Anchor Bay // 2011 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // April 24th, 2013
Blood always leaves a trail.
Looks like you got some film noir in your martial arts epic, pal.
Rural China, 1917. Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen, Ip Man) lives a quiet, happy life with his wife Ayu (Tang Wei, Lust, Caution) and their children. But after killing two gangsters in self defense, Liu comes under the suspicion of detective Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro, Red Cliff). Why does this meek farmer have crazy martial arts skills?
You know the story: Good guy might have been a bad guy, good guy's (potentially) dark past might come back to haunt him, good guy will (probably) resort to violence to solve everything. It's a well-travelled narrative road map but can still work magic in the right hands. Thankfully, director Peter Chan (Perhaps Love) and screenwriter Oi Wah Lam (The Warlords) have that midas touch.
Dragon is anchored by several impressive martial arts set pieces. In short, Donnie Yen is awesome. However, the bulk of the movie plays out like a classic detective drama. Xu has a hunch the two gangsters were dispatched not through mere luck but with incredible skill. The cop hangs around the village, playing mental games of cat and mouse with Liu and his family. The leads are great, especially Kaneshiro and Yen. Kaneshiro is brimming with barely contained nervous energy, and the fact that he's a Japanese actor speaking a regional Chinese dialect makes his performance even more impressive.
Not that the ride isn't a little bumpy. As a practitioner of both traditional Chinese folk medicine and early 20th century investigation techniques, Xu Bai-jiu spends a lot of time in incredibly stylized CSI-like sequences. Most are reigned-in enough that they work, but a few slip into absolute ridiculousness. Thankfully, these moments are fleeting, and the movie holds up well. The action scenes are especially stylish, creative, and astonishingly adhere to real-world physics.
Anchor Bay's release of Dragon (Blu-ray) comes with some issues, namely it's curiously 20 minutes shorter than the original Hong Kong release, and lacks some of the thematic ring of the original film (Wu Xia). That said, the 2.35:1/1080p transfer is fantastic, giving co-cinematographers Yiu-Fai Lai (Infernal Affairs) and Jake Pollack (Starry Starry Night) room to let their gorgeous work fill the screen. Some of the darker scenes have a weird quality to the black tones, but that's the only knock against the otherwise wonderful visuals. The Mandarin DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also excellent, nicely filling all of the channels, though dialogue is muffled in a few scenes. The bonus features are decent: a music video for "Lost in Jianghu," a nice making-of short, and a handful of brief featurettes with Donnie Yen.
It's impressive that Dragon manages to fuse martial arts action into a detective drama without too many hiccups. It's also impressive that the movie doesn't shortchange the audience on story or great character moments. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Mandarin)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music Video