Anthony Nield has reviewed the Region 2 release of Deadful Melody. A Brigitte Lin vehicle in the manner of Zu Warriors, this particular martial arts comic fantasy suffers from a complete lack of extras and decidedly shoddy presentation.
Deadful Melody opens in a ridiculously kinetic fashion. A flashback to 15 years ago reveals the power of a magic lyre and a collection of cartoon-ish villains who wish to possess it. A huge death toll mounts up in little over five minutes involving a decapitation, a dead baby and exploding bodies in a manner akin to a psychedelic Scanners. Indeed, it all none to subtle and so briskly paced that we never the chance to pause for thought and consider exactly what or going on or why. Which would appear to be the point: Deadful Melody is brash entertainment of a fairly basic kind replete with juvenile sense of humour and minimal narrative impact.
Having set up its exposition the pace slackens ever so slightly as, flashback over, the magic lyre is once again out in the open under the protection of Biao Yeun and once again pursued by the same batch of villains. Deadful Melody thus settles into an episodic rhythm as our protagonist wards off various attackers, each time in a fashion as manic as that of the opening sequence. Yet whilst never dull, the sense of repetition does become slightly wearying as there’s little to separate one scene from the next: a fight begins, people fly around and Brigitte Lin crops up as a deus ex machina to save the day.
Understandably the filmmakers can’t keep this up for the entire duration, yet whilst Deadful Melody changes tact somewhat and makes Lin a weightier presence, it doesn’t really have anywhere to go. The narrative developments are signposted so early meaning that revelations about long-long family members plus the numerous double crossings and ulterior motives all become wholly predictable. Moreover, the characterisation is decidedly lightweight, working more from stock types than any kind of depth, thereby lessening the intrigue even further.
But then, in Deadful Melody’s defence, it never gives the impression of wanting to be a serious, or indeed demanding, work. It is, after all, a comedy and a fantasy and one told in a comic book fashion. The various villains wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of the 1960s series of Batman, whilst the breakneck editing gives the film a suitable verve even if the visuals are rarely attractive. Indeed, a reaction to Deadful Melody is likely to be governed by a willingness to accept its more juvenile aspects. There’s little substance here – and perhaps that the point – but just enough panache to see it through.
The latest Optimum Asia offering is something of a disappointment. The print is clearly showing signs of age and whilst the colours have remained reasonably sharp, little else has. There is continually visual damage to the print, plus a distracting flicker that intermittently makes itself known. To top this off, the film is also presented non-anamorphically, though the original aspect ratio is preserved. The soundtrack fares better offering the original Cantonese stereo recording with optional English subtitles (which contain only the occasional typo). As with the print this is showing signs of age, though nothing quite so overt rather its initial crispness sounds slightly dulled. With regards to the extras, this follows the pattern of other back-catalogue Optimum Asia releases and comes with none.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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