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Dragons Forever
cast: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Crystal Kwok, and Brett Ratner

director: Sammo Hung

90 minutes (18) 1988 widescreen ratio 16:9
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
This film is something of a classic among martial arts fans as it is the last one in which the three stars, all graduates of Master Yu Jim Yuen's Peking Opera School, appear together.

For the sake of context I am a fan of the genre, but my introduction was via the National Lampoon Kentucky Fried Movie parody A Fistful Of Yen, Bruce Lee, various Hollywood derivatives of the Van Damme and Chuck Norris ilk, Jackie Chan's Hollywood years and latterly Jet Li and the new art house period re-imaginings such as Hero and House Of Flying Daggers. Original Hong Kong martial arts are a relatively new thing for me, so apologies in advance for viewing them from a critical western perspective.

The opening establishes the criminal credentials of the villain Hua Hsien-wu (Yuen Wah) in a slaying of one of his rivals; it also establishes that this is one of the most appallingly badly-dubbed films I have seen; my son advised me to avoid eye contact with the character who is speaking and this did help. This scene comes across like an establishing sequence for something like Kojak, the western influence amplified by Wah's 'business' with his cigar, which he continues throughout the film to an annoying degree. Yuen Wah is also a former pupil of the Peking Opera School and has a massively impressive list of screen credits to his name.

Next up we meet Jackie Chan as Jackie Lung, a lawyer in the pay of Hua Hsien-wu, attempting to buy off an attractive young lady to prevent her going to court; some thugs arrive and proceed to brutally beat the woman before Jackie steps in with a display of high kicking to head and body to put them to flight. It is never explained how a lawyer has become so adept at the martial arts but as virtually the entire cast are able to kick their height and perform back and front flips to order it hardly seems relevant. The woman, bleeding badly from nose and mouth, then confronts Jackie and accuses him of being as much a gangster as the thugs he has defeated whereupon he smacks her one in the face himself for good measure.

Personally I found this very unpleasant and it is easy to forget that explicit violence to women was a routine part of 'action' cinema at one time and of course still is, but hedged around now with subtexts of empowerment and sanitised by techniques of presentation. It has to be said that despite the mayhem that subsequently ensues this scene is the most graphically violent, bloodletting and fatal injuries do follow but in that ritualistic balletic style which serve to camouflage the consequences. Bear in mind that the film carries a certificate '18'.

A courtroom scene follows in which we discover that the young woman has brought a rape charge against one of Hua Hsien-wu's heavies. Jackie attempts to get the charge thrown out on the grounds that this wasn't rape as no abduction or violence occurred, and furthermore lets drop that the plaintiff has appeared in a porno movie. The charges are dropped through lack of evidence but we are allowed to see a chink of light through Jackie's loathsome armour, in a heavy-handed scene Jackie responds to his client's proffered handshake by slugging him.

The scenes that follow show Jackie to be venal and predatory to women, if rather immature, but all that is to change. He is drawn into a court case brought by the owner of a fish farm who is suffering loss caused by pollution from Hua Hsien-wu's chemical plant. The lady owner of the farm has asked for help from her pretty chemist cousin May played by Miss Hong Kong 1987, Pauline Yeung. Jackie engages the help of two buddies from the fringes of crime played by Sammo and Biao to spy on the women and starts dating May himself. There follow a series of misunderstandings and some frankly risible 'hilarious consequences' in which Sammo falls for the owner of the fish farm and Jackie and May wear some of the most gruesome sweaters ever shown in the cinema. The comedy moments are salvaged somewhat by the inspired playing of Yuen Biao as a complete lunatic.

Inevitably, good - if not common - sense triumphs and, when it is discovered that the chemical works is a front for a narcotics refinery, the stage is set for some spectacular climactic fight sequences. With his Beatle mop-top and stripped down to a white singlet Jackie clearly invokes the spirit of Bruce Lee in his battle with kohl-eyed kickboxer Benny 'The Jet' Urquidez, who is fated to be dispatched with a pen by John Cusack in the estimable Grosse Point Blank (1997).

This film is a favourite among fans and admittedly it does have a bit of everything, including fairly strong playing by the stars and some attempt at character development, but these films are all about action and the stunts certainly deliver and it is interesting to observe the seeds of Chan's spectacular Hollywood fight choreography.

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