Dragon Lord Review
Jackie Chan's follow up to The Young Master sees him take on a similar role as a cocky village boy by the name of Dragon who struts around causing trouble, only here it is established very early on that he feigns his martial arts studies leaving him and best friend Bull (Mars) to chase around after girls rather than pursue challenges with the locals. The sons of wealthy and well respected fathers they both generally do the exact opposite of what they are supposed to, from cheating on their literary studies to playing with the foreign contraptions Bulls father brings home they seemingly go out of their way to cause their parents much grief.
One third into the movie and you might just be asking yourself when a plotline with substance is going to appear. It is when out hunting pheasants that Dragon and Bull come across a man who is on the run from gangsters trying to sell ancient Chinese artefacts to westerners. Initially ignorant to what is going on they eventually cross paths again only this time Dragon is attempting to impress a girl he likes, so gets involved in a fight that ultimately leads to Dragon and Bull taking on the gangsters to uphold their honour as Chinese and maintain their countries historical artefacts.
Dragon Lord barely manages to weave together what little story it has into a continuous whole and when it does it just so happens to be a story that had been used a dozen times prior, and many more since the films release right through to modern day Jackie Chan efforts such as Rush Hour (though in a lesser, more sideline capacity). This results in a film that relies upon the juvenile antics of Dragon and Bull to move things along in between what little story there is. Unfortunately the old fashioned methods of winning over the local beauties will soon become tiresome for most, though Dragon's shirking of responsibility and consequent run-ins with his father do manage to provide some mild humour, as do the sequences where Dragon and Bull are investigating strange western contraptions such as an old fashioned rifle and canon (cue various holes in their fathers homes!).
Coming to the rescue however are the action set pieces that include two sporting events which punctuate the main storyline, and of course the bouts of martial arts action we all expect from Jackie, these however are almost entirely found in the final third of the movies runtime. Something worth pointing out here is that Dragon Lord precedes the likes of Project A and Police Story by showing the first true example of the action style Jackie would soon carve out of the martial arts genre and claim for his own. With a heavy emphasis on agility, improvisation and more often than not inventive stunts over traditional forms of martial arts and lengthy one on one showdowns Dragon Lord even has a line from Jackie where he is asked why his fighting style is different to that when he is seen practicing earlier, to this he replies "street fighting is completely different to practicing on your own".
Looking at the action set pieces the film begins with an interesting Chinese event that sees four competing teams attempt to secure a golden ball from the top of a bamboo structure in the centre of a field, and to then return that to their own end. This scene ends up being a little clumsy as there are far too many bodies on screen fighting for the ball, though Jackie and friends do pull off a few moves that if they were ever employed by Rugby players the game might just be fun to watch! A latter event that is part of the same tournament sees two teams take each other on in a game of football, only they use a makeshift shuttlecock for the ball and pass it around with a sense of timing and accuracy that must have taken weeks, if not months to achieve making it essential and entertaining viewing.
Various other shorter sequences in the film also adopt the same strategy where Jackie ignores fighting and instead uses his agility to entertain, though fortunately those looking for some genuine bone crunching martial arts will find the latter half of the film delivers as Jackie and Mars square off against several worthy opponents including the infamous Wong In-sik who had previously beat the living crap out of Jackie in The Young Master, and here we see Jackie take his revenge as Wong In-sik takes something of a beating himself. Again the martial arts seen in the latter two set pieces eschew the traditional styles (and indeed look of the film) and see Jackie use his environment far more over his actual fighting ability, though Wong In-sik sticks to the traditional form and impresses with his incredibly fast and powerful movement that really allows you to feel the contact. Though it is clearly obvious that Jackie’s mastery of this action style was not yet perfected at this early stage in his career the sequences found in Dragon Lord still have a great charm to them and are certainly well performed and carefully edited while the comical moments are present and accounted for making this an entertaining ride.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and boasting anamorphic enhancement the transfer here is a little disappointing compared to previous efforts from the team at Hong Kong Legends, though it seems to be par the course for them and a Jackie Chan film. The main problem lies with the print sourced where the quality varies with on-location sections (such as the sporting events) looking dull and withered, while sequences shot on sets look far superior with less film grain and a generally more detailed, colourful appearance. Actual print damage is pretty much non-existent, with only natural film grain in sight though some shimmering in backgrounds was noted throughout with the on-location sections being particularly guilty of this all too common flaw with old Hong Kong movies. Doing their best with the print available the actual transfer to DVD is of the usual high standards with no signs of compression problems while the colour and black levels have been maintained and look suitably bold in the better sections of the print. On the whole this is not a bad effort, though anyone expecting miracles will be disappointed.
Both the original Cantonese language and English dub tracks are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mixes that are very light on surround usage, opting instead to keep the soundstage very much to the front left, right and centre speakers. Unfortunately the audio elements HKL have sourced must have been in worse condition than the print as on both tracks an audible hiss is present, with the only saving grace being I had to boost my sound levels up a full ten notches higher than I would for normal viewing in order for this hiss to be overbearing. What is however constantly disappointing with regards to the Cantonese language track is the awful condition of the dialogue that sounds horribly muffled throughout. In comparison the English dub sounds technically far superior with its newly recorded dialogue, as for the dub quality; well those who enjoy English dubs will no doubt enjoy this, for me however I would rather put up with the sub-par Cantonese track.
Both English and English HOH subtitle tracks are included. Each offer what appears to be a literal translation and one that certainly does not borrow heavily from the English dub track. The only concerns are the mention of a 'golden goal' in the shuttlecock match, which seems a little unlikely considering the golden goal rule in football was not adopted until the nineties, while the final scene has a text translation that is completely different to what Bey Logan suggests it should be in the commentary. Other than these possible mistranslations there were no jarring errors of note.
All video-based extra features are presented in anamorphic widescreen with DD2.0 Stereo audio while optional English subtitles are present only on those features not recorded in English.
The bonus feature I anticipate with every HKL release is the Audio Commentary with Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan. For this release Bey is as enthralling as ever as he mixes in star spotting with historical background information and in-depth biographical content for leading villain Wong In-Sik. Facts, general appreciation and artistic mentions are wrapped up in Logan's always informative and entertaining manner that ensures you will return to this audio track almost as often as you would the films original soundtrack.
An Interviews section totals roughly 50-minutes and includes thoughts from the films co-star, production manager and villain. First up is Mars (29:47) who after a short introduction that sees him explain his training and route into the movie business goes on to discuss the production of Dragon Lord in considerable detail. Focusing mostly on the action Mars offers some genuinely interesting insights to the more elaborate set pieces and the price they occasionally paid to capture them, what is more he does this with a likeable air surrounding him which results in the best interview on the disc.
Louis Sit (9:41) was the production manager on Dragon Lord so has plenty of insight to the film but makes for slightly uncomfortable viewing as he is either affected by old age or his decision to speak in broken English. That said this is still worth a look as though not exactly detailed it does give you a point of view from someone who is not falling over themselves to praise Jackie, as he was the person who had to report back to Golden Harvest and inform them their new young star was going over budget, over schedule and generally running riot with a film camera attached to his back!
Rounding out the interviews section is a discussion with Wong In-Sik (11:55). Speaking in English the films villain comes across as a very laid back person who takes us through his work in both the movie industry and as a martial arts instructor before finally giving us some insights as to what he believes make Martial Arts essential. Mixed in with some footage of Wong In-Sik teaching a class this makes for worthwhile viewing, though it is unlikely that you will come back to it any time soon especially if you have already seen the far more comprehensive interview session on The Young Master disc.
The only other bonus features on the disc are the UK Promotional (1:36) and Hong Kong Theatrical (4:17) Trailers alongside a selection of other promotional trailers for alternate HKL DVD releases.
Though falling short of the films surrounding it in Jackie Chan’s career Dragon Lord should prove to be a must for enthusiasts due to the early developmental look at what would become the style the world has come to love, fans of Mars will also lap this up as he deservedly gets equal billing to Jackie and has much to do onscreen. For everyone else however I would strongly advise a rental as the abundance of simple (and for many plain dull) comedy far outweighs the films strengths.