Fringe Benefits from the Decline of DVD

Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen_SPL

According to a recent report from the research group Screen Digest, DVD sales declined by 4.7% in 2008, and that Blu-Ray “barely made a dent in the missing revenue”. They conclude that the new format won’t spur “minimal sector growth” until 2010. It’s rapidly becoming clear that VOD (video on demand) will eventually become the dominant form of home entertainment. In a Wall Street Journal article about Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it claims he is “is quickly trying to shift Netflix’s business — seeking to make more videos available online and cutting deals with electronics makers so consumers can play those movies on television sets.” Hastings sees the DVD by mail business to start declining in four years, and hence his deals to stream movies on the XBox and other set-top devices, like the Roku. Packaged discs will not disappear entirely, but will likely lose a large percentage of their market share.

The benefit to consumers in the short term…sales! I recently talked about my cherry-picking of Battleground from the demise of the Virgin Megastores in NYC, but this new downer of a report spurred me to check out what was left of DVD retailers in Manhattan. I waltzed into a small reseller on 14th Street, which was having a massive sale where you could purchase 2 discs for 10 dollars. I ended up with Wilson Yip’s Kill Zone (aka SPL), John Woo’s Hard Boiled, The Buster Keaton Collection from Columbia, and Gremlins 2 (a personal favorite)…all for a total of $20.

In a bit of serendipity, I had just seen HK action guru Wilson Yip’s latest film, Ip Man (2008) at the New York Asian Festival, always one of the highlights of the year (I also recommend Breathless and Crush and Blush). Viewing Kill ZoneSPL3(2005) and Ip Man back to back was an education in action choreography. Yip can be crushingly conventional in terms of exposition and character development, but when the gloves come off he’s a real virtuoso. Utilizing the same fast-cutting, restlessly mobile camera techniques of recent Hollywood fare (two aspects of what David Bordwell calls “intensified continuity” (click on the link for more detail)), Yip manages to stage fight scenes of greater spatial coherence and physical impact than Hollywood counterparts like Paul Greengrass or J.J. Abrams. The stunning finale of the entertainingly overwrought policier Kill Zone, a much ballyhooed showdown between Sammo Hung and star Donnie Yen, takes place in an empty night club, and the fight literally takes center stage.

Maintaining the quick editing pace, Yip still utlizes the classical setup of a long establishing shot (the two combatants face each other), a medium over-the-shoulder shot-countershot (exchanging blows), and then close-ups to emphasize emotional peaks (or in this case, kicks to the solarplexus). The key to this scene is that Yip does not cut in the middle of a gesture – every blow is landed and registered, and his adherence to the classical style keeps their movements oriented in the space. The stage setting alludes to their battle as a dance, as if Hung and Yen were Rogers and Astaire. I suppose they’re fighting it out to see who will lead the next dance.

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Astaire’s routines were always filmed in long shot, with his whole body in the frame, and Yip nods to this techniquevlcsnap-00006, added with the camera movement required by the more amped up standards of intensified continuity. After the classically edited setup, Yip cuts to an extreme long shot that slowly tracks in to the flailing players as they toss each other to the floor, the dust kicking up like chalk. He also finds a clever way to make Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (based on ground submissions) look exciting. Yen flings the hefty Hung leftward to the ground, battling for the guard position. Yip, in a strikingly low angle at eye-level to the mat, tracks slowly with the duo as Yen eventually wins out and lands a series of rights. The sequence continues, and ramps up appreciably with small-scale wire work and a dramatic conclusion that wraps up one of the dramatic subplots (Hung’s nascent fatherhood). It’s a tour-de-force. See for yourself:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-zE2YFp7lU&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0]

One excuse given as to why films like Taken or the Bourne series don’t have this same kind of coherence is that the actors aren’t as physically trained as martial arts pros like Hung and Yen, and necessarily need stunt doublesvlcsnap-00007, necessitating even faster cuts and less spatial coherence. However, American action films don’t necessarily have to have nuanced fighting styles – just watch the series of haymakers Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston unload on each other in The Big Country (which can be seen in the video slideshow of Dennis Lim’s excellent history of fight choreography at Slate). It’s a stylistic choice, and right now Hollywood filmmakers are making the wrong one. I was initially thrilled by the Bourne series’ propulsive energy, but the more time that passes, the more its fractured editing seems like a dodge.

Ip Man continues Yip’s pattern. This more ambitious title, an bio-pic about Grandmaster Ip Man, who trained Bruce Lee and popularized the Wing Chun style of martial arts (interestingly enough, Wong Kar-Wai’s next project is also a bio-pic about the Grandmaster). The film focuses on his life during the Occupation of China during the Second Sino-Ip Man_1Japanese war. Grandmaster Ip Man (Donnie Yen) lives a quiet life with his family before the Japanese Imperialists destroy his small town and reduce his pals to coal miners. Ip Man then commences to beat the holy hell out of evey Japanese person in sight. Yip is not big on subtletly, and one of Japanese Genral Miura’s obsequious assistants tips over into racist stereotypes (big teeth, round glasses, into torture, etc.).

However, once more Yip brings the goods in the action sequences: crisp, elegant, and coherently orchestrated bouts of mayhem. Yen also exhibits a wider emotional range here, his stoic laid-backness tinged with regret and anger. He won’t win any awards, but it’s a solid, nuanced performance. In any case, these two works will have me work backwards into Yip’s career. Next up is Flash Point, the middleman between Kill Zone and Ip, and it promises more fluid Donnie Yen bone-breaking. Ah, the neverending riches of cinema.

0 Response Fringe Benefits from the Decline of DVD
Posted By Mike Lyon : June 30, 2009 6:49 pm

“Flash Point” is the money Yip/Yen collaboration, and the final fight in that outing ranks very very highly on a hypothetical list I would make of best fight scenes of all time. Just stunning! It also features ostensibly the best story of any of Yip’s films (which, to be fair, is a little like talking about the best story in a Jackie Chan-directed picture, but I digress).

I’m behind you 100% on the Greengrass School of Editing; imagine my pants-shitting terror when not only did Bond decide to follow suit, the Broccolis hired Greengrass’ editor Rick Pearson to edit “Quantum of Solace”! The retarded-ADD-kid-on-speed ethos of this movement is killing the Western action picture, one jump cut at a time. And the actors clearly don’t have to be trained martial artists; one need look no further than Chan-wook Park’s “Oldboy” for a truly visceral fight scene devoid of stuntmen – and that particular brawl clocks in at a whopping zero edits…

Posted By Mike Lyon : June 30, 2009 6:49 pm

“Flash Point” is the money Yip/Yen collaboration, and the final fight in that outing ranks very very highly on a hypothetical list I would make of best fight scenes of all time. Just stunning! It also features ostensibly the best story of any of Yip’s films (which, to be fair, is a little like talking about the best story in a Jackie Chan-directed picture, but I digress).

I’m behind you 100% on the Greengrass School of Editing; imagine my pants-shitting terror when not only did Bond decide to follow suit, the Broccolis hired Greengrass’ editor Rick Pearson to edit “Quantum of Solace”! The retarded-ADD-kid-on-speed ethos of this movement is killing the Western action picture, one jump cut at a time. And the actors clearly don’t have to be trained martial artists; one need look no further than Chan-wook Park’s “Oldboy” for a truly visceral fight scene devoid of stuntmen – and that particular brawl clocks in at a whopping zero edits…

Posted By jbl : July 1, 2009 1:55 am

So tell me about all the extras you get with a downloaded movie — anything like what comes on a lot of DVDs?

I thought not.

Posted By jbl : July 1, 2009 1:55 am

So tell me about all the extras you get with a downloaded movie — anything like what comes on a lot of DVDs?

I thought not.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 1, 2009 9:59 am

This post may make your jaw drop.

Your technology is about ten times more sophisticated than mine.

I too just made a purchase of several old movies from an outlet specializing in the older stuff. I spent $25. My choices were: Robin and the Seven Hoods, Hollywood Party, The Great Lie and The Jolson Story. They are all used VHS videos.

The last time I counted, which was two years ago, I had 1,500 VHS videos and 40 DVDs. Obviously, I have more now.

My computer is ten years old. It was given to me by an editor for one of the small papers I write for.

There are many things I can’t do on it (although I can submit stories I wrote).

I can’t access the film clips featured in the Morlocks’ columns.

I certainly can’t access movies by computer.

I can’t even join in on your Bulletin Board discussions. Every time I try, it rejects me. And I can’t make corrections on your data base entries (and some of them really need corrected). Again I get rejected. I don’t know why.

This may seem very primitive to you but it satisfies me.

Olivia De Haviland made a movie I have never seen.

It was titled To Each His Own.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 1, 2009 9:59 am

This post may make your jaw drop.

Your technology is about ten times more sophisticated than mine.

I too just made a purchase of several old movies from an outlet specializing in the older stuff. I spent $25. My choices were: Robin and the Seven Hoods, Hollywood Party, The Great Lie and The Jolson Story. They are all used VHS videos.

The last time I counted, which was two years ago, I had 1,500 VHS videos and 40 DVDs. Obviously, I have more now.

My computer is ten years old. It was given to me by an editor for one of the small papers I write for.

There are many things I can’t do on it (although I can submit stories I wrote).

I can’t access the film clips featured in the Morlocks’ columns.

I certainly can’t access movies by computer.

I can’t even join in on your Bulletin Board discussions. Every time I try, it rejects me. And I can’t make corrections on your data base entries (and some of them really need corrected). Again I get rejected. I don’t know why.

This may seem very primitive to you but it satisfies me.

Olivia De Haviland made a movie I have never seen.

It was titled To Each His Own.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : July 1, 2009 10:08 am

jbl – that’s why I think Blu-Ray will become an item more for collectors, and VOD for everyone else.

Mike – Flash Point has jumped a few notches on my to-see list. Very excited.

Al – I’m just talking about general trends, not personal preferences. I don’t own a Blu-Ray player myself (or an HDTV, for that matter)

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : July 1, 2009 10:08 am

jbl – that’s why I think Blu-Ray will become an item more for collectors, and VOD for everyone else.

Mike – Flash Point has jumped a few notches on my to-see list. Very excited.

Al – I’m just talking about general trends, not personal preferences. I don’t own a Blu-Ray player myself (or an HDTV, for that matter)

Posted By filmlover : July 1, 2009 3:38 pm

I find myself disagreeing completely that VOD will be the future…at least not for a decade or more. I had cable for a great many years and satellite for the last several, and never once have I gone for VOD. I like my physical media – DVDs, Blu-rays – and don’t think I ever want to watch a movie over my computer. And digital downloading, though greatly hyped, barely does anything. And now with internet caps a possibility…

I also disagree with the phrase that Blu-ray has barely made a dent in the missing DVD revenue. There have been several circumstances lately of new titles where Blu has been 20% of the sales. That may not seem like much until you factor in that out of, say, $100 million, that would be $20 million…money the studio likes to get. That’s quote a jump from about two years ago when it was only about 1% of the media market. Don’t forget, it is still fairly young. DVDs didn’t catch on right away with everybody. I think Blu-ray will continue to grow and grow.

Posted By filmlover : July 1, 2009 3:38 pm

I find myself disagreeing completely that VOD will be the future…at least not for a decade or more. I had cable for a great many years and satellite for the last several, and never once have I gone for VOD. I like my physical media – DVDs, Blu-rays – and don’t think I ever want to watch a movie over my computer. And digital downloading, though greatly hyped, barely does anything. And now with internet caps a possibility…

I also disagree with the phrase that Blu-ray has barely made a dent in the missing DVD revenue. There have been several circumstances lately of new titles where Blu has been 20% of the sales. That may not seem like much until you factor in that out of, say, $100 million, that would be $20 million…money the studio likes to get. That’s quote a jump from about two years ago when it was only about 1% of the media market. Don’t forget, it is still fairly young. DVDs didn’t catch on right away with everybody. I think Blu-ray will continue to grow and grow.

Posted By suzidoll : July 1, 2009 11:02 pm

I think tech geeks don’t understand that most people do not want to spend their leisure time installing yet another program, or hooking up yet another bit of junk to watch a movie that they can eventually see by merely turning on cable TV and finding the right channel. (See the latest Youtube CNN satire about Sony’s latest gadget. It’s fictional, of course, and completely foul-mouthed, but the point is so true.) And, most of us who spend their work days in front of a computer don’t want to spend their evenings in front of one watching a movie. I can’t think of anything less satisfying. And, Screen Digest and the CEO of Netflix ought to get out of their offices and visit the small towns and rural areas across the country, where people still sit on their porches in the evenings and actually visit each other — get this, by going outside their houses. What a concept. The day they waste time with VOD or any related service will be a cold one in hell.

Posted By suzidoll : July 1, 2009 11:02 pm

I think tech geeks don’t understand that most people do not want to spend their leisure time installing yet another program, or hooking up yet another bit of junk to watch a movie that they can eventually see by merely turning on cable TV and finding the right channel. (See the latest Youtube CNN satire about Sony’s latest gadget. It’s fictional, of course, and completely foul-mouthed, but the point is so true.) And, most of us who spend their work days in front of a computer don’t want to spend their evenings in front of one watching a movie. I can’t think of anything less satisfying. And, Screen Digest and the CEO of Netflix ought to get out of their offices and visit the small towns and rural areas across the country, where people still sit on their porches in the evenings and actually visit each other — get this, by going outside their houses. What a concept. The day they waste time with VOD or any related service will be a cold one in hell.

Posted By Michael J. Anderson : July 8, 2009 12:08 pm

What a bizarre series of comments on this piece! I am with Rob, and Netflix, on this one: VOD is the next wave. Why? Ease. What’s so hard to get about this? If consumers are given the opportunity to choose many, many more titles to be downloaded and viewed directly on their television set (or as it stands now, on-line, which by the way Suzidoll, my mother, resident of rural, small-town America does through her Netflix account… maybe their CEO does know what he’s talking about after all) why wouldn’t this work? DVD extras? Extras appeal to a small number of collectors who are more interested in seeing the same film over and over, and learning everything they can about a relatively small number of films. Home video is for these people, certainly. However, there is also a second kind of collector, a camp that both Rob and I belong to, who spends their time seeking out new experiences. VOD works for us. And it also works for the much more common, non-collector movie fan who wants to see something new and good. Choices are a great thing… as is ease.

Posted By Michael J. Anderson : July 8, 2009 12:08 pm

What a bizarre series of comments on this piece! I am with Rob, and Netflix, on this one: VOD is the next wave. Why? Ease. What’s so hard to get about this? If consumers are given the opportunity to choose many, many more titles to be downloaded and viewed directly on their television set (or as it stands now, on-line, which by the way Suzidoll, my mother, resident of rural, small-town America does through her Netflix account… maybe their CEO does know what he’s talking about after all) why wouldn’t this work? DVD extras? Extras appeal to a small number of collectors who are more interested in seeing the same film over and over, and learning everything they can about a relatively small number of films. Home video is for these people, certainly. However, there is also a second kind of collector, a camp that both Rob and I belong to, who spends their time seeking out new experiences. VOD works for us. And it also works for the much more common, non-collector movie fan who wants to see something new and good. Choices are a great thing… as is ease.

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