In this classic Hong Kong comedy, the best people in the world to stop evil drug lords are a lawyer, an arms dealer and a psycho…
Really, it had to happen at some point. Jackie Chan had been chomping, with middle and big success, through the local Hong Kong box office with films like Police Story, Dragon Lord, Project A and Armour of God. So when he teamed up with his two old friends, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, for their next project together, expectations were high for another win at the turnstiles. Their previous efforts Project A, Wheels on Meals and Winners And Sinners had all done well. so what could go wrong? From my perspective, nothing really. But ask someone in Hong Kong or Japan at the time, oh boy! From the drug lord using legitimate means to destroy threats to Jackie having an on-screen relationship (shock, horror!), a lot of things that audiences took for granted were turned on their ear. And people just weren’t ready for it. So, taking that into account, does the film hold up against previous efforts from the Three Dragons (Jackie, Sammo and Biao)? Yes, it does. Both in terms of characters and their dialogue and the actual action and stunt choreography.
Ignore the plot, in which an evil drug lord, Hua Hsien-Wu (Yuen Wah), uses a lawyer to try and get a local fishery that’s sueing him off his back. The lawyer, played by Jackie Chan, in turn hires his arms dealer friend, Wong (Sammo Hung) and a nutcase surveillance expert, Tung (Yuen Biao) to help him sabotage the fisheries owner, played by Deannie Yip (A Simple Life), in her case against Hua. And then Jackie (also his character’s name) in turn falls in love with the environmental scientist, Mei-Ling (played by Pauline Yeung) that Miss Yip has hired in her case, who happens to be her cousin. And then Wong falls in love with Miss Yip. And Tung is crazy throughout the film. That’s all you need to know. Because everything else is pure gold.
Going for a middle ground thematically between the out and out farces of the Lucky Stars films and the arse kicking of Wheels on Meals, Dragons Forever tries to tell a competent action comedy and adds a couple of romantic subplots to the mix. For my money, Wong and Miss Yip’s story works a lot better than Jackie and Mei-Ling’s does. It’s just in the telling, I think, that Sammo comes off as the more changed person. Jackie is presented as a bit of a player in his constant following around of Mei-Ling. We know from Jackie’s interactions with his assistant (played by Crystal Kwok) that he’s a ladies man. So I knew he was going to end up with Mei-Ling by the end, it was that much of a foregone conclusion. But Sammo is oftentimes not seen as a romantic actor in English speaking territories for some bizarre reason. I would say it’s due to his large stature that people just don’t see him in that mold. That’s a pity because as he starts to woo Miss Yip, you can’t help but root for him. He tries everything to get her to like him, even going so far as to insult random people on the street in order to get her to pay attention to him. And the way after they get together, the way he and she hang out, they look like a real couple. When things look bad between them, he stands there as she clubs him over the head with a wrench, drawing blood. He was only supposed to pretend to fall in love with her, so if he’s faking it by this point he must really like his job to let someone open his head up. Tung seems to be the only guy who doesn’t get a girl but since he seems to be having a ball playing a crazy inventor, I’m OK with him not getting the girl.
On the action side, Jackie gets put through the ringer as you will expect from a Sammo Hung project. The fight at the start of the film where he takes on four or five guys in a harbour restaurant is cool and has his trademark acrobatic skills on display. And he gets to bash the living daylights out of Benny Urquidez. And Benny is this film is much more of a villain than in Wheels on Meals. In that he was just playing a hired goon who eventually got bested by a better fighter. Here he is playing a coked-up strong man who doesn’t really appear until the third act of the film. Sammo is his usual self, throwing himself into walls, windows, people and anything else that he thinks we need to see. Honestly, they should give Sammo an honorary Oscar if only for all the thought he puts into how he’s going to injure himself today for our amusement. Despite my initial assertions of Yuen Biao being crazy, he really doesn’t start acting truly crazy until he gets arrested after breaking into Deannie Yip’s apartment and doesn’t get any help from the other two, because they don’t want to blow their covers with the women. This film allows Biao to show off his climbing and acrobatic skills like him coming home to his apartment and armed only with his bicycle, proceeds to climb up to his first (maybe?) floor apartment using his hands and feet. Along the way, the trio get interrupted by Hua’s goons, a rival gang trying to kill Hua, (led by Dick Wei!!) in which they destroy a yacht trying to kill Jackie, and finally the entirety of Hua’s criminal workforce (at least those who know they aren’t working for a pharmaceutical company) as they try and save Wong from certain death and defeat Hua.
The film isn’t as energetic as Wheels… nor as fun as Project A but then they were shaking up the status quo with Jackie having a girlfriend and the out and out villainy of Yuen Wah’s character so maybe it was just ahead of its time in that regard. I can’t fault the actors nor the filmmakers as the film certainly tries its best to have something for everyone. Some of the more “Um, where is this going?” moments come with Jackie trying to get Mei-Ling to declare that she loves him in court or the scene where Jackie tries to woo Mei-Ling in his apartment while trying to keep Wong and Tung hidden from view. While the athletics on display are impressive, the scene itself goes on way too long in my opinion. However, every time the film feels like it’s lagging, it perks up with more action scenes. I can’t finish the review without mentioning the amazing fight choreography, especially in the final fight. Yuen Biao really throws himself into the work, bending and squirming around overhead gangways while evading rent-a-goons. Benny Fight No.1 with him is great and he and Benny both are really amazing to watch. Sammo comes back into his own at the end in time to defeat Yuen Wah’s character in an excellent ironic twist for the villain as he dies. Jackie, of course, takes on everyone else in the factory at the same time all this is going on and then takes on both Yuen Wah and Benny that sees Benny and he, in Benny Fight No.2, throwing, kicking, grappling and punching each other across the set.
It doesn’t always work and it sometimes stumbles when it does but Dragons Forever remains a solid entry (and sadly the last as of 2012) in the Three Dragons canon of films. Along the way, you get some awesome things like Yuen Biao having a lightswitch in his home the size of an a2 sheet or Jackie getting more and more beat up every time he goes to give Pauline Yeung her jacket and stuff because the other two guys are hitting him or the cameo in the courtroom scenes from Roy Chiao (Lao Che from Temple of Doom) as the sly old fox Judge who’s presiding over Jackie’s cases. I highly recommend it.
Dragons Forever is available on 2-Disc DVD from Cine-Asia presents Hong Kong Legends.
Home media details
Distributor: Hong Kong Legends (UK) / Cine-Asia presents Hong Kong Legends
Edition: DVD (2005, reissued 2011)
Dragons Forever comes to us in a Cine Asia UK reissue of Hong Kong Legends excellent Platinum edition of the film. The films has had a great transfer for the video with the interior set stages look the best but the on location stuff doesn’t look overblown. The audio is good with two 5.1 tracks. Cantonese and English, for our money plus a Cantonese mono track. They do their job but it’s not a full 5.1 experience by any means. We get Bey Logan in the commentary seat taking us through everything you wanted to know about the film. The man loves his chosen field of expertise and he’s happy to share it with us. The trailers (original/UK/Reissue) round out disc 1. Disc 2 has an excellent documentary called The Making of Dragons Forever hosted by Bey Logan on location in Hong Kong with interviews with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Wah, Crystal Kwok, Benny Urquidez and yeah, Brett Ratner. Logan does some location walkarounds and gives some more information. Some of the information he puts out is recycled on the commentary so it does suffer from overlap. Not enough to detract, thankfully.
Outtakes, stunt interviews and workshops and deleted scenes finish us up but please check out Dragons Forever star Billy Chow in an exhibition Thai boxing fight. It’s nothing special but it’s an interesting record of information for you action cinema people.