• Secret Rivals, The

    Released by: Crash Cinema
    Released on: 3/23/2004
    Director: Ng See Yuen
    Cast: Hwang Jang Lee, Don Wong Tao, John Liu Chung Liang, James Nam Gung Fan, Yuen Biao, Tong Kam Tong
    Year: 1976
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    The Movie:
    Secret Rivals focuses on two main characters - Sheng (Tao Wong) from the South part of the province and Shao (John Liu) from the Northern part. Both men are after the notorious and sinister Silver Fox (Jang Lee Hwang), but for different reasons. One wants Silver Fox for killing his parents, the other wants him for the purposes of serving justice.

    The two inadvertently end up tracking him down to the same small town, and once they’re there, they find that Silver Fox isn’t the only interest that they share! It seems that they’ve both fallen for the same girl, a citizen of the local town, and when they discover this, of course a rivalry between the two fighters is sparked.

    Once the rivalry is established, of course Sheng and Shao are going to throw down, and throw down they do in a pretty solid brawl that is unfortunately broken up all too quickly by the lovely lady who they both seek to woo.

    Eventually Shao, who suffers from a few flashbacks to when Silver Fox killed his parents, squares off against the villain, but Silver Fox is way tougher than Shao first thought and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to take him down on his own. In order to do it, he’s going to have to team up with the other solid fighter in the area, his rival, Sheng.

    One of the more interesting and colorful characters that rounds out the cast (aside from the leads) is a big Russian guy with monster sized sideburns, a perfectly triangular patch of chest hair, and Chiba-style Street Fighter wristbands. Watching him square off and then drown his sorrows in booze makes for pretty entertaining fare, and every movie can only benefit from a sideburned man in leather wristbands.

    Hwang Jang Lee steals the show as the high kicking and fast footed Silver Fox, who is more than a match for both Wong and Liu until the end, where they team up and work together to take him down. As a villain, he’s everything that we want him to be – clever, foreboding, sinister, and extremely agile in the martial arts department. The resulting fight scene between him and his two rivals is a blast – relentless, fast paced and choke full of the kind of hard-hitting action that fight fans crave.

    Director Ng See Yuen helmed the 1972 film Bloody Fists (a. k. a. Bloody Beach) and met with some success, and after the success of Secret Rivals brought him some recognition, he followed it with a sequel entitled Secret Rivals 2. He’s probably best known though for producing two of Jackie Chan’s best films, Snake In Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master.

    Corey Yuen served as assistant fight choreographer and would go on to play starring roles in way too many Hong Kong films to list, but has been seen in some of Jet Li’s better films like Fong Sai Yuk II and High Risk. Yuen Biao also worked on the film and did some of the stunt work in a few of the fight scenes.

    This is an odd one. The film starts off, for the credits sequence, in 2.35.1 widescreen. Watching the credits in this ratio, it’s probably a safe assumption that this is the correct ratio for the film. Once the credits sequence ends though, the film tightens up and switches to an odd ratio that looks roughly 2.00.1 and it stays this way for the rest of the movie. After seeing the credits at 2.35.1, it sure looks like the 2.00.1 ratio is missing some information and it does appear to be a bit truncated. Why this shift occurs, I have no idea but I’d guess it would have something to do with the elements that Crash had to work with on this release. Image quality overall though, aspect ratio weirdness aside, is quite pleasing. Colors are strong, and print damage, while present throughout (most notably as scratches on the print), isn’t overly distracting save for a few minor instances. I don’t know how much restoration went into this release, but Crash has stated that ‘This release has been color corrected and audio corrected to eliminate/minimze screen noise and hiss, and to adjust volume levels. This is the best available print as of street date: 3-23-2004’ so obviously some work went into it. For the most part, this release does look pretty nice though – it was taken from a film print and not from a VHS source and is overall a pretty solid transfer. The previous Mei-Ah release was fullframe and looked like a VHS transfer (plus it had burned in Chinese and English subs) so you can see how this would be an improvement over that DVD.
    Seeing as this is the U.S. version, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find that the film is dubbed into English. Some background hiss can be detected from start to finish and as is common with a lot of dubs from the period, the entire thing sounds a bit canned. Those issues aside though, dialogue is pretty clear and despite the scattered moments of mild vocal distortion and a couple of instances where the effects and music are a bit too high in the mix, things are easy to understand and this track gets the job done well enough.
    Kung Fu guru extraordinaire Linn Hayes provides some interesting liner notes that detail the background of the film and it’s lead actors. They’re well written with some nice information contained inside, though the layout isn’t the most eye-catching design ever composed. A few trailers round out the extra features – one for Dubbed And Dangerous and one for the upcoming Anime Crash line. The menu also has a scene selection option.
    The Final Word:
    Secret Rivals was a favorite of mine as a kid when I used to watch Kung Fu movies with my dad on Sunday afternoons. I loved the movie then and I was really happy to find that it still holds up admirably well. Crash has done a pretty solid job on this release, and despite the weirdness involving the aspect ratio switch, this DVD is still worth checking out for old school Kung Fu fans.