The film’s two names – its original Chinese and its English counterpart – start alarm bells ringing from the start of the film. In China it is called Wu Xia which translates as martial hero, which is a generic name for a martial arts film like this one. Dragon in English has much the same overtones. This is the latest film from acclaimed director Peter Chan, who is apparently the most valuable filmmaker in Hong Kong, according to box-office records.
Dragon starts well enough; a parochial village in deepest China with a clan of people scratching a beautiful existence from the earth. A wonderful, wide visual style is applied to this initial segment as the film warms up. Suddenly, the martial arts begin when two debt collectors with ridiculous swords turn up where our protagonist, portrayed by Donnie Yen, is fixing a window. What follows is an excitingly choreographed fight that packs a punch visually and audibly, right up to its abrupt end. Enter the detective (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who has an overactive imagination, and recreates the fight in slow-motion in his mind’s eye, pinpointing each superhuman feat the window repair man achieved. Stylistically impressive and with comic elements, sadly this is the tipping point for the movie. Nothing after this scene is of the same quality or intrigue.
The story takes a dark turn and forgets its humour, the cinematography sustains a blow and the martial arts are replaced (up until the final, disappointing fight) with melodrama and a penchant for kicking the star when he is down.
The acting is sublime though – each character travels an emotional journey, and the characters are not your run of the mill Chinese cinema stereotypes, especially the detective. Takeshi interprets him as a Chinese version of the recent Robert Downey Jr take on Sherlock Holmes. The director of photography also takes a leaf from that movie and utilises some of the tropes, such as the slow-motion camera work while investigating, and placing the audience in the mind of the policeman.
Perhaps the UK cinema cut has removed the interest (along with one or two scenes of martial arts) the whole movie runs to a full two hours, and the version being shown in the UK is only 92 minutes long. In the end, the drama was uninspiring and not needed, but what little fighting there was, was sublime.
Dragon is released nationwide on 5th April 2013.
Watch the trailer for Dragon here: