A lot of Chinese cinema is a pretty limited in terms of plot and originality. Martial arts and fight sequences tend to dominate the screen. It’s not necessarily bad but then again, it’s not necessarily good. Dragon is one of China’s latest cinematic exports and the results are sadly, kind of dull and unoriginal. Action seems to be on many a Chinese filmmaker’s brain and if done properly, would produce fun and interesting storytelling. Unfortunately, Dragon feels formulaic and downright lame.
Dragon is a simple story which follows Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen), your average run of the mill villager and devoted family man. One day, two sinister gangsters come into a shop and harass its owner. Liu is there and intervenes, showing off some serious martial arts moves in the process. A detective (Tekeshi Kaneshiro) then shows up, investigating the crime and Liu is then under the microscope due to his impressive but questionable fighting skills.
The plot in Dragon has been done before. A man with a shady past who is trying to live the good life must confront his demons. Cliches run rampant in this martial arts actioner. If you feel as though you’ve seen this movie before, you have. The story has been done numerous times again and again. The cast and crew try to make it seem fresh and original but they fall somewhat short.
The fight choreography is pretty good here and there. Punches, kicks and swords fly in typical Chinese cinematic fashion. Characters even seem to defy gravity which is common in films of this nature similar to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Audiences will enjoy the crazy fight scenes and elaborate choreography but unfortunately, that’s all Dragon has going for it. The acting is rather dull and the script is strictly by the numbers. Viewers won’t mind as long as people are getting their asses kicked.
A similar film that Dragon feels like is David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. It’s doubtful that director/producer Peter Ho-Sun Chan looked to this dark action/drama but then again it shouldn’t be ruled out as a possibility. Each film chronicles a man with a shadowy past who when trying to live a virtuous life is confronted by his old demons. It is a tale told time and time again. Can someone truly change? Can someone with such a questionable past really transform and lead a life of good? Dragon addresses this loaded question but in a shallow, uninteresting way.
There is an interesting aspect of plot of Dragon and that is the detective investigating the crime. His techniques are very detailed and very CSI-esque. The scenes of him examining bodies and GGI closeups are pretty entertaining, not to mention educational. You will learn just which part of a person’s head you need to punch to inflict some serious damage. Stuff like that.
Taking place about 100 years ago, the story of Dragon can take place in any time period. It is a tale just about anyone can relate to and the characters are very common. Liu’s journey is a tale of self discovery and self acceptance. He is a man who leads a comfortable life when all of a sudden, he is faced with strong discomfort when his inner darkness is revealed and brought to the surface.
Originally released last year, Dragon took some time to get to the states. Like many of China’s films, this one is lacking in the originality department. It means well but it sadly falls short. There are a few fight sequences which may catch your attention. One involves a shallow lake and another in Liu’s dining room. These scenes are paced ferociously and they manage to elevate the film slightly. The fight scenes are what keep this film from being a bomb. Without them, Dragon would be a lost cause. Having said that, this is a movie which doesn’t really deserve your attention.