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The Dragon Family (1988) Directed by: Lau Kar Wing

Triad actioner with an extensive list of recognizable players but coming from this golden era of modern action filmmaking in Hong Kong, gathering up all these, including Andy Lau, Max Mok, Norman Tsui, Alan Tam, Ku Feng, William Ho, Miu Kiu-Wai and Kara Hui, was highly plausible. With Lau Kar Wing directing and brother Lau Kar Leung handling the action, you would expect something marvelously exhilarating, right? Well, yes...eventually.

It's a very talky piece with quite an overabundance of characters, making The Dragon Family a generic borefest so the interruption of action should really redeem this downtime, right? No. While stunts are generally good (one fire stunt is quite admirably performed by actress Chiao Chiao), the gunplay is disturbingly stale and poorly staged for something that has Lau Kar Leung's name on it. One suspect he was only there for the final reel when things really take off or rather concentrated only on the final reel.

That finale, although too short, sees Lau mixing gunplay, stunts and even weapons action, much of it involving actors Andy Lau, Alan Tam and Max Mok, to a truly exhilarating effect. It's further proof of Lau Kar Leung's excellent transition from traditional martial arts to modern day action. The Dragon Family is short enough to easily get to the final reel but you'll probably return to that many times rather than sit through the feature.

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The Dragon Fighter (1990) Directed by: Wong Jan-Yeung

They all want gangster boss Lung (Eddy Ko) dead from the beginning or along the way so modern action veteran Wong Jan-Yeung (Dreaming The Reality) connects a whole bunch of characters as an excuse to fire off a whole lot of bullets in a compelling, intense way. Starting with Japanese assassin (Nishiwaki Michiko), leading to small time hoodlum Bull (an excellent Alex Man), continuing with Bull's assassin friend (Alex "Jet Pack" Fong), the women (Carrie Ng) Fong falls in love with that is engaged to be married to right hand man of Lung, Ben (Francis Ng), you of course have the actual long arm of the law represented by Sibelle Hu hassling both Bull and determined to bring down Lung's entire gang...

Lead by Alex Man who enjoys playing the lowest of the low of hoodlums on the streets, Man's lack of glamour in the role that others might've unwillingly played up aids him greatly even when the character borderlines on being the comic relief of the film (good moments having to do with his hero status not being one he transfers easily into). Director Wong isn't breaking new ground with this or anywhere else in the picture but the focus on a character gallery ending up together by many coincidental meetings is handled with a sharp eye as well as the premium attraction, the action. Skipping any acrobatic or balletic excursion, Wong's key (and action director Chui Fat's) is firepower, intensity and energy. This way of pouring on works wonderfully well, mixing edgy and explosive scenarios coupled with a few fights to add to quite a perfect spice.

Dragon Fist (1979) Directed by: Lo Wei

Jackie Chan was on loan to Seasonal when he got his breakthrough and still under contract with Lo Wei but surprisingly, despite the kung-fu comedy market breakthrough and Chan starring in and co-choreographing the excellent Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin (with less desperate hints at wanting to be another kung-fu comedy on the busy cinema scene), Dragon Fist for some reason was conceived and made as all gloom. And better for it. Simple revenge setup leads to some less common and thoughtful plot developments where the target of revenge (Yen Shi-Kwan's character) is filled with remorse and Jackie's Tang Hao Yun takes a job (to pay for medicine his master's wife needs) with Yen's rivals in another clan. Lo Wei's direction therefore shines for the first time in years and this is also short for him (96 minutes). That's perfect space for the layered narrative for the genre and also perfect space for Jackie's astounding choreography. A fast, violent and ferocious aura is present in nearly all the fight scenes and it's such a treat seeing Jackie excel at making straight kung-fu because you take it (and him) seriously technically as well as within the context of the story. An underrated classic buried underneath Jackie's big breakthrough in the late 70s. Also with James Tien, Nora Miao and Ouyang Sha-Fei.

Dragon Force (1982) Directed by: Michael Mak

When the Princess of Mongrovia (Mandy Moore) is kidnapped by ninjas, Jack Sargeant (Bruce Baron, who would go on to appearing in outings such as Ninja Champion) is sent to Hong Kong to join up the better of the law enforcing the island has: The Dragon Force. Led by Dai Lung (Bruce Li), Jack has to go through a series of tests before he can join the sect-like force. Michael Mak debuts with this internationally flavoured, at times very colourful B-movie extravaganza that sees us trying to endure the shenanigans of the worst action hero ever on screen... yes, Mr. Baron. Fancying himself being a James Bond-character and even meeting up with a Chinese Q called Ah Chu ("fine" humour and the "actual" James Bond is even referenced), thank god the filmmakers have an ace up their sleeve in the form of Bruce Li. Director Mak therefore neatly shifts gear from deadly boredom to making sure to imprint several fun sequences in our memories. Multiple bouts with colourful ninjas, ninja tricks, Bolo-esque fighters and Jack being cured of throwing star-poison by having a snake suck the poison out of him, Dragon Force becomes a fast rollercoaster of cheese eventually. Olivia Cheng also appears.

Dragon Force Operation (1976) Directed by: Tyrone Hsu

It doesn't take long sometimes to judge a film, rightly or not. Dragon Force Operation being a good example. Dressing itself up to be yet another one I call outside kung-fu where everyone has the same costume, are in outdoor locations all the time and little will likely feel distinctive, director Tyrone Hsu (The Red Phoenix) does delivers a hard hitting time with this basher as he gives us the framework of oppressed Chinese villagers by the ruling Japanese. At first Hsu takes the movie to playful but not broad places, creating fighting scenes with clumsy henchmen and Nancy Yen beating up her opponents in quite the sneaky way. The jump then to full on brutality and what defines Dragon Force Operation as a basher makes very much sense and is watchable for its ferocity rather than technique. Heck, even amidst the non-stop action Hsu finds time to slip in a banana peel joke that thoroughly works! Also known as The Revenge Dragon and The God Father Of Hong Kong.

The Dragon From Russia (1990) Directed by: Clarence Fok

One of the other loose Hong Kong adaptations of Kazuo Koike's Japanese manga Crying Freeman (Phillip Ko's Killer's Romance, shot in England, echoed it extremely loosely), Clarence Fok's odd charm as a visual thinker at breakneck speed reveals odd charms about his work on The Dragon From Russia (location work IN Russia included) but it doesn't make it any significantly better than any of his other wild, incoherent works. Starring a horribly miscast Sam Hui (his boyish charms combined with being a stone faced action hero is an embarrassing combo), his stunt double and Maggie Cheung as windowdressing, Fok rarely takes the time to breathe at all, moving to say the least with ludicrous speed through his scenes and ignoring pesky details such as logic. Obviously hard to feel anything and fans of the manga will feel that the connection matters very little. However Yuen Tak's action choreography goes well in hand with Fok's eye for the exaggerated, featuring several high flying excursions into creativity. Co-starring Nina Li, Loletta Lee, Dean Shek, Carrie Ng, Lau Shun and King Hu regular Pai Ying. Yuen Tak and Yuen Wah both play The Master Of Death while the former also has his own supporting role!

Dragon Inn (1967) Directed by: King Hu

Not the most riveting story ever told and Dragon Inn's second half does turn into one long fight and chase scenario. That does not matter one bit since King Hu's Wuxia classic is otherwise filled with his trademark flair for the visual, great tension and wit (in particular during the subdued first half almost entirely set at the inn) and the film is most importantly entertaining to the max.

I'm not a scholar on the development of action choreography in Hong Kong cinema but what's on offer here is high quality for its time to my eyes. Han Ying Chieh's action initially is about short bursts of swordplay and Wuxia trickery but the set pieces nicely increase in size as we roll along, playing to the Wuxia tradition the most during the end battle. Dragon Inn is a discovery that needs to be made by today's audiences as it has the capacity to spellbind over 30 years later. It was released on dvd in Japan but the disc did not feature English subtitles and has now gone out of print. An available Hong Kong vcd comes with a pan & scan transfer and is cut down from its original length.

Starring many recurring actors in King Hu's films including the cool Shi Jun, Pai Ying, Miao Tien, Han Ying Chieh (The Big Boss) and Polly Kuan. A Tsui Hark produced remake was released in 1992.

A German dvd is now officially available from up and coming label, NEW.

Dragon Inn (1992) Directed by: Raymond Lee

While a competent remake of King Hu's classic (reviewed above), overall, Raymond Lee's attempt at bringing Dragon Inn to a new generation is only in parts inspired. Co-lensed by Arthur Wong, this Tsui Hark production looks lovely but Lee has trouble generating the tension he obviously is trying to emulate from Hu's film. Therefore, sadly, a chunk of the running time drags, despite crazy elements such as cannibalism, and also registers less than exciting on the action scale. There's plenty of it but I feel that there's less technique and more quick cut editing rather than an acceptable combination of both (although a confrontation between Brigitte Lin and Maggie Cheung involving clothes is highly memorable). Not all is redeemed but by the time we get to the final 30 minutes, action directors Ching Siu-Tung, Yuen Bun and Cheung Yiu-Sing seriously amps the creativity and Dragon Inn therefore finishes on a very strong note. In particular the action finale in the desert is a gory and wildly imaginative set piece.

Out of the main actors, the attractive trio of Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Kar-Fai and Brigitte Lin, the two latter especially brings compelling and understated emotional interplay to their characters but in reality, a movie with huge character depth this is not. As with the original, the plot is rather straightforward and it has to be said, King Hu's film, in my mind, was cooler. Both have merits on their own in different ways though, the finale in particular in regards to this remake. The film also stars Elvis Tsui, Lawrence Ng, Lau Shun and Donnie Yen as the eunuch Yin.

A final note, the pace issue may be due to this 105 minute edit that has been most widely seen on home video. The film ran 15 minutes shorter in cinemas though and according to the book ''The Cinema Of Tsui Hark'' by Lisa Norton, the cinema edit is the filmmakers preferred version. The reason for the extended length may be due to Mei Ah wanting to fit the movie onto 2 laserdiscs way back when it debuted on that format. Reportedly, only the Taiwanese VHS offered the cinema edit but to the best of my knowledge, that version is rather hard to find nowadays. Thanks to John Charles of Hong Kong Digital for the information.

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The Dragon Lives Again (1977) Directed by: Law Kei

Dedicated to the millions of Bruce Lee fans out there, this low-budget Goldig production goes per definition international on us, violating most copyright laws known to man. Not only Bruce Lee exists in the afterworld but Clint Eastwood (the screen persona from the Westerns), James Bond, Dracula (who can attack in broad daylight in this world), Zatoichi, Popeye (Eric Tsang!), the One-Armed Swordsman and on it goes. Anything is possible in this insane, often racy Bruce Leung vehicle and by featuring what it does, it automatically at least gives you something to smile about. Battling the various mentioned characters, skeleton- and mummified demons, Leung's duty as co-action director reveals his apparent kicking skills but little consistent "real" choreography. Director Law Kei concerns himself more with being out there, something that means we get displays of styles named after the little dragon's movies. But do not think of the choices as actual concerns.

The Dragon Killer (1995) Directed by: Lau Wing

Representing Conan Lee utilizing his final Hong Kong cinema stock before expiring altogether, The Big Boss co-star Lau Wing directs this thoroughly awful action-drama set mostly in Los Angeles. Minor enjoyment is definitely applicable to The Dragon Killer though. Lau plays Lung, a Chinese jumping a ship to America to find his wife Miu (Sharla Cheung). His best friend Liu (Simon Yam), a figure in the criminal underworld, has lost track of her though and Lung takes the hard road by committing crime in order to find out the truth about Miu. Chasing them is the not so badass cop played by Conan...

Lau Wing sticks with being harsh most of the film, shooting scenes where pregnant women are thrown off the immigrant boats, dogs being beaten to death and other quite gory bits are scattered throughout. There's action ambition here, especially so since Lau's character was an Olympic champion in shooting but the close cut acrobatics is not very impressive. But Lau scores points by exceeding the brutality for no real reason. Oh he argues that the increasing drama and social commentary warrants this but since he fails at creating actual cinema using that template, the end result is all very laughable. But the low level cinema does have its charm, in particular in the English dubbing throughout and Troma, IFD or even Filmark would've been proud of this product that shows anyone can be a director. A bit unfortunate that too. According to online credits, Rouge and Everlasting Regret director Stanley Kwan produced!

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