The Vineyard Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by James Hong and William Rice
Written by James Hong, Douglas Kondo and James Marlowe
1989, 94 minutes, Rated R
Released on September 24th, 2019
James Hong as Dr. Elson Po
Karen Witter as Jezebel Fairchild
Michael Wong as Jeremy Young
Lars Wangberg as Lucas Carroll
Cheryl Madsen as Nancy Stone
Cheryl Lawson as Claudia Lee
Renowned vintner Dr. Elson Po’s wines are viewed as being among the very best, with bottles commanding outlandish prices at auction. Po himself is quite the personality, dabbling in the film industry as a movie producer. He occasionally invites small groups of aspiring actors and models to his island mansion to audition for upcoming projects. What no one knows is that Po is actually a sorcerer who uses black magic to remain eternally young, drawing his power from an ancient amulet and an elixir containing human blood. Po has a dungeon filled with scantily clad female prisoners whom he regularly bleeds for his needs, as the effects of the potion are not long-lasting, requiring an ongoing supply of victims.
The latest group of young people to arrive on the island includes the lovely Jezebel Fairchild; her boyfriend Lucas Carroll; fellow actress Nancy Stone; and friends Brian, Celeste and Claudia. The final addition to the group is handsome reporter Jeremy Young, looking to write an article on their popular host. Po is immediately taken by Jezebel’s beauty and focuses his energy on courting her as either a potential bride or ultimate sacrifice. Po employs an army of martial artists to guard his property and perform his dirty work. Meanwhile, in a totally inexplicable twist, the vineyard is filled with zombies that occasionally rise up in rebellion.
Longtime character actor James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China) is deeply involved in the making of The Vineyard, a film he co-directed (with William Rice), stars in and also had a hand in writing the script. There is a lot going on with this story and not all of it makes sense, but it is an entertaining ride. Hong is familiar with the world of horror and exploitation and loads his picture with beautiful actors, quotable dialogue, nightmare scenarios, nudity, sleaze, cheesy special effects and the occasional zombie. There’s not a lot of character development and some of the supporting cast becomes interchangeable, but Hong keeps things moving at a decent pace.
Hong steals the show as Dr. Po, a devilish man who will do anything to maintain his youthful appearance. His performance is earnest though frequently over-the-top, as he is prone to chewing the scenery, a trait that works for the villainous role. Leading lady Karen Witter (Popcorn) does a fine job as woman in peril Jezebel Fairchild. Michael Wong (First Option) proves to be a worthy opponent as reporter Jeremy Young who slowly uncovers Po’s evil practices
The Vineyard delivers more often than not, but suffers from some weak supporting performances and clunky editing – especially during the finale. On the positive side, the film has a great look, thanks to cinematographer John Dirlam (Distortions), who helps create a rich atmosphere with his accomplished lighting. Hong is always a joy to watch and the idea is pretty original – although the winery setting may be a bit out of touch with the target audience. The mixture of ancient Eastern philosophies and mysticism with superficial modern Western values is appealing and stands out from much of the genre offerings of the late 1980s. The picture works as a solid B-movie out to entertain and is definitely worth a look for Hong’s performance alone.
Video and Audio:
The film makes its Blu-ray debut with a stunning 4K scan and restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. Picture quality is impressive and presented in the native 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors pop and flesh tones appear natural throughout. Black levels are rock solid and there is plenty of small-object detail.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 preserves the original sound recording and is quite satisfying. Music and effects cues are well-balanced and never intrusive, while dialogue levels are clean and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Sadly, there’s no James Hong audio commentary, but we do get a new interview with the man in the segment Welcome to the Vineyard (19 minutes). The 90-year-old legend is energetic and eager to share stories of his life and the experience of making this film. Joined by producer/actor Harry Mok, the two discuss Asian advocacy in film, putting this project together, working within the confines of a low budget and memories of the shoot. This is an excellent interview well worth checking out.
Co-director William Rice takes the spotlight in Zombies from San Jose (12 minutes) and reflects on how he became attached to the project and what it was like working with Hong. He has fond memories of the shoot and its stylish look and beautiful locations.
In Sacred Earth and Restless Souls (17 minutes), cinematographer John Dirlam reveals how he got into the film industry and coming on board this production. He talks about his work assembling the camera crew and filling in as part time director. There are some entertaining production stories, compliments to the filmmakers and a generally positive experience.
A lengthy theatrical trailer (4 minutes) is included, but you may want to watch it only after seeing the movie first, as it is full of spoilers.
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