03rd May2013

‘Dragon’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang, Kara Hui, Zheng Wei, Li Jia-Min, Wu Jiang, Yu Kang | Written by Joyce Chan, Oi Wah Lam | Directed by Peter Chan

DONNIE-YEN-DRAGON

Prolific producer and director Peter Chan steps into the wu xia genre with Dragon, which is set in 1917 in early Republican China and tells the story of Liu Jin-xi (Yen) a village paperworker whose quiet life is irrevocably shattered by the arrival of two notorious gangsters in the local general store. When Liu single-handedly saves the shopkeeper’s life, he comes under investigation by detective Xu Bai-jiu (Kaneshiro). Convinced that Liu’s success in fending off the gangsters is less of a fluke and more a sign of his mastery of the martial arts, Xu doggedly pursues the truth. However Xu’s investigation draws the attention of China’s criminal underworld and exposes Liu, and the rest of his village, to danger from the 72 Demons…

Finally! It’s about time Donnie Yen got back to being his badass self on the big screen. Too long a mainstay of some of the best direct to DVD martial arts movies, Donnie Yen gets a chance to show just how good a film star and martial artist he is in Dragon, Peter Chan’s follow-up to the 2007 record-breaking The Warlords – and not only does Yen star, he also serves as fight director and choreographer on the film!

A throwback to the 60s and 70s output of the likes of the Shaw Brothers and films such as the One-Armed Swordsman, which this film is reportedly an homage to, Dragon is infinitely better, even in this cut down “westernized” version, than many of its wu xia contemporaries which proliferate DVD stores and supermarket shelves across the UK.

What sets this film apart from other historical martial arts films is the time period. Setting the film in the early 20th century was a fantastic idea, it allows the film to have the look and feel of a historical epic but is modern enough to make a detective using CSI-like forensic techniques seem entirely credible – even more so given Takeshi Kaneshiro’s superb performance as the acupuncture-loving investigator. It’s Kaneshiro inquisitiveness that also leads to something quite remarkable for a martial arts epic – a character study, and not just of Liu Jin-xi, but of Kaneshiro’s detective Xu Bai-jiu as well, delving into what makes both men tick and leading to a revelation which changes the course of the story and unleashing Donnie Yen’s indomitable ass-kicking skills loose.

Featuring some amazing martial arts – including a breath-taking rooftop chase a la Crouching Tiger… but without the wires, Dragon is on limited release across the UK courtesy of Metrodome Distribution.

***** 5/5

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