the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Home Vision Entertainment presents

Devils on the Doorstep (2000)

"With your eyes closed, can you see me?"- Ma Dasan (Jiang Wen)

Stars: Jiang Wen, Jiang Hongbo, Kagawa Teruyuki, Yuan Ding, Cong Zhijun, Xi Zi
Other Stars: Li Haibin, Cai Weidong, Chen Shu, Chen Lianmei, Shi Jianquan, Chen Qiang, David Wu, Zhou Haizhao
Director: Jiang Wen

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, nudity)
Run Time: 02h:19m:16s
Release Date: 2005-04-19
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB+B+ C-


DVD Review

It's simply amazing to me how some movies, whether they are big Hollywood releases or independently released foreign pictures, simply slip through the cracks and go unnoticed, even by the most avid of film buffs. 2000's Devils on the Doorstep is a prime example of such a sorely ignored film.

Devils on the Doorstep was directed by Jiang Wen (In the Heat of the Sun), an actor-turned-director who has also written the film and stars as the bumbling hero, Ma Dasan. It's 1945 China, and Ma is in the middle of making love when he gets a knock at his door. The sword-wielding stranger commands Ma to shut his eyes and will only give his name as "Me." The stranger leaves two large sacks whose contents are a Japanese soldier and his Chinese interpreter. The stranger vows to return soon to collect his bags, but warns Ma that if anything happens to the two men, he will suffer dire consequences.

From here, the film becomes a tight character study of Ma and his "prisoners" with enough plot development to come that by stating them here would take quite a bit away from an audience's initial viewing experience. However, it should be noted that the final act of the film is unexpectedly violent, and very disturbing.

One of the joys of this film is watching Jiang Wen, as an actor, react so genuinely to the situation that he has been thrown into. Not only is his self-written dialogue very witty, but his facial expressions alone are enough to carry Ma Dasan's plight to the utmost level of realism.

As a director, Jiang Wen is a powerhouse with the camera, getting as tight in as possible on shots of his actors reacting to very tense moments, and pulling back to allow the viewer to take in the beautiful black-and-white scenery. His tightly written screenplay moves the story along at a brisk pace, especially for a film that runs almost two and a half hours.

American director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean's Twelve) introduces the film on this disc and his discussion about his relationship with Jiang Wen and the history behind his discovery of Devils on the Doorstep is one of the most informative, and insightful introductions to any film, and thoroughly prepared me for viewing for this project, one I had never previously heard of. Make sure to watch this introduction before viewing the film because it is priceless.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and this transfer does a wonderful job of bringing Jiang Wen's original vision to the small screen. Shot in black and white, the film looks gorgeous, with the well-rendered grays aided by solid contrast and black levels. Images are always sharp and, aside from a small bit of grain, are free from blemishes.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Chinese, Japaneseyes
Dolby Digital
Chinese, Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: There are both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks available, but the 5.1 is the better of the two, sporting wider dynamic range, tighter, more aggressive bass, and more involvement from the surrounds. Dialogue is sharp and crisp in both mixes, never being overcome by the music or other sound effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Reprinted interview with director Jiang Wen on the booklet inside the DVD case.
  2. Introduction by Steven Soderbergh - Short piece featuring the acclaimed director discussing Devils on the Doorstep.
Extras Review: There aren't many extras, but the few that are here are valuable. The original theatrical trailer for the film is on board, as well as a video introduction by director Steven Soderbergh, and a text-based interview with Jiang Wen that is printed on the booklet that is inside the DVD's keepcase.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Devils on the Doorstep is a little-seen Chinese film that is finally getting the chance at a larger audience, thanks to Home Vision Entertainment. The excellent audio and video presentations are accompanied by a couple of nice extras, including a wonderful introduction by director Steven Soderbergh.

Chuck Aliaga 2005-04-19