Here is another cult show getting the Blu-ray treatment, courtesy of Fabulous Films. When The Water Margin was first screened in the UK on BBC TV in 1976 - 77, it was broadcast at a pre-watershed time when underage children would grab an opportunity on their square TV sets to see Eastern fighting and swordplay in a manner they couldn't get any other way - simply because all Bruce Lee and Kung Fu films were usually passed as suitable in the cinema for over-eighteens. This new Blu-ray release encompasses in full the complete Series 1 and Series 2 and it is a golden opportunity for old and new fans to enjoy a well-remembered show that is released here in its original dubbed broadcast, with narration by the recently departed Burt Kwouk and English voices including current chat-show favorite Miriam Margoyles. If you are into the likes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, you will lap up this epic tale.
Before we continue, though, a word of warning….
If you still possess, as you sit down to watch this collection, a mindset of a child in the late 1970s when you first saw this, be prepared for some shocking moments that are pretty much on the nose even today. Although it was aimed back in the day for family get-togethers in front of the box, it isn't really for kids, so don't allow young children to watch this. This particular writer was certainly surprised by some moments. They're not as extreme as those you might have seen in Game of Thrones, but for the time they were made in the early 1970s, it is a revelation to watch it today.
With Kwouk providing the voiceover throughout and filling in the blanks, The Water Margin - across 26 45-minute episodes - takes us back 1,000 years to when there was a corrupt and cruel government. Erstwhile warrior Lin Chung feels the effect of all this, as he kills a swordsman, is charged and then jailed at a far out prison, is freed on the way and becomes an outlaw to battle various clans over the course of the first series. Throughout, he becomes a well-known figure of strength with many an ally and foe succumbing to his skills and ideals. All manner of ploys and traps are set and it is the backdrop to many sword-fighting and mild martial-arts violence as he tries to overthrow evil emperor Kao Chiu. All things considered, this is a large part of the fun that The Water Margin provides.
Keep your ears peeled as well for umpteen Far Eastern proverbs and philosophies Kwouk communicates throughout each episode, particularly at the climax after the key fighting that happens. Even if you miss an episode, they can be enjoyed individually as the same montage and voiceover introduction begins each of the 26 episodes, so it is a testament that it can be enjoyed either way. Additionally, the remastering is in its original broadcast 4:3 ratio.
So, on balance, this is a wonderful nostalgia piece which has not lost any of its impact and, given the surprising moments of violence, will possibly have more impact given the historical setting and classic framework.
THE WATER MARGIN: THE COMPLETE SERIES / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: BURT KWOUK, ATSUO NAKAMURA, SANAE TSUCHIDA, KEI SATO, YOSHIYO MATSUO / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 5TH