My favorite movie, THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR was recently released in a limited-edition blu-ray in China. An MLIFE exclusive, the set included the terrible sequel on a separate disc and an 84-page booklet with color frame grabs from the films. There were two different covers with slipcases limited to 300 copies of “type A” and 200 of "type B."
You can still find it on eBay, where I got my copy, but it’s expensive. THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR never had a decent transfer to DVD, most of them being letterboxed standard 4:3 frame. A French release was 16:9 but had no English subtitles and the transfer was again, sub-par. No DVD had the stereo audio except a German release that I have not acquired. While the new blu-ray was a BIG improvement on every other presentation, the transfer is much too bright, overall color is hued greenish, English subtitles are sloppy and the audio tracks (Mandarin and Cantonese) are mono down-mixes. I had yearned for an HD transfer (or better yet, a chance at a 35mm screening which will likely never happen) for decades and finally it arrived but the damn thing is flawed. I have the tools, skill and dedication so here’s my Special Project for the movie:
- Color/exposure correction
- Syncing the stereo Cantonese audio from the Tai Seng Laserdisc
- New subtitles placed within the lower matte. The subs are “burned in” for this project, a choice I made for various reasons.
- Fixing a few digital anomalies, namely this little frustrating oddity.
See the dot near the top center of the frame? It’s there for three shots and was distracting enough to fix, which wasn’t easy because the camera drifts around slightly.
Looks like they tried to mask out something from the master. These little spot masks are often used to cover dead pixels. The editor grabs a tiny section near the offending spot and slides it over to cover it.
I only made one change to the film itself: Brigitte Lin’s character introduction. In the original edit, she flies in screen right which collides with the rest of the scene’s set-ups so I mirrored that shot so that she appears from the left at 23:22. While color timing this transfer, which was almost shot-by-shot, I was constantly in awe of the craftsmanship on display in this film. Even though THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR was the huge prestige film from Hong Kong in 1993, lavished with a much higher budget than typical productions, it was still made for a fraction of what ordinary Hollywood features were afforded. I’m speculating here but it seems like the scan of the source received no color correction at all! I also have to wonder if the release prints themselves were photo-chemically timed to lean toward the cyan for that bluish palette so common in HK films of the early ‘90s. If there were blue gels on the lights or blue camera filters, I wouldn’t see so much natural color that’s coming out from this HD transfer. Granted, many scenes do indeed have a lot of blue lighting such as the wrap-around scenes in the snow, night scenes, etc. An attempt to imitate the look of those theatrical prints resulted in an ersatz, digitalish blue hue that was unacceptable so I concentrated on subduing that green tint on the blu-ray without affecting the overall color scheme. This was a bigger challenge than correcting the transfer’s brightness levels! I’m grateful that it’s overexposed rather than too dark because the blacks would be crushed. As it is, I’ve only noticed one shot that had the brightness blown out and it was a quickie during the climactic transformation flashbacks. Another culprit for the varying levels within scenes is that doggone atmospheric smoke on-set that had to be a major annoyance for the cinematographer! The smoke would diffuse the light to varying degrees. It seems to have dissipated during a single scene’s shots & set-ups. It was probably impossible to maintain any kind of lighting continuity with that crap wafting around.
All that said, this version is still rather bright due to the source and the soft, hazy cinematography. Dropping the exposure in the shadows too much crushed the detail. Another thing I noticed was that the Blu-ray transfer seemed to be a bit squished horizontally, so I transformed the image vertically. The aspect ratio is probably closer to 2.15:1 but nothing got cropped from the Blu transfer, which compared to the laserdisc, is already cropped on the top and sides. I also raised the image a few pixels to accommodate the subtitles, a la’ the old Tai Seng laserdisc. Here are some before & after pics: (Laserdisc TOP, raw Blu-ray MIDDLE, my regrade BOTTOM)
One exception to my subtitles is the opening scroll. On the Tai Seng releases, that’s how it appears on the theatrical prints, so I assume that’s how the director intended it. On subsequent DVD releases, it’s just a dull screen of the snow flying around during the narration with video subtitles.
I took a little artistic license with some of the subtitle translation. My old VHS (the first time I saw it) is transferred from a Mandarin theatrical print with much different linguistics. Some phrases are almost poetic. I’m not multi-lingual so I studied each translation for the lines to be as concise and sensible as possible. Also, I opted not to include subtitles for the lyrics of Leslie Cheung’s end credits song. The same translation appears on every disc that includes subs for it and to me, they seem awkward. I even looked at the French DVD and was ready to enter the French into a translator, but they didn’t sub the song either! Internet searches returned zero results for a different translation of the lyrics. I found two different titles for it though! “The White-Haired Beauty” and " Red Cheek, White Hair."
A few more comparison frames: (Raw blu-ray TOP, my regrade BOTTOM)
This was the worst offender, a shot that clearly was run through an optical printer to get the freeze-frame and fade out.
The project is finished and available on the 'spleen. I compressed it as H.264 so the file size is 8 GB.