The Mars Villa Review
Mar Tien Liang has it all. He's a prosperous businessman and loving husband to a beautiful wife, while his technique known as the 'Magic Kick' makes him the proud owner of a martial arts school with many followers. The latter brings with it a few troubles however in the form of challengers from rival schools and general villainous types who feel the town simply isn't big enough for two martial arts masters. After one such challenger is killed a series of events are set in motion by the ultimate villains of the piece who are set on revenge, slowly undoing Mar Tien Liang as they ruin his business, kill his friends, take his wife and eventually rob him of his sanity. He still possesses one thing however, life, and with the help of a friend and the will to live the tables are soon turned and his own revenge is sought in the final act of this old school period revenge drama.
There is much to like about The Mars Villa, from the hero who is seriously under the thumb of an otherwise loving wife and the rules she imposes on him causing the downfall they both suffer mid-way through the film, to the eventual trials they both face in order to survive and the exaggerated fashion in which these are tackled. Most of the story elements featured within have been seen many times before and since, but the casting and portrayals here are good enough to help things along as we enjoy the villain's confusion as the woman he's forced to be his wife explains "You may take my body, but you'll never have my soul!" only for him to shrug it off and say "I'll just take your body then!". Everyone in the film is the victim of their own self, from the wife who prevents her husband from fighting allowing things to get out of control to the villain who is blinded by self-confidence and the face of a beautiful woman that he allows the man he's taken everything from to keep his life. And then you have the unintentionally hilarious moments, such as the first time Mar Tien Liang and his wife meet after she's become the villain's woman, only for him to slap her in disgust and send her away before moments later discovering she gave herself to save him, resulting in a crashing down to knees moment crying her name out to the heavens.
So it's all very amusing and thanks to the generally decent cast and fast paced direction a well done take on the revenge drama. Then you also have the action scenes (and there are plenty) which feature a pleasing array of fist and leg techniques plus some wonderful tumbling through the air with trademarked sound effects in tact, but in the first half of the film there is a tendency to favour simply throwing as many bodies in front of the camera as possible rather than the better staged smaller fights that are found towards the end. It is in these that we can take some real pleasure from the action, with John Liu's impressive kicking techniques being put to full use as Mar Tien Liang fights his way up the ranks past a duo that use some wonderfully thought out combination techniques, until finally he comes up against the final villain in a fight that overstays its welcome but does boast an amusingly over-the-top finale.
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Sadly the presentation here by 55th Chamber is very poor, though in terms of video they do go one better than usual by giving us the film in widescreen albeit cropped from 2.35:1 to 1.85:1 and with no anamorphic enhancement. It also looks as though the film was sourced from a print this time as opposed to the tape transfers of their 4:3 hack jobs, with no signs of tracking problems and other tape related issues. Beyond that though the print is in quite bad shape, with constant dirt and speckles, lines on the screen and then when the reel changes occur these elements just go into overdrive and consume the screen. Detail levels are low and colours washed out, but everything is at the very least in focus and easy enough to view, though there is a rather horrible scratch in the print for the entire middle segment of the movie (about 30 minutes worth) that makes it look like there is a small line of fire on your screen. Finally just a quick note on the cropping - I never noticed until a reader pointed it out in the comments so cannot honestly say I found it to be detrimental, though I'm sure the wider frame would add a little to the composition of shots in the feature.
The audio is similarly poor, with a constant high pitch tone audible in the background. There are at least no dropouts and everything is easy enough to make out, though once again we only get the English dub. Fortunately I found it to be quite acceptable for the kind of film The Mars Villa is (one of the better throwaway martial arts pieces out there), and it was quite amusing hearing the attempts to pronounce “Mar Tien Liang” coming out like “Martin Lan”.
Extras include the original trailer (in even worse shape than the main presentation!), a look at other films on the 55th Chamber label and web links.
The Mars Villa is one of the better films to have been released by 55th Chamber but sadly the presentation is very poor, though it seems this English dubbed version is only available in this cropped aspect ratio. The R0 Crash Cinema release is the same but also features the Mandarin language version in the original aspect ratio as part of the set, so may be the better choice for those looking to add The Mars Villa to their collections.