Dynasty (1977) Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: April 13, 2021
Video: 2.35:1 3D & 2D/1080p/Color
Audio: English 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Run Time: 94:02
Director: Mei-Chun Chang
When an emperor’s son is accused of treason against the throne, he ends up in a fight for his life against all comers. (From Kino Lorber’s official synopsis)
In 1976, director Mei-Chun Chang was approached by producer Frank Wong to shoot back-to-back wuxia spectaculars Dynasty (Mandarin: Qian dao wan li zhu; lit: Chase after a thousand knives; aka: Super Dragon and Warlord) and Revenge of the Shogun Women (Mandarin: Shi shan nu ni; aka: 13 Golden Nuns) in Taiwan using a new single-strip 3D format called Super-Touch (later renamed Optimax III). They were the second and third of only six movies released in the format, which was invented by Michael Findlay, the director behind such exploitation classics as Shriek of the Mutilated (1974) and The Touch of Her Flesh (1967). Both of Chang’s films, but Dynasty in particular, are often connected to a short-lived ‘80s 3D resurgence that was officially kicked off by Ferdinando Baldi’s Comin’ At Ya! (1981) and followed through Joe Alves’ Jaws 3-D (1983), Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Richard Fleischer’s Amityville 3-D (aka: Amityville III: The Demon, 1983), and Baldi’s Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983). However, these two underseen martial arts epics pre-dated the fad and deserve some credit, along with Findlay’s quick & cheap new format, for laying the track that eventually led to the ‘80s boom.
Historical significance aside, how does the first of Chang’s 3D martial arts epics, Dynasty, hold up to the best and most popular kung fu classics of the mid-to-late-’70s? The plot is overly simplified and overly familiar, but it seems wise to concentrate on simplicity and familiarity when the film’s main selling point is a very distracting gimmick, even if it means sacrificing the convoluted intrigue and/or operatics of the better Shaw Bros. productions from the same era. It’s not a badly told story, it’s merely pared down. The fight choreography can also be hit-and-miss (if you can excuse the pun) with the main players naturally outperforming the supporting cast during major set pieces. Focused one-on-one fights fare the best, but wire/trampoline stunts and big group shots aren’t bad, either. In defense of the more awkward scenes, the emphasis on 3D often requires slower movements, otherwise the audience doesn’t have time to pause and appreciate all the sharp weapons being thrust into their faces. And, speaking of weapons, the austerity of the storytelling does not mean Dynasty isn’t littered with delectably gimmicky armaments. The big bad, Eunuch Chow’s (Ying Bai) arsenal includes bladed finger claws, which he uses to scalp opponents and impale one unlucky monk’s belly up to the elbow, and a golden chainmail robe that he can strip, twirl overhead, and throw like a bladed RC drone. Other fighters are armed with a bo staff made from a stiffened robe, a nearly invincible bladed umbrella, and giant, claw-like flying guillotines (the best 3D effects in the entire movie). The level of graphic violence offsets the bog-standard script, too, making it extra amusing that Dynasty was an apparent mainstay of American UHF television.
It doesn’t appear that Dynasty was ever released on stateside VHS under any of its alternate titles, however, some local American television stations tried airing the film in at least partial anaglyph 3D in the mid-’80s (WNYW New York is verified, but there were probably others). Fans also managed to fashion and pass around a field sequential 3D version of the film. This Blu-ray debut was crafted with the exact same love. The project began as a Kickstarter campaign from 3-D Film Archive. With money in hand, they did a 4K scan of “surviving 35mm materials'' (the literature doesn’t specify negative or positive Super-Touch 3-D elements), frame-by-frame digital clean-up, left/right shot-by-shot stereoscopic vertical alignment corrections, flicker reduction, color restoration, image stabilization, and grading. The Blu-ray includes a BD3D polarized 3D transfer, an anaglyph (red/cyan) 3D transfer, and a 2D transfer, all in 1080p and 2.35:1. Unfortunately, my current 4K set is not polarized 3D compatible. The home 3D format, while cool and important to film preservation, seems to be dying and it’s particularly sad, because the people trying to preserve it are dependent on electronics built with planned obsolescence. I’m thankful that 3-D Film Archive and Kino Lorber future-proofed this set with the anaglyphic transfer (a funny term, considering that it’s the older technology), but, of course, the effect is never going to be as impressive as a true digital 3D image. Keeping in mind the difficulties inherent in preserving and remastering older 3D footage – especially footage that hasn’t been kept in a studio vault, like Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) or André De Toth’s House of Wax (1953) – and that I’m unable to view the movie in its most ideal form, I think it’s fair to give the 2D and anaglyphic transfers the benefit of the doubt. Quite literally, twice as much work was put into this project than the average B-movie restoration. The biggest challenges are color and sharpness, both things a single-strip 3D simply cannot reproduce consistently. In some cases, such as scenes that appear particularly reddish on the 2D transfer, extra grading might have helped, but blurry frame corners and doubled edges are unavoidable. The anaglyphic effects don’t always work when Chang is thrusting objects into our faces, but background depth is pretty nice (don’t take my word for it, break out your own red/cyan glasses and check out these screenshots). Print damage artifacts include white spots, vertical lines, and flashes at the top or bottom of the screen during rough splices, while the occasional dirty spots (there’s one in particular during the climax I’m thinking of) might be a case of literal dirt on the camera lens. All things considered, I honestly believe that this is very near as good as we can expect from the material and that, in most cases, the shortcomings are a charming part of the experience.
3-D Film Archive has also remastered the original 4-channel magnetic Quadrophonic sound. It is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 alongside a 2.0 stereo alternative. There is one catch: the Quadraphonic track is English dubbed and there is no original Mandarin language option. The film was likely shot without sound in the first place, but I’m sure fans would’ve enjoyed the option. The interesting thing about this particular experiment in surround sound is that the final product is entirely produced in post, so the sound designers aren’t afraid to get a little abstract. Some of the sound effects are recognizable as ones used throughout Hanna Barbera TV cartoons. The stereo and surround mixing isn’t as movement-based as modern digital mixes, but there’s still a neat sense of immersion and echo. The musical score’s percussion track bouncing into the rear channel is an especially interesting effect I hadn’t really heard elsewhere.
Super-Touch 3D Lens System featurette (10:23, 2D HD) – An educational look at the history, limitations, and film/camera/projector processes of the Super-Touch format.
House of Terror 3D comic book – A 3D still gallery presentation of a 1953 horror comic illustrated by Joe Kubert and Matt Baker.
Go Away I Like You Too Much (2:41, 3D HD) – 3D animated music video from The Simple Carnival by Jeff Boller
Sold on Stereo: Commercial 3D in the 1950s (8:00, 3D HD) – Featurette/slideshow on consumer-grade 3D options during the ‘50s with emphasis on how stereoscopic imagery was used for advertising.
Inside a Mid-Century Department Store 3D (4:52, 3D HD) – Another mixed featurette/slideshow specifically concerning the promotion of the Titch-Goetinger department store’s grand reopening.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.