‘Face/Off’ Blu-ray Review
John Woo is a legendary director in Hong Kong with some classics under his belt which would influence western cinema a good 10 years later. For those that don’t know John Woo or who he is, I highly recommend renting or buying any of his classic films like ‘A Better Tomorrow’, ‘The Killer’, and ‘Hard Boiled’. In the early 90′s I worked at a video store, so I had all the Asian films at my disposal as they were released here in the U.S. I remember viewing ‘A Better Tomorrow’ as my first action film from Hong Kong, which I was very impressed with that I had to get my hands on ‘Hard Boiled’ by any means possible. At the time in Asian cinema, directors like John Woo were bringing new kinds of action elements to the fore front while we had guys like Steven Segal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of their careers with the tired true U.S. action formula. By no means were U.S. action films bad, but once you saw what they were doing in Hong Kong, you were wishing for the same here in the U.S.
Director John Woo found his way to Hollywood in the 90′s, with his first two films ‘Hard Target’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ not being successes. Too his credit, a lot had to do with his hands being tied down by the studios and the content that they wanted him to work with. While both ‘Hard Target’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ were not bad by any means, you could tell they lacked some of the trademark John Woo style of action. The third time was the charm with ‘Face/Off’ which also helped to have strong performances from John Travolta and Nicholas Cage.
‘Face/Off’ begins with a tragedy where FBI agent Sean Archer’s (Travolta) son is shot and killed by terrorist Castor Troy (Cage). This is where it all begins for Archer as he dedicates his life to bringing Troy to justice and even the idea of killing him in the back of his mind if he gets close enough. The beginning action sequence has to be one of the best yet for an action film and starts things off with a bang, to the point where it leaves Troy in a coma. Things get complicated because before Troy goes into a coma, he had dispatched a bomb that would kill thousands. With the help of top government surgeons they perform surgery where Archer takes Troy’s face, voice, and identity. This allows him to go underground to try and find where the bomb has been dispatched at, but things go awry when Troy wakes up from his coma. Troy not only enraged that his face is now gone, he forces the surgeon that removed his face to place Archer’s face on his. Not only does Troy take Archer’s identity, he also takes on Archer’s family.
Many will point out that this could never happen, and while true, it is an action packed film that you sit back and enjoy for what it is. I really enjoyed this film due to not just there being mindless action as some might perceive, but due to the seeing how the film unfolds through psychology for both men as they are trapped in bodies that they would destroy in a second. It is about character, which John Woo wanted to make as the driving point of this film as both Travolta and Cage do an excellent job to make their characters very believable.
On the action side of things, this is Woo noir written all over the film. From the explosions, thousands of bullets being fired, to the pieces of wood flying all over the place, the heavy chase sequences, and to his signature doves we have classic Woo at work here.
On Blu-ray, ‘Face/Off’ is a splendid visual and audio treat that makes any previous DVD and VHS version something that you would trade in instantly upon viewing this set. This Blu-ray version is on par with the HD DVD release that we saw in the fall 2007 and using the same master and encode. The picture looks almost pristine from beginning to end, that you can tell Paramount took the time to really make this release top notch. One of the biggest issues that many have complained about is the DNR throughout the encode as it was also the same with the HD DVD release. There are some scenes where the characters look like waxy figures as the end result of using DNR.
In the audio department we have a DTS ES 6.1 and Dolby Digital EX 5.1 tracks, which the DTS soundtrack sounds better. The HD DVD also had a Dolby Digital Plus track which sounded phenomenal. The beginning chase sequence alone will have your setup rumbling. Dialogue is handled very well and is one of the bigger things that I look at with these Blu-ray releases. There are times where films have a strong dynamic sound field and then sacrifice the dialogue portion to the point where it sounds mute.
I find ‘Face/Off’ as one of my favorite films and for a catalog titles this goes to show that if studios paid careful attention to mastering older films to high definition that they can make an 11 year old film look amazing. I was so excited to hear how quickly this film was going to be released on Blu-ray after HD DVD’s demise. If you are a fan of John Woo and a fan of action films, I highly recommend ‘Face/Off’ as a fun filled action movie about getting vengeance.