A quiet and honest physician, Wong Kei-Ying spends his life upholding medical ethics and saving lives while avoiding conflicts and politics until he finds himself tricked into assisting Wei, the ruthless and treacherous new governor of Canton, in a bid to wrest control of the city's opium business from a local gang. When his mentor leaves him with illustrations of the legendary martial art skill Shadowless Kick, Wong must master the skill and use it in a final attempt to take down Wei.
Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong-Kei-Ying is one of two films that HBO has released as a test to see if the martial arts realm will pay off overseas as well as here stateside. Along with Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So, this film is surely to appeal and appease the martial arts genre fanbase with two solid, if not flawed entries with room to improve for next time.
Of the two films, Shadowless Kick is the more serious of the two and follows the real life doctor and martial arts master Wong Kei-Ying and his rebellion against the sinister General Wei, who has enlisted Wong to help with the opium crisis. Little does Wong know that the General has other evil plans for his reign. Wong himself is a good man, who prides himself on being good-natured, quiet, and well-mannered. He is placed in the middle of having good ethics with his practice and obeying the demands of the politicians and rulers who want to do more evil than harm. This leaves Wong to deal with the bad guys the only way he knows how - martial arts, and of course not becoming addicted to opium himself.
I think we've all this day and age come across a friend or family member that has an addiction to something and needs help, which is why Shadowless Kick may resonate more with some viewers here in the states. The story is more melodramatic than most martial arts films have at its core along with some good character development. The fight scenes are done well, however some seem to pop up without any rhyme of reason, as if the filmmakers forgot they were making a martial arts film and said at the last minute, "Hey, we need to have a fight scene here".
It happens a couple of times in the film, which of course quickens the pace of the movie, but offers no real motive for the fight. Still the performances aren't over-the-top here and the story molds Beggar So and Shadowless Kick together. Despite its flaws, HBO is on to something here and has given the martial arts genre something to look forward to.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong-Kei-Ying comes with a 25GB Blu-ray Disc from HBO that is Region A Locked. There is a digital download insert. The disc is housed in an eco-friendly, hard, blue plastic case.
Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong-Kei-Ying comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. In terms of video quality, there is a lot similar with HBO's other release with Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So, in that it was shot digitally, looks glossy, but comes with a few problems. Overall, the image looks solid and clear, but never has that good filmic quality that gives a movie any visual depth. Close-ups are vivd enough to showcase drops of blood, make-up effects, and individual hairs nicely, but it mostly comes across as flat, due to the glossy style. Wider shots are clear too, but when bright flashes of light come across the screen, things can get a bit hazy.
Colors are a bit muted too, never really boasting any bright color in any form of lighting. Even the reds and blues look subdued here, which is unfortunate, because there are some great colorful costumes here. Black levels are deep and inky without any crush and skin tones are natural for the most part. There are no issues with any aliasing or banding, but the different lighting tones in the same scene can be a problem.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 track with options to listen to it in Mandarin or English. Mandarin is the preferred option as it won't be as silly. Sound effects capture every takedown, kick, and punch with good heft and great directionality, even if it all sounds the same.
There is a good low end here with the fight scenes and score, which always adds to the emotional tone to the film. Dialogue is clear and easy to follow along with the English subtitles too. Lastly, there are no pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills here.
Master of the Shadowless Kick: Wong-Kei-Ying is the more serious film of the two martial arts movies HBO has released as part of their first step into a bigger world. The fight scenes are well done here, but seem to make no sense half the time. The characters and story will definitely hit a larger emotional note than other films in the genre. Video and audio presentations are both good, but again, there are zero extras here. If you're a fan of the world of martial arts, then you'll want to see what HBO is doing with it here. For the fans.