Special ID Blu-ray Review
Each year it seems there are a glut of martial arts films, most of which are straight-to-Blu-ray in the United States. An increasing number of films are being brought over from studio WELL GO USA ENTERTAINMENT, of varying quality, but I am generally thankful for diversity in the films available to American audiences. That being said, the most recent release to come from this studio, SPECIAL ID (2013) is incredibly uneven at the best of times. But it is one of the first eastern martial arts films I’ve seen with a heavy emphasis on mixed martial arts (i.e. what you see inside ‘the Octagon’ in UFC fights).
SPECIAL ID is, at its heart, a showcase for martial arts. That being said, the best martial arts films involve an engaging story, good (or hopefully great) acting, and then the action. This is not one of the best. SPECIAL ID is a simple and formulaic film you’ll probably recognize immediately. Undercover cop Zilong Chen (Donnie Yen from IP MAN and many others) is getting in too deep with the Chinese underworld. He wants out but doesn’t have a choice – so he takes a final, dangerous mission to try to bring down the group he has been infiltrating for the last six years. Of course his family is in danger, he’s always one step away from being found out, and there is no guarantee any of this will actually work.
Aside from the names, the plot could be lifted from any one of dozens of films you’ve probably seen and maybe liked quite a bit. The problem is the plot doesn’t really get any deeper than these simple points and even the few curveballs they try to throw in are telegraphed well in advance. It is a disappointment to be sure, because SPECIAL ID does have some merits, but they are few and far between.
So is there anything great, or even good about this movie? Thankfully yes. Donnie Yen is phenomenal as always. Though he’s been around for a long time he is certainly getting better and better with each film he makes. There just isn’t much here for him to work with. The other two main actors, Tian Jing (who plays the young female cop assigned to protect him) and Andy On (who plays the films primary antagonist) are each also really good in this movie as well. The performances really deserved something better than what SPECIAL ID ultimately delivers. But that is where the good stuff ends.
There are too many problems to detail but lets get a few HUGE ones out there. The first is the audio sync, which is absolutely awful. Regardless of which audio track you choose you are constantly reminded you are watching a movie with a terrible technical presentation. It is very difficult to get lost in the world when the voices rarely (if ever) match up with the movements of the mouths on the screen. Now, with a movie like this audiences are generally divided. Some people prefer to use the English language track (which is incredibly cheesy) and the rest prefer the original actors voices with subtitles. I generally choose subtitles but tried both on this film because the subtitles are so poorly presented there are huge chunks of dialogue you will never be able to read… they’re only on the screen for a fraction of a second and then the next, and the next, and the next are up and gone and suddenly you have no idea what is happening. This could be forgivable if it was a regular issue with subtitled movies but I’ve never encountered anything that was anywhere near this awful.
Finally, the movie features mixed martial arts instead of traditional eastern martial arts styles. That’s the point of the movie, I get it, but it really didn’t work for me at all. The actors and stunt actors are all capable, they present the action in a generally believable way… but it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the weird, roundabout way they have to set up the grappling moves? Or the slow build of action where two (or more) characters are jockeying for position… it’s just boring. I’m sad to say that is the end result for the majority of the film… just a bit too boring to be a good rental or purchase. This one is for diehard fans only; otherwise avoid it.
SPECIAL ID BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1.85:1) The video presentation for SPECIAL ID is actually one of the few positives. Visually engaging, sometimes almost poetically shot, the video is immersive and a real highpoint.
Audio: (Mandarin Chinese 5.1 DTS Master Audio, Mandarin Chinese 2.0 Stereo, English 5.1 HD DTS, English 2.0 Stereo; available with subtitles in English, Spanish or French) The audio presentation of SPECIAL ID, as I stated above, is just awful. While the sound mixing is quite good the audio sync issues constantly remind you that you are watching a movie and never allow you to suspend disbelief. A real disappointment.
The Making of SPECIAL ID (04:06) A few cool behind the scenes montages as well as interview footage with the cast and crew make this far more interesting than the final product, SPECIAL ID.
The SPECIAL ID Blu-ray also features the Theatrical Trailer (01:35) as well as other trailers for WELL GO USA Pictures.