Fast-moving martial arts flick with dazzling action scenes
A welcome entry to the martial arts genre, Peter Chan's Dragon is a fast-moving action thriller that has the brains to match its brawn. Set in the Yunnan province in China in 1917, the film picks up as peaceful handyman Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) is forced to come to the aid of a local store manager when two bandits burst in to his shop and threaten to kill him.
Given the notoriety surrounding one of the robbers, Liu's bravery and survival attracts the interest of investigating detective Xu Baijiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who slowly uncovers the truth behind Liu's violent past and inadvertently brings it back, in the form of the violent 72 Demons gang. Soon, Liu is not only fighting for his own life but also that of his new family too.
Chan's film may be derivative of plenty of other films (most notably David Cronenberg's A History of Violence) but it manages to keep things fresh and exciting. The action, when it arrives, is genuinely dazzling and often breathtaking in its brutality, with some strong characterisation and well considered moral and ethical dilemmas. The mix of tones works, too, starting off in almost comedic manner as Liu at first appears to be lucky in dealing with the bandits, only for things to become darker as events take a more serious turn.
Yen makes a likable lead, channelling his inner conflict well, while Kaneshiro (of House of Flying Daggers fame) also has fun as the geeky Sherlock-style detective who boasts some fun eccentricities of his own. There's eye-catching support from Hong Kong action-film veteran Kara Hui as one of Liu's female adversaries and Shaw brothers legend Jimmy Wang Yu as ultra-villain The Master, both of whose talents are given a rigorous workout.
Limited release from Fri 3 May.