Dragon Fist Review
Like New Fist Of Fury, Dragon Fist sees a more serious Jackie Chan working out his contract with director Lo Wei following his success elsewhere with Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master. Again, like New Fist Of Fury, Bruce Lee casts a giant shadow over Dragon Fist with Chan being a poor substitute for the martial arts legend, looking uncomfortable in a young man who swears revenge following the death of his kung fu master, Sifu San Thye. Chan stars as How Yuen, who can do nothing but watch as his master is struck down by Chung Chien Kuen. His early attempts at revenge are futile - Chung is too powerful - leaving How Yuen no option but to leave and care for the daughter and widow of Sifu, Lan and Simo.
Years later, How Yuen leaves and with Lan and Simo travelling with him, he arrives at a new village, being the place where Chung Chien Kuen had gone to set up a kung fu school some years before. Chung is not, however, the same as the man who murdered How Yuen's master. With a tragedy of his own in his past, he looks for nothing but forgiveness from How Yuen and his family. But where Lan and Simo accept Chung's pleads for clemency, How Yuen is less forgiving and such is his thirst for revenge that he cannot see how his actions are destroying those closest to him. When Simo falls ill, an opportunity arises for Chung's enemies to kill the kung fu master. Not understanding his place in their plan, How Yuen agrees to help in the killing of Chung and his students but his every action puts Simo in great danger.
As one who doesn't have a great deal of time for Chan's kung fu comedies, there's a brutality to the fights in this film that has it a cut above many of Chan's other early films. Obviously inspired by Bruce Lee, whose fight scenes were often as short as they were stunning, the Jackie Chan-choreograhed fight scenes do not, with the exception of the finale, stray much over the minute mark. As one who has laboured through a run of Chan's films that seemed to suggest, what with the length of the fights, that kung fu was no more dangerous and required no more physical effort than tiddlywinks, the perfunctory nature of these scraps is most welcome. Unfortunately, he can't help himself as the film draws to a close, leaving us with a fight that's a good deal less memorable than all of those that preceded it.
However, with Dragon Fist playing with convention, there's much to like about it, moreso than a good many other Jackie Chan films. Had this followed the plotting typical of a kung fu film, How Yuen would have traveled far and very much alone to study under another kung fu master to defeat Chung Chien Kuen but not so here. Dragon Fist finds the man we'd assumed to be the villain seeking forgiveness, leaving us to look to the Wei clan for our thuggish kicks. Happily, they provide them in spades with a relatively tricky plot spun around their taking advantage of How Yuen and his desire for revenge. How Yuen realises too late in the day that he's been tricked, with it not sinking in until he's standing at the side of the Wei clan and about to deal the final and fatal blow to Chung Chien Kuen. For that and for the brutality of the fights, there is value in Dragon Fist but with its near absence of laughs, it's very far from typical Jackie Chan fare.
Viewed one after the other, Hong Kong Legends' Ultrabit releases are coming to mean but one thing, that the film is a slight cut above the average VHS release. Well, either that or it's a very positive spin on saying that no extras have been included. Either way Ultrabit doesn't say very much for the quality of the picture, which is a ropey here as it is on so many other releases from Hong Kong Legends. Coming with ample amounts of grain in the picture, which in itself is often no bad thing, there's a very slight softness to the characters that is at odds to what one expects of a release describing itself as Ultrabit.
To be fair to Dragon Fist, this is very far from being the worst Ultrabit release but the colours do look very pale and nondescript while there's also a noticeable warping on a vertical line near to the left of the screen that causes objects passing through it to appear temporarily thinner than they actually are. There is also a visible reminder of the damage done to the print with a whitening of the image occurring throughout the exterior shots, which gives the film the appearance of having wobbled during the transfer. All that said, director Lo Wei has framed each scene very well so there is a tendency to overlook the worst examples of mastering when thinking of how good the actual direction and photography of the film does look.
The audio tracks - a choice of Cantonese DD5.1 or Mono or English DD5.1 - are typical of a kung fu movie. Kicks and punches sound like variations on the same twig being snapped with the dialogue being dubbed in afterwards and, as looks likely, in an entirely different language to those included here. Generally, Dragon Fist isn't bad but there is a noticeable amount of background noise during the film - like the picture, it gets worse during external shots - that, though not enough to ruin the experience, is, once again, a far cry from what one might expect off an Ultrabit release. Or, as Hong Kong Legends are proving, it's becoming exactly what one expects off Ultrabit. Finally, there are optional English subtitles.
The only bonus material is a set of trailers for Warrior King, 9th Company, Typhoon and Duelist.