Attack Force Z [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (18th December 2017).
The Film

"Attack Force Z" (1981)

The Z Special Unit was a special ops unit for the allied forces that conducted special missions against during World War II in the Pacific. Made of Australians, New Zealanders, and others the teams participated in critical rescues and covert operations during the war for a total of 81 missions. "Attack Force Z" tells the story of a five man mission to bring home the men of a crashed airplane in the rural jungles of the South Pacific.

Captain Kelly (played by Mel Gibson) is the head of the five man team that must find the survivors of the plane and get them to safety before the Japanese forced can claim them. Dodging bullets within the heated terrain, the men are on a serious mission that is willing for sacrifice. If one of their men happens to get seriously injured, they would be executed and not be taken as prisoner. If they happen to get information from a local, they will take out the person without prejudice to lower their chances of being turned in, as there is no one to trust in war. The men meet Chien Hua (played by Sylvia Cheng) who can speak English and her father Lin Chan-Lang (played by Ko Chun Hsiung) who is a kung fu master and secretly part of the resistance against the Japanese forces. The mission involves getting surviving Lieutenant Veitch (played by John Phillip Law) to safety and also to save defecting Japanese Imoguchi (played by Yu Wang as he holds the secret to ending the war. But with the Japanese soldiers using torturous methods to gain information, the Z-Men are constantly on watch and on the run.

Based on a series of accounts but not entirely based on any certain story, "Attack Force Z" showed a slightly different side of World War II from a non-American perspective. The storyline does share some similarities to the later made "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) with a group of men on a special rescue mission, "Attack Force Z" is very different in scale and tone. The camaraderie of the Z-Men are not the All-American "Leave no man behind" mentality and that does seem shocking to see the men having to kill their own men off in certain situations. Trust from locals are also questionable as loyalty could shift at any time. The film follows many conventions of the war genre. The minimal dialogue, the tension in hiding and surviving, the horrors invoked by the enemy. But because the film follows the basic rules, there is not much that makes "Attack Force Z" stand out from the crowd, with one exception being the cast assembled.

"Attack Force Z" was significant for featuring some big name actors before they hit their prime. Mel Gibson had starred in the first two "Mad Max" films but international stardom had yet to come. Sam Neill starred in the now-cult classic "Possession" the same year but nothing of major significance prior. John Waters and Chris Haywood" played supporting roles in "Breaker Morant" a few years prior to acclaim, but neither were top billers at the time. John Phillip Law may have had lead roles in "Barbarella" (1968) and "Danger: Diabolik" (1968) and the actor thought of himself as a Hollywood star, but he was nowhere near the image he created for himself. Of all the performers it was actually Ko Chun Hsiung who was the biggest star of the day, as the Taiwanese star was an award winning star since the late 1960s in films such as "Lonely Seventeen" (1967), "Eight Hundred Horses" (1976), and "A Teacher of Great Soldiers" (1979). Gibson is a cocky leader and plays the part fairly well but nothing compared to his legendary turn as "Max" or his slightly crazy Officer Riggs in the "Lethal Weapon" series. Neill plays an interesting character with moral dilemma, though not as explored as it could have been. Law's character of Veitch (which always sounds like everyone is calling him "Bitch") has the biggest arc with the love story between him and Chien Hua, but the emotional arc never seems to fully be fulfilled or taking a larger issue of moral conflict. For the Japanese soldiers, it should be said that they were played by Taiwanese actors and later dubbed in Japanese for the most part. The dubbed Japanese is fairly accurate but there were some questionable moments that made it sound unnatural for soldiers to say to each other. Not only were they dubbed but much of the English had to be post synched as well as the Taiwanese crew were not used to recording location sounds for their own films, and with this film having a mostly Taiwanese crew, the issue also applied here.

"Attack Force Z" had some issues with its production not only in the sound department, but with other behind the scenes moments as well. Original director Phillip Noyce was replaced right before principal photography with Tim Burstall. Weather issues on the island delayed many scheduled scenes. John Phillip Law thought of himself as the major star and kept that persona on set. Sylvia Cheng was also shooting a film in Hong Kong at the same time and schedules had to be based around her days back and forth. But even with these faults and concerns, a fairly consistent war film was released with lots of gunfiring action and kung fu fighting along the way.

The film was first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1981 with general releases around Europe and Australia in 1982. Unfortunately the film was not a hit at all in its native country with a paltry gross of $88,000 at the box office. It may have sold to other countries and did a fair amount but nothing to ensure a huge hit. It was later when the film was released on video that a cult following started to rise, especially with the later big name actors playing the main roles. "Attack Force Z" may not be in the same league with other WWII themed films, but has its charms and gets the job done with fair entertainment.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec, in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film's interpositive was scanned and restored in 4K, and this Blu-ray edition utilizes the newly restored master. But does 4K mean pristine and perfect for "Attack Force Z"? Not exactly. First off, the opening credit sequences look extremely grainy and very weak due to the next generation element and seemingly submarine stock footage being used. After that things look a little better with the lush greens of the jungles and browns of the dirt, though color depth seems to be limited due to the original film stock and some of the color tones are a bit on the darker side. As this was not the original negative but sourced from a generation off interpositive print, grain is on the heavier side as well. As for dust and specs, there are some still visible noticeably on the very dark moments indoors. The film does look better than it ever has compared to video, DVD, and the US Blu-ray incarnations but there is still room for improvement.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 93:29.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original language track is offered in lossless mono. Although labeled "English" there are some portions in Mandarin and Japanese. The mono track does have its limitations in fidelity, but dialogue is always clear and well balanced. As for effects, the gunshots and explosions are also clear but are slightly at a higher volume compared to the dialogue. There are no major issues with hisses or pops in the track.

There are optional English (for the non-English portions) and English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. As stated there are Mandarin and Japanese portions spoken and many of the scenes are subtitled, but there are some passages here and there left untranslated, whether it is because the lines would be interpreted by someone a moment later or portions intentionally left unsubtitled. The HoH track captions all the dialgoue - the English portions, Mandarin and Japanese portions, and the hard-of-hearing captions. The font for both is quite small though easy to read but there were some typos here and there (such as "Areoplane").

Extras

"The Z Men Debriefed” featurette (26:56)
Featuring interviews with producer John McCallum and actors Chris Haywood and John Waters, this 2004 featurette covers many aspects of the making of the film. They discuss the soon to be big name actors Mel Gibson and Sam Neill in their roles, the strangely delusional aura of John Phillip Law on set, the praise of the Taiwanese actors, issues that faced original director Philip Noyce and being replaced, the difficulties in the shoot and more. The transfer of this featurette is interlaced for the interview clips though the film clips actually look fine. This featurette was previously on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD edition.
in 1080i 60hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (2:33)
This is a black and white auto slideshow with no sound.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1

Theatrical Trailer (2:45)
The American trailer with very faded colors and slightly distorted high volume audio. As it is American, the narrator pronounced the title in the Americanized "Attack Force ZEE rather than "Attack Force ZED".
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


The film was previously released on Blu-ray from Cinevision in America for the 30th Anniversary. Unfortunately it was one of the worst looking Blu-rays ever, with a cropped 1.33:1 transfer from a supposed analog master. The extras were the same though it did have a 5.1 remix in Dolby Digital and the mono track in Dolby Digital. And to make things even worse, there were no subtitles for the non-English moments of the film, and some of them are critical in plot. While the Umbrella Entertainment release is much better in video and audio, it comes as a surprise that this new release contains no new extras - no audio commentary, no new featurettes, nor does it contain The Highest Honor", the Z-Men film that is a spiritual follow-up made by the same production team the following year, and became the more obscure of the two.

Packaging

The case mistakenly lists the audio as Dolby Digital but it is in fact a lossless LPCM track.
The listed 95 minute runtime is slightly off with the 93:29 runtime being accurate.

Overall

"Attack Force Z" has its flaws and all but it is a fascinating piece of Australian-Taiwanese cinema with a cast of up-and-coming Australian actors of its day. It does not reinvent the war genre but includes a good amount of action and tension while keeping a brisk pace. The Umbrella Entertainment release has good picture though could have been better, and a fair selection of extras making this fairly recommended.

The Film: C+ Video: B Audio: B Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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