Trailers are an essential product of film, yet it’s rare to see some form of feature on their textual properties. This feature will provide an insight into an appreciation of the intricacies in the audible variables of the explosive trailer for the martial arts film Master of the Flying Guillotine (Wang Yu, 1975). The specific trailer is the U.S. theatrical release taken from the 2002 release of the film’s DVD. Since the audio design technology back then was from a time before my existence, my analysis may be a bit obscured by a retrospect full of nostalgia.
…the sounds are very low fidelity, but the counterpoint for that is that there’s a sound effect for even the slightest things
I’ll begin by describing what I can hear in regards to the basic layout of all the sounds. It sounds evident that there were simply three different sound tracks that were mixed together. Naturally, these would be voice over, sound effects, and background music. The background music score stays true to its term in this trailer. Dark rhythmic notes dissolved into pulsing animal skin drums. The almost experimental, simple primitive music is definitely in the background. The only time I am able to hear the music clearly is in the beginning of the trailer where it’s introduced by a few moments of music. The background music is obviously belittled by the flashy sound effects. Listening to the sound effects without watching the video stirs up my imagination. In other words, the sound effects are so abstract, that if I have never seen what the sound effects are supposed to represent, I would only have the slightest idea as to what the sounds are trying to portray, probably ideas taken from the general feel of the trailer. For example, the trailer begins with a yelping war cry followed by an explosion, this is where the narrator comes in, describing a mysterious man. These sound effects are representing an old man screaming in his cottage, while jumping through his rooftop, busting it open, and landing near his front door (all out of sync). The sounds are very low fidelity, but the counterpoint for that is that there’s a sound effect for even the slightest things, even though you can barely see how the sound effect relates to the actions they represent!
I’d like to make a point of interest here. As the narrator is successfully drawing the viewer in, he’s doing it in a classical method that I really enjoy. The narrator is describing the character in the film using short sentences, allowing the sound effects a turn into the center of attention for the moment in between his narration. Perhaps this method was more common back then because it is clear that when all three (vo, sfx, bgm) are being presented extensively and at the same time, the sound becomes a messy conglomeration. Over all, this method of presentation has a retrospective feel to it and is hilarious and awesome at the same time.
…the way all the sound effects sound in combination with one another makes it clear that the focus of the trailer was geared towards the sound effects more than the voice or score tracks.
Gathering all that I can of just the sound effects of this trailer, I hear things that might represent the sheathing of swords, the cliche ricochet gunshots, the demolishing of wooden structures, the also cliche bomb dropping whistles and “cabangs”, and of course the “hoooos and haaaas” of martial arts masters fighting one another. The way all the sound effects sound in combination with one another makes it clear that the focus of the trailer was geared towards the sound effects more than the voice or score tracks. The sound effects are the trailer’s largest representation of excitement and action, which is what’s being shown here.
Let’s discuss a little more about the voice over and the narrator’s dialogue. First of all, I can’t think of any trailer at this moment that tries to sell to the viewers as hard as this trailer. With phrases like: “He comes from beyond the outer limits of your imagination”, and “with more nerve shattering special effects than you have ever seen before” — none can resist. But technically speaking, the voice over tone and pace along with its dialogue work very well with the action-crammed sound effects within the trailer, by giving one another turns to be the louder one.
…the interesting part about this piece is that although everything about it seems to be obsolete
Overall, this trailer, along with the film itself, happens to be one of my more influential pieces with regards to audio design. The interesting part about this piece is that although everything about it seems to be obsolete, it would still be considered awesome to today’s standards only because of popular trends. For example, I would be tempted to create a piece that has parts that are out of sync, low fidelity, vaguely related sound effects, or perhaps all three. This trailer is outrageously funny and super cool (what a combo). And what makes it even funnier is that one can not be too sure if it was intended on being funny, or it’s only funny in modern day. With regards to the “quality”, I like the idea that I can not judge the piece on quality standards of today, which forces me to critique it in a more creative way.