the DTS and 10 minutes of the DD, while I listened to the rest in mono. If I find with further listening that there are problems, I will update the review. Listening to three soundtracks (6 hours+) before writing this review would be impossible.

Summing up: Original Mono is included. DTS and DD remixes are not crap.

Matt Brown's comments: When the original soundtrack is included it is always a plus. The sound is clean and the theme song is just incredible. Some movie themes just stick out and this is one of them. You can't help but think of Chow Yun Fat when this theme comes on. The soundtrack is also available in DTS and Dolby 5.1. Mei Ah calls the mono track the "Original Theatrical Mix" which is pretty smart because some people see mono and think it means bad.

Matt Stevens comments: (The menus) I don't like them. While anamorphic, they are encoded improperly and my Panasonic RP91 squished them to 4:3. Navigating them is somewhat confusing. I do like the packaging. The case is enclosed in a slipcase and thankfully, mine arrived from Hong Kong with no damage.

Matt Stevens’ final thoughts: At about $14 shipped, you cannot go wrong. This is easily the best the film has ever looked or sounded for English speaking fans and I highly recommend it to all that can put up with the lousy subtitles.

Matt Brown's final thoughts : God of Gamblers finally gets a respectable presentation. If you only saw this movie on the laser disc or previous Mei Ah DVD, you owe it to yourself to get the remaster. If you are happy with the MIA DVD I would only recommend this DVD to the hardcore fans.

Reviewed 11/20/2003