• House Of Traps



    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: November 21st, 2016.
    Director: Chang Cheh
    Cast: Lu Feng, Sun Chien, Philip Kwok
    Year: 1982

    The Movie:

    Directed by the late, great and legendary Chang Cheh, 1982's House Of Traps was a tough film to get a hold of until a few years ago when IVL released it in Hong Kong in 2007. Image Entertainment then released it as part of their Shaw Brothers DVD line. Now 88 Films in the UK gives a high definition debut to this quirky Venoms picture, their last group effort together (minus Lo Meng who is nowhere to be seen).

    When the film begins, a buy calling himself Butterfly (Lu Feng) emerges the victor of a pretty remarkable fight scene where he smokes his opponent and makes off with a rare and valuable jade statue. His employers, some unscrupulous local government types, want his help in taking out a group of pesky rebels who are making trouble for them in their territory. Meanwhile, a local judge (Sun Chien) finds himself mixed up with them and has to hire himself a local swordsman to ensure his life remains safe when he starts looking into the death of a man at the hands of his sneaky relative, a prince. Various fighters show up as the plot becomes more and more convoluted and they take sides in the incident and a list of all who are loyal to the treacherous sneaky relative is put inside a house of traps so that no one can get their hands on it. Eventually everyone winds up doing their thing inside a literal house of traps filled with equal parts treasure and deadly danger as the good guys square off against the bad guys and crazy traps cut people up.

    The plot for House Of Traps is pretty messy but once the set-up is over and done with and the action starts moving along, you probably won't be bothered by it so much. The basic premise is essentially a good guys versus bad guys fight film, the only real differentiator being the titular house. The costumes are rather crazy - plenty of flash and color here - and the Venoms don't look quite as tough as they have in the past thanks to some rather odd wardrobe choices but it all manages to be good fun. The fight scenes are well done and in typical Chang Cheh action they're pretty bloody, particularly the grand finale and the scenes where the traps come into play. There's a remarkable scene involving an umbrella and some balancing moves but what really catches your attention are the various bars, stairs, nets and assorted sharp instruments that fly from the ceilings and the walls of the house.

    A fair bit of bad comedy comes into play throughout the film and there are considerably more dialogue heavy scenes than you might expect from a martial arts film and these do mess with the pacing a bit. That said, in a lot of ways the movie has aged nicely. The colors are garish in an appealing sort of way and the movie really does a good job of making full use of the 2.35.1 widescreen frame. It looks great from start to finish and while the production values may not rival those on display in some of Chang Cheh's more commercially successful films for the studio, there's still obviously been quite a bit of attention paid to detail in the sets and locales used for the picture. The score is effective and does a good job of heightening tension and overall the picture is generally quite well made, even if the plot is all over the place at times.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    House Of Traps arrives on Region B Blu-ray from 88 Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen on a 25GB disc that offers a good upgrade over the old DVD release. The color reproduction is decent if not eye-popping. Detail is never reference quality. It seems obvious that some mild to moderate noise reduction has been applied (resulting in some slightly waxy looking skin tones and a noticeable lack of grain). The image is otherwise pristine, showing virtually no print damage.

    Audio options are provided in LPCM English 2.0 or LPCM Chinese 2.0 with optional subtitles in English only. These subtitles translate the Chinese (Mandarin) language dialogue, not the English language dialogue. As seems to be the case with a lot of the Show Blu-ray’s that 88 has put out, the Chinese language track sounds a bit more full and a bit more robust than the English dub, so it wins in terms of quality and clarity, but the English dub has its own wonky charm and it’s great to have both tracks included here.

    Extras on the disc begin with an audio commentary featuring Bey Logan wherein he offers up plenty of information about the film’s famous director as well as the different cast members that appear in the film. He notes the ‘palace rivalry’ that gets the movie going in its opening scene, and he talks about some of the odd humor that pops up in the picture. He also notes some of the camera tricks used in the film, the colorful costumes used to differentiate some of the characters and even the use of beards in the film! He notes the influence of King Hu on certain parts of the movie, how much of the dialogue in the film advances the plot but lacks personality and also talks up some of the rivalries that existed within the Shaw studio system, the sets used for the picture, the source material on which the story was based and the conflict that will always arise when art meets commerce. As is the norm with Logan’s commentary tracks, this is detailed and interesting and done with an appreciable sense of humor.

    Aside from that, the disc includes a trailer for the feature (not an original theatrical trailer but the Celestial Films trailer that first appeared on the R3 DVD release years back), menus and chapter selection.

    Inside the clear Blu-ray case alongside the disc is an insert that contains an essay by Calum Waddell entitled ‘The Man Behind The Mayhem’ which provides biographical information on Chang Cheh and which he details some of the work he did for Shaw Brothers. As this is a combo pack release there's also a Region 2/PAL format DVD version of the movie included in the case alongside the Blu-ray. All of this is wrapped up in some nice reversible cover art.

    The Final Word:

    House Of Traps isn't the mythical masterpiece that it's elusive reputation would have you believe but it is a fun martial arts film with some seriously impressive scenes of kung-fu carnage. The Blu-ray release from 88 Films offers a modest but noticeable upgrade over the past DVD release and throws in a great commentary track. Not Chang Cheh’s best picture by a long shot, but still pretty fun and one that kung-fu film fans should appreciate.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!