I know it will certainly seem like a bunch of hyperbole, but Peter Chan’s Dragon is one of those rare kung fu films that is pretty much perfect. Every fist thrown and every kick launched has meaning behind it and the film manages to blend both character development and plot progression that make something much more enjoyable than a stereotypical action extravaganza. Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) lives a quiet life in Liu Village, but manages to get into some trouble with two thugs that come to steal from the town’s general store. Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a police detective that gets called upon the crime scene at the store, where both thugs ended up sustaining very strange injuries, dealt haphazardly by Liu, in trying to defend himself. It is from this investigation where Liu Jin-xi’s dark past slowly begins to unravel and turns Dragon into a kung-fu film that manages to impress on multiple levels.
The very first feeling I had in watching the film, was its resemblance to David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, through its lead character having a dark past and being forced confront it. While it certainly has those plot elements, there’s still something incredibly unique and satisfying about a kung fu film drawing strong elements like these. From past sins coming to haunt us, to the sins of the father falling unto the son, truly helps Dragon soar much higher than things like The Four, Kill Em’ All and Legendary Amazons, films that are pretty action packed, but lack any serious amount of substance. There are only a few fight scenes, but each of them are so memorable and well choreographed, that you can’t help but feel invigorated and excited as each of them unfold.
Donnie Yen is always a sight to see, especially when he’s utilizing his impressive triple kick, puts on a solid display of acting chops in Dragon. While it would seem easy for one to feel sad when Yen begins to reveal some of his tragic past, but its in the subtlety in his performance and nuances in the small intimate moments that feel so genuine and earnest that make Liu Jin-xi feel all the more real. Takeshi Kaneshiro trades in his typical heart throb looks, to play the nerdy policeman with high morals, to bring us a character that has an unwavering sense of honor and duty. The character is a very nice departure for Kaneshiro and maintains a solid character arc and brings to the film a fantastic supporting character that is just as engaging as Yen’s. There’s also a surprise cameo from Jimmy Wang Yu, who manages to bring a presence unlike any other and should excite fans of his classic films, like Master of the Flying Guillotine and The One-Armed Swordsman.
The Blu-Ray for Dragon from Anchor Bay Entertainment is a pretty solid presentation on all fronts. The video is done in an AVC encoded, 1080p HD track, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. All of the visuals in the film are crisp, clear and look magnificent on Blu-Ray. The cinematography was handled by two people, Yiu-Lai Fai, whose shot the amazing Infernal Affairs and Jake Pollock. From high frame rate action scenes, to the serene and tranquil locations near the local village, just about every single aspect of the film does an amazing job at incorporating visual elements that make the film better. The audio is presented in an 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in Mandarin, with English subtitles. The mix sounds absolutely fantastic, with a solid presentation during the action sequences and some pretty impressive low end. The disc for Dragon is really light on extra features and only contains a short 20 minute making of and a music video for the film. While the behind the scenes is very informative, it was over too soon and really left me wanting more to know about how Peter Chan and Donnie Yen made this film a realization.
While there have been films like Tai Chi Zero and stuff like The Raid: Redemption to get fans pumped, Dragon is an offering of the old school kind. If you’ve grown up on watching things like 5 Deadly Venoms, 36 Chambers of Shaolin or The One-Armed Swordsman, you’ll certainly find a film that should find a spot in your heart, just like those classics have. Even if you don’t like kung fu films, the presentation and mash up of different genre elements, make Dragon worth seeking out for any person that is curious on what makes a solid kung-fu film. Highly Recommended!!!!!