It is a time of lawlessness. One man must face the challenge and win the heart of his nation. (Dave's note: Can you get more generic than this tagline?)
FROM THE ACCLAIMED ACTION/MARTIAL ARTS CHOREOGRPAHER OF THE MATRIX TRILOGY AND CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. This statement headlines the Fist of the Red Dragon disc, and refers to Yeun Woo Ping, who gained notoriety for his, well, you just read it. Does this directorial outing yield the same kind of hyper-kinetic fighting he is revered for in Asian-Flick Fanboy-Land, or does it deserve a lightning-quick chop to the solar plexus?
Facts of the Case
China is being scourged by opium. Chinese from every social class have gotten hooked on the narcotic, while other countries, not to mention a handful of corrupt leaders, are reaping the rewards. The money is a'flowin and the people they are docile and easy to lead. But some courageous blokes aren't willing to turn China over to the drug lords just yet. The legendary Hwang Fei Hung leads the assault on drugs and the suppliers, by treating the addicts and inflicting bodily harm on the bad guys.
Peripheral to Hung's quest to purify his beloved country, young So Chan (Donnie Yen), a spirited, talented, and arrogant noble embarks on his own life-journey. His adventures find him dealing with vicious Lotus Societies, the melodramatic travails of his adopted family, the welcoming eye of a beautiful woman, and direct conflict with Hung himself.
Chan's arrogance and pride cannot withstand the alluring call of mistress opium. Manipulated by the evil Prince Barac, Chan descends into the void of opium addiction, just when Hung needs his violent tendencies the most.
Hung, no longer able to suffer the deterioration of the moral fabric around him, takes the fight to the opium smugglers. As Chan claws himself out of his junkie-hole, he too will join in the battle to rid the streets of drugs!
Honestly, I have no idea where any red dragon comes into play here.
Fist of the Red Dragon continues the recent studio trend of delivering Hong Kong celluloid based on the "Who's Hot Now" principal, notably exhibited with Jet Li and Jackie Chan, i.e.:
"Let's package anything they've ever committed to film and get it out on shelves! And, let's also give it the most boring, vague title we can think of! Just remember to include the words 'Fist' and 'Dragon' in there somewhere!"
Donnie Yen has been a force in the Asian import market for a while, but the real selling point for this disc is undoubtedly Yeun Woo Ping. Drop his name along with his Matrix and Crouching Tiger credits and WHAMMO! potential seller.
In that respect, studios don't seem all that selective in giving these kung-fu flicks the DVD treatment. Here we have a film that is basically a direct transfer of the (apparent) original, goofy English-dubbing and all. Honestly, there's nothing here, aside from the widescreen format and revamped DVD menu (which totally clashes with the film itself), that would make me think this is anything other than an old video.
But before I get into that, I'll talk about the movie. Let me hit it on two fronts: a) kung-fu action and b) everything else.
There is a lot of crazy-ass kung fu on the screen here. I'm talking sensory overload. Yeun Woo Ping kicks his action into overdrive with big, extended sequences of actors walloping on each other in extra zippy motion. Seriously, when these guys get rolling, it's difficult to keep up. There's a mix of wirework and straight combat, but the tone of the fighting is decidedly light. Well, save for the final showdown where considerable blood is shed. I've seen my share of these wire-fu movies, and nothing terribly original shows up here. But the sequences move so fast and so much happens that the choreography is truly a wonder to behold.
However, the action also works against the film (and, I suppose, other wire-fu flicks like these.) Maybe it's just my Western-bias surfacing, but I've always found it hard to get into these types of brawlers because the fighting isn't really rooted in any kind of reality. The combatants possess such crazy skills and over-the-top feats of athleticism, that sometimes I think the only reason one of them gets beaten, or for that matter slightly hurt, is because it's in the script.
But wire-fu is what it is…and it is entertaining.
In the "everything else" corner—blecchh. First, the dubbing is awful. There is no semblance of voice-to-mouth synchronization and the actors selected for the dubbing must come from the "Voices Like Garden Implements on a Chalkboard Institute." One particular character, the aunt, screeches her dialogue not unlike a sow in the throes of a painful death.
The anti-drug message of the movie, while useful and cautionary for sure, waxes "after-school prevention program" more than "kung-fu flick." Coupled with cheesy music and comic sequences, Fist of the Red Dragon comes off more lighthearted and foppish than hard-hitting and dramatic.
The widescreen presentation is nice, but the transfer is really nothing special. You've seen video like this on every other kung-fu movie. Fist of the Red Dragon sports a 5.1 mix that really doesn't do much more than an aggressive 2.0 track would have accomplished. If anything, it gives too much attention to the awful dubbing. Aunt's…voice…shredding…my…brain.
Typically frenetic Asian beat 'em up fare, that shows some kung-fu flair, not much dramatic flare, and ends up being, well, fair.
"GO NOW (mouth moves out of sync with words) AND DON'T DO DRUGS (mouth moves out of sync with words) AND STAY IN SCHOOL (mouth moves out of sync with words) AND PRACTICE YOUR KUNG-FU (mouth moves out of sync with words). COURT ADJOURNED!" (mouth moves out of sync with words)
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