Sony // 2004 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 3rd, 2006
Its power cannot be stopped.
This newly minted import from way across the pond -- several ponds in fact -- brings the story of a famed assassin and beautiful young thief, whose destinies collide and chaos ensues. The synopsis on the back of the disc case labels White Dragon as "in the vein of House of Flying Daggers." Ethnicities and wire-fu aside, this assertion is way the heck off.
Young Phoenix (Cecilia Cheung) is a beautiful schoolgirl who makes it a point to surround herself with less attractive friends so she can stand out. As one of the coolest girls in the academy, she has been nurturing a crush on the local prince, and is stunned one day to meet him and find out that she is a target of his affections!
And speaking of target, one night, the seemingly mild-mannered principal of the academy is confronted by the legendary blind assassin, Chicken Feathers (Francis Ng), who is known for rubbing out evildoers and leaving behind this calling card -- a pile of chicken feathers. Chicken Feathers dispatches the principal, who appears to have been a groper, and is soon locked into deadly combat with his arch-nemesis, White Dragon. After the two fly and twirl through the night air, Chicken Feathers delivers the knock-out blow, sending White Dragon crashing into Phoenix's room.
During the fight, Phoenix had been lamenting the appearance of a hideous pimple on her face, but when White Dragon falls through her roof, her fortunes suddenly change. White Dragon, now an aged woman, offers her power to Phoenix, which will cleanse her face, but require to her perform noble deeds and physics-defying acrobatics. Phoenix readily accepts and dons the mantle of White Dragon Jr., and immediately sets off to find and eliminate Chicken Feathers.
But when the two finally meet, W.D. Jr. finds herself overwhelmed. Desperate to figure out his weak point, she tries again to take him down, but underestimates the wiliness of her opponent, as is soon incapacitated with a broken leg. Chicken Feathers, being of the kindly blind assassin ilk, takes her in, and the two begin to form a bond. How this will play out on the geopolitical stage, what with the prince and his psycho brother still in the picture -- the former very much still having the hots for Phoenix -- is yet to be determined.
Don't be fooled! White Dragon is a goofball comedy, and not like House of Flying Daggers or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There are similarities -- the wire-fu, the hinting of a love story between two antagonists -- but that's where they end. So don't go into expecting a moving, somber, dramatic piece of Asian moviemaking; this is slapstick comedy straight up.
Thankfully, that little bit of misdirection from the Sony marketing department doesn't overshadow the fact that at the end of the day White Dragon isn't bad, and in some instances, it's pretty funny. Because it's a comedy, you have to measure it up against the typical comedy standards, a.k.a., "does it make me laugh?!?" Yes and no. The stuff that takes place in school sucks, especially one extended sequence where Phoenix rocks out with traditional Chinese musical instruments to the joy of her friends (and then proceeds to stage-dive). Um, that's cheesy. But when Chicken Feathers is on screen, the humor picks up; Ng is a lot of fun in his role -- affectionately and non-PC referred to as "Blindie" by Phoenix -- coming across as an idiot martial arts savant, stumbling around, rolling his eyes, making odd comments.
Yes the filmmakers try to infuse a smidgen of drama in the budding relationship between Chicken Feathers and Phoenix, but that never really takes hold of anything other than a creepy mismatch between a young schoolgirl and weird older man. This film lives and dies by the humor, and happens to be just loony enough to survive.
As for the action, it's good. I'm not a fan of wire-fu, but I can recognize good wire-fu when I see it, and in White Dragon it's good. While it's glaringly obvious that our actors are being zipped around on wires, and not nearly as organic as Crouching Tiger, the stunts are still fun to watch, and the fight scenes are well-choreographed.
To sum: White Dragon is a sporadically-funny, great-looking martial arts comedy, and not a serious love story/action flick/historical epic. If you're interested in something quirky and off-the-beaten-path for Asian wire-fu antics, give this disc a spin. Just beware of some dopey TRL humor in the beginning.
Sony has put out a solid presentation for this film, giving it a clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and three 5.1 mixes (English, French, and Chinese). Trailers are it for extras.
I'd recommend watching it in Chinese with English subtitles. Frankly, the subtitles are funnier than the dubbed English track.
Worth a look for fans of Asian wire-fu flicks looking for something new. For the casual moviegoer, the humor might be too cheesy and the action to out there to merit a viewing.
The court had a moderate amount of fun. And "chicken feathers" sounds funny. Like "poop deck." Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Chinese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13