Classic Throwback – Dragons Forever

I watched this late last night for probably the twentieth time and every time, I undoubtedly see something new and awesome.  I never gave much thought to the interim scenes between Jackie being the suave lawyer and Sammo trying to swoon with Miss Yip, but then suddenly, it dawned on me how much better the movie is when all three stars share the screen together.  I don’t think Yuen Biao ever got his  due credit as the acrobatic brother of the group, but his skills sometimes astounded me even more than Jackie’s use of props or Sammo’s improvisation and dexterity.  Throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better aerial martial arts actor and I think his skills were widely sidelined by a more famous (though very deserving) Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.  If you look at a period of five years in between 1983 and 1988, it was literally a gold rush of Hong Kong martial arts movie mayhem.  This period widely marked the end of the classic-kung fu-period picture and ushered in the advent of modern screen fighting, which Chan, Sammo and Biao completely revolutionized.  In this short time span, you have films like: Project A, Winners and Sinners, Meals on Wheels, Police Story, My Lucky Stars, Millionaire’s Express, Eastern Condors…the list goes on and on.  Dragons Forever has always felt bittersweet to me, because it marked both the pinnacle of these three stars on screen together, and at the same time, their final collaboration to date.  You look at the physical comedy gags that they perform in the middle of the movie while Chan’s character is on a date, and you can’t help but laugh at the farcical exchange between them.  Filling in the gaps between fight scenes with this humor made the film complete, a flaw most action flicks develop when you’re not interested in the story, but rather when the next fight’s happening.  Dragons brings in a generous amount of everything. It’s because of this that Dragons holds a special place in my heart.

The film opens with two scenes laying down the ground work for the plot.  We’re first introduced to the villain, Boss Wah (Yuen Wah), a ruthless businessman who kills his business partner when he finds out a shipment deal has gone south.  Then we meet Jackie Lung (Chan), a lawyer who’s trying to convince a woman to take some money and avert a bully named Cheng from attacking her.  Just then, Cheng’s posse show up to slap some fear into the woman, but Jackie reveals that he’s not only a lawyer, but a skilled fighter who dispatches the gang easily.  Jackie portrays a different role from his typical fair in this one, playing the smooth talking Casanova instead of the happy-go-lucky underdog we’re used to seeing.  Next we find Miss Yip (Deannie Yip) meeting with Boss Wah to ask that he stop dumping his polluted waste in the water near her fishery.  After refusing an offer to buy her fishery, Miss Yip threatens legal action against Wah.  Fearing it will slow production of his mysterious “product,” Wah orders that a lawyer be put on the case to mess with Miss Yip and slow down her legal injunction. Of course Jackie’s hired and in doing so meets a love interest in Miss Wen (Pauline Yeung), who’s Miss Yip’s attorney and cousin.  Jackie then hires Wong (Sammo), an arms dealer and close friend to woo Miss Yip. He also gets a crazy inventor and criminal, Tung (Biao), to bug Miss Yip’s apartment for any evidence.  Wong and Tung inadvertently realize they were both hired by Jackie, and hilarity ensues as Jackie invites Miss Wen for dinner while trying to keep his friends from killing one another in the next room.

Later on, the head of another gang (played by Dick Wei) orders that Jackie be killed, because he’s seems too smart and he’s working for his rival, Wah.  Jackie then takes Miss Wen to a yacht for lunch, where we see one of the best fight scenes in the film.  Tightly filmed, this inventive close combat rumble has the legendary James Tien and his gang try and kill Jackie, but to no avail as he’s too quick and nimble, using every part of the ship to his advantage.  Meanwhile, Wong is trying to get Miss Yip to go out with him, finally succeeding after a ridiculous attempt using a bullhorn, and we begin to see romances take shape between Wong and Miss Yip, as well as Jackie and Miss Wen.  The honeymoons are short-lived though when Tung spills the beans about the whole operation and calls out the other guys for not playing it straight.  A pissed off Wong and Jackie start fighting with Tung and with each other in what I believe is the first and only time all three fight each other on screen–and it is magnificent! Detested by Miss Yip, Wong vows to get her back and prove their love is true by going to Wah’s factory and figuring out what’s being dumped in the water.

Finally reconciled, Wong brings Tung along with him to photograph the evidence.  They realize that Wah is involved in manufacturing drugs as Wah’s main henchman (Benny Urquidez) is sucking heroin through a straw.  The henchman catch Wong snooping around, take him hostage, and inject him with drugs while Tung escapes to tell Jackie and the others.  Jackie professes his love to Miss Wen in court and explains that their relationship is in direct conflict with the case.  Jackie therefore removes himself from the case, and just as court is adjourned, Tung arrives to tell Jackie and Miss Wen what happened.  Once at the factory, we bare witness to one of the greatest fight scenes ever filmed.  Here we have Jackie Chan’s stunt team as well as Sammo’s stunt team, along with Yuen Wah, Benny “The Jet”, and Billy Chow–it’s pure mayhem, and it’s marvelous.

Overall, this film is a martial arts spectacle, with performances that can never be replicated.  The best on screen fights come from Billy Chow and Biao as they navigate a catwalk above the main room, flipping onto I-beams and agilely flying through jagged pieces of glass.  The stunt teams almost felt like they’re trying to one up each other–from getting kicked through a glass table to huge falls off of factory vats.  We also see another classic performance from Yuen Wah as the cigar-smoking  leader, puffing on his stogie while scaling up the side of a staircase.  The best performance though comes from Benny and Jackie, as they change things up from their previous bout in Wheels on Meals back in 1984.  This time around it’s less about a test of kickboxing skills and more about survival.  Sammo, as well as Jackie and Benny create some of the most mind-blowing choreography you’re ever going to see. Most people who have seen all of Jackie’s films will argue that his two fights with Benny are the best of his career, and after watching them, it’s hard to argue.

Go watch this now. Here’s a taste.


A+

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One response to “Classic Throwback – Dragons Forever

  1. Thanks for the great review. I have long been hindered in being able to access and watch martial arts DVDs (having been bereft of money and technology in recent years) and have been confined to what I could get in local libraries (I have now exhausted their supply). Unfortunately, Dragons Forever has eluded me up till now but I do intend to see it because I keep reading great stuff about it.

    I agree with what you say about Biao – he had extraordinary acrobatic skills.

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