TLA Releasing // 2008 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 18th, 2010
Love hurts. A lot.
Horror is often the first choice genre for independently minded new filmmakers, especially if they have a penchant for violence and gore. I'm surprised, though, that more don't turn to the crime genre to make their first film. If you can be past the inevitable comparisons to Quentin Tarantino (who seems to have created the perfect low-budget first film crime flick in Reservoir Dogs), the genre offers plenty of opportunities for independents to show their stuff, since the genre is known for witty dialogue, clever plots, and sometimes excessive violence. I hope that newcomer Tim Biddiscombe took all this into account with his first feature, the "erotic thriller" Night Dragon. The film tries to offer a kinetic take on the criminal underworld, but the vision is a bit too muddy to be totally effective.
A young woman, Liz (Imogen Church), is in love with a lawyer, Millie (Annette Kellow), who's involved in prosecuting a gangster, Hansen (Alan Ford, Snatch). Liz, however, is torn. Liz wasn't supposed to fall for Millie when Hansen sent her to sabotage the prosecution. When Hansen's intentions towards Millie turn violent, Liz has to make a choice between the woman she loves and the man who saved her life.
Night Dragon bills itself as an "erotic thriller," and the packaging features lots of close-ups of guns, gore, and exposed cleavage. Too bad the film on the inside doesn't quite deliver on the "erotic" or "thriller" aspects it promises. There's loads of potential in Dragon's story. The idea of a woman sent in to seduce a lawyer (especially a female one) to gain intel and sabotage a prosecution is a solid one full of interesting avenues to explore. Adding in the twist of having the decoy fall in love makes it all the more interesting. Sadly, Night Dragon takes this promising premise and throws it into a plot filled with flashbacks and twists that sacrifice character development at the altar of narrative trickery. The film's opening is confusing, and, by the time the film's story is clear, I was too confused to care about the characters. The film's final twist doesn't have the impact it should either because of a lack of clarity as the story wraps up.
The "erotic" part of Night Dragon is equally disappointing. The cleavage that the package promises is about all that the film delivers. There's very little chemistry between Liz and Millie, and no real scenes of sex or even titillation. Liz wears a low cut top and breathes deeply a lot, but that's fulfills the nudity quotient. I can only guess that just having a lesbian couple is supposed to make the film sexier for the audience, but neither the film's opening nor the flashbacks provide opportunities for the two to get naughty with each other. I also assume that since there's some tying up, the bondage fans will appreciate it, but typical erotic fare (especially for those used to late-night cable), this is not.
It's not all bad, though. The film shows some promise visually, even if the structure isn't conducive for character development, and the cast seems game for the plot's many twists and turns. The use of blood and the scenes of psychological and physical distress for the characters are well done as well, and, in a more narratively interesting setting, would be extremely effective.
The DVD release of Night Dragon gives the material a solid presentation. The 1.78:1 image looks like a low-budget, shot of video transfer, but for all that it works in the film's favor. There are no obvious problems with compression or other authoring errors, and the 5.1 surround audio does a fine job with equally rough elements. The sometimes thick British accents can be hard to decipher, but that's not the fault of the transfer. It's not a reference quality presentation, but it makes this material look good. Extras include an extra short film, the film's trailer, a making-of, and a commentary by the director. Between all these offerings, it's possible to get a solid picture of the film's genesis and production. I don't think it helped me enjoy the film any more, but it did make me appreciate what the cast and crew went through.
Night Dragon is a hard film to recommend. It's starts with a solid crime plot with the lesbian seduction angle, but its well-nigh unforgivable for a 77-minute film to spend a solid 10 minutes spinning its wheels in the first act. Only hardcore crime fans should give this flick more than a passing glance. Those who take the plunge will find a solid presentation of the film and informative extras for their troubles.
Night Jungle is guilty of wasting a solid premise on a confusing narrative.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film