- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

In time for the holiday season, Miramax Home Entertainment treats movie buffs to not one but two terrific, widely divergent new Chinese winners, Hero and Infernal Affairs ($29.99 each). They’re our…

DVD picks of the week

A recent surprise stateside big-screen hit, the sweeping historical epic “Hero” stars Jet Li as “Nameless,” a mysterious figure on a mission of revenge that pits him against three professional assassins played by Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Donnie Yen.

Related in flashbacks offering varying, “Rashomon”-like scenarios of key events, each with its own striking color scheme (red, blue, white and green), “Hero” combines stirring martial-arts choreography and lavish battle scenes with a subtler sensibility than is usually found in sagas of this sort.

Much of the credit goes to renowned auteur Zhang Yimou, making his first stab at the action genre after several acclaimed dramas. An informative behind-the-scenes documentary, ” ‘Hero’ Defined” describes his painstaking approach to script, casting and visual details. The disc also includes a less illuminating but nonetheless fun conversation with Jet Li and “Hero” ‘s “presenter,” Quentin Tarantino.

Actor Tony Leung returns in a much different setting, present-day Hong Kong, in co-directors Andy Lau and Alan Mak’s supremely ingenious and intense crime thriller “Infernal Affairs” (already tapped for a Hollywood remake).

Here, Mr. Leung portrays a Hong Kong cop who is under cover so deep that only one other officer (Anthony Wong) even knows his true identity. He’s soon up against his opposite number — Mr. Lau, who’s also an actor, playing a gang-trained mole who’s infiltrated the police force’s upper echelons — in a series of cat-and-mouse games with ever-escalating stakes.

Delivering suspense and texture in equal measure, along with stellar acting, especially by the two leads and gang boss Eric Tsang (Hong Kong’s answer to Bob Hoskins), “Infernal Affairs” rates as the most satisfying policer we’ve seen this year. Extras include two featurettes, an alternate ending and original theatrical trailers.

For a Chinese movie marathon, we also recommend He Ping’s spectacular Eastern “Western,” Warriors of Heaven and Earth ($26.95), new from Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment.

The ‘A’ list

The holiday kick-off week looms as a large one, with several recent theatrical releases making their digital debuts:

• Paramount Home Entertainment celebrates the season with a bracing cup of pure paranoia — Jonathan Demme’s remake of The Manchurian Candidate ($29.95), with Denzel Washington as a military investigator on the trail of a wide-reaching conspiracy. The bonus-packed disc includes filmmakers’ commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes and much more.

• Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment looks to accentuate the fear factor with the giant snakefest Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid ($26.95), set in the jungle and starring KaDee Strickland, of “The Grudge” fame.

• MGM Home Entertainment takes a somewhat mellower approach with its Cole Porter musical bio De-Lovely ($26.98), showcasing Kevin Kline as the oft-troubled legendary tunesmith and Ashley Judd as his loyal wife. Extras include audio commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and more.

• Buena Vista Home Entertainment seeks to stir the blood with Antoine Fuqua’s bonus-packed historical epic King Arthur: The Director’s Cut, starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley and Ioan Gruffud.

• The related Walt Disney Home Entertainment label continues in a royal vein with The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement ($29.99 each), with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway.

• 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment weighs in with the offbeat comedy sleeper Napoleon Dynamite ($29.99), arriving in an extras-enhanced edition complete with filmmaker and actors’ commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes and more.

Tele-video

Paramount goes the sci-fi route with the seven-disc Star Trek Voyager: The Complete Seventh Season ($129.99), containing 24 episodes, cast and crew interviews and featurettes, and the double-disc The 4400: The Complete First Season ($26.99), assembling all five premiere-season episodes.

Comic Ray Romano and his dysfunctional family mix it up in the five-disc Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Second Season (HBO Video, $44.98), complete with audio commentaries by Mr. Romano and series creator Phil Rosenthal, deleted scenes and bloopers.

Collectors’ corner

MGM Home Entertainment issues a deluxe treat for Sly guys with its five-disc Rocky Anthology ($62.95), compiling all five digitally remastered “Rocky” films plus the A&E; “Biography” episode “Sylvester Stallone: The Rocky Road to the Top.”

In fright-film developments, Subversive Cinema salvages and restores the 1976 rarity The Witch Who Came From the Sea ($19.95). Extras include audio commentary by star Millie Perkins and the filmmakers, a behind-the-scenes featurette and more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any chance of finding an old Western with a young Bill Holden, Texas, on DVD?

George Patterson, via e-mail

That rare 1941 Western, co-starring Glenn Ford, is currently available (VHS only) on a mail-order rental basis via Video Library (vlibrary.com).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at [email protected]aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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