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Case Number 03937

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Black Dragon

Sony // 1989 // 127 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 20th, 2004

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All Rise...

The Charge

Look at Jackie Chan kick those guys in the face!

Facts of the Case

Charlie Kuo (Jackie Chan, who also wrote and directed the film) arrives in 1930s Hong Kong, with barely anything to his name save a few bucks and ratty hat. Eagerly searching for work, Charlie unfortunately becomes the victim of a scam; he's bilked out of all his money, and his jobless situation has not changed. If only he could find a way to utilize his gifts of kung-fu and acrobatics. If only…

Well, luck finds him in the form of a rose, which he receives from Madame Kuo. No sooner than he accepts the rose, he becomes an accidental participant in a gangland shootout, coming to the aide of a wounded mob boss. As the boss dies, he uses his last breath to name Charlie as his successor. And like that, the destitute vagabond has risen to the top of the underworld heap (can you rise to the top of the underworld? Sounds funny.)

Determined to get away from the shady dealings of mob life, Charlie steers the gang, and its big-deal investment—"The Ritz" hotel and entertainment establishment—into the legitimate world. This of course comes after the new boss proves himself by beating the Hamburger Helper out of some insubordinates.

Charlie catches the eye of the rival boss, Tiger, who looks to horn in on the gang's action. Charlie finds himself in a tenuous balancing act: maintain the respect of men, filter the shifty advice from Uncle Hai (his right-hand guy), pursue a romance with Ritz-headliner Luming Yang (Anita Mui), and help the very woman he believes to be responsible for his good fortune: Madame Kuo.

Charlie discovers that Kuo is distraught over her daughter visiting with her fiancée and family. He fears that when they find out she is a simple flower vendor, shame will be strewn every which way. As a result, Charlie orchestrates a grand con, aimed at proving to Kuo's daughter that mom is a bonafide bigwig.

As this drama plays out, Charlie learns he has bigger obstacles ahead, in the form of a turncoat in his organization, a pissed-off Tiger, and an endless stream of gang cronies to beat up.

The Evidence

I like Jackie Chan. He's probably one of the finest slapstick performers around. Every movie I see him in offers some new stunt or move at which to marvel. But, really, that to me is the primary draw for Jackie Chan movies: seeing him wield his masterful repertoire to uniquely dispatch foes. Just like I'd shy away from a Jet Li film that doesn't prominently feature him pounding hapless victims to tomato paste, a Jackie Chan flick light on the action will leave a sour taste in my mouth.

Well, I've seen some bad Chan films. Have you ever seen Fantasy Mission Force? If not, track it down as it is by the far the most %$&*-ed-up thing ever committed to celluloid. I've also seen some really good ones and Black Dragon falls somewhere in the middle.

While in no way a poor movie, Black Dragon isn't nearly as entertaining as some of his others. I blame the subplot with Madame Kuo and her daughter. It just goes on and on. And while it's not itself a terrible story, there is just too much time devoted to it, and too few Jackie Chan action pieces to break it up. In fact, most of the action—and it's good action, which I'll get to soon—bookends the film. Basically, everything shifts away from the premise of Charlie as a fish-out-of-water crime boss to this sitcom-flavored plot thread. Sorry, but didn't really do it for me.

What did do it for me is Jackie Chan's breathtaking dexterity. When the fight scenes do show up, they really are a marvel. What's cool about Chan is he strives to do a lot of different stuff, utilize all conceivable props, and just flat out works really hard to entertain people.

The scene with the rickshaw where he jumps and twirls through the conveyance and the culminating fight in a factory, where bad guys get trapped in huge ropes and Chan deftly jumps from crossbeam to crossbeam are really memorable. As usual, the end credits sport a blooper reel where it appears that Chan just gets wasted on some stunts gone awry.

This disc is strange in that it is two-sided with the original cut and subtitles (plus an isolated music score, which is just plain odd), running at 127 minutes on one and an English-dubbed version at 106 minutes on the other. As far as sound (a mono mix), there is hardly any score, just when the fights occur, and it's not all too memorable. This is why having a music-only track puzzled me. Much of the flick is dialogue anyway, so one would be watching it in silence.

The picture is okay, though sometimes the video-transfer takes on the look of an old VHS tape. I was surprised to find out the movie was made in 1989; it looks much older. The first side, the subtitled cut, is widescreen; side two is full screen. Trailers and a throwaway talent file comprise the only extras to be had here.

Closing Statement

Black Dragon is a sporadically fun movie, with a few really unbelievable sequences thrown in. Most viewers will go with the subtitled cut, because, well, because full screen and dubbing suck butt. However, at 127 minutes and with a dialogue-heavy middle, some more impatient folk may be thumbing the scan forward button. But the fights alone make it worth a viewing.

The Verdict

Mr. Chan is given mad props for his Martial Arts-antics, but the court kindly asks him to do what he does best and entertain the heck out of us with his physical comedy. Black Dragon is released on good behavior; Columbia Tristar, however, is to be repeatedly caned for its joke of a presentation.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 75
Extras: 75
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Cantonese)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Action
• Foreign
• Martial Arts

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailers
• Talent files


• IMDb

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