Friday, 2 January 2015

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Dragon Lord

Unfortunately Dragon Lord makes The Young Master look like a coherent, well-structured three acter. Jackie Chan directs and stars as Dragon, a spoiled twenty-something who behaves like he's about 12. Dragon differs from previous Jackie Chan heroes in that his skills aren't strictly martial. Although he'll deign to work through a few kung fu moves when his father's snooping about, his talents are more to do with broad athletics. Dragon Lord is relatively fight free, of the film's four key action setpieces only one, the film's finale, involves a typical, blow-for-blow confrontation.

Dragon Lord is a curate's egg, especially notable for the amount of directorial control Chan was able to wrangle so early in his career. The film begins with a kind of mob football event in which several teams climb a rickety bamboo pyramid to secure a golden egg. Although orphaned by a film that does nothing to set up the sequence, never mind place it in a wider context, the palava entertains because it's obvious a lot of time, money and effort was put into it. Dozens of stunt men are clearly injured, sometimes quite brutally. There's even a long, Panavision take of Chan himself collapsing backwards off the summit and surfing his way over underlings to the bottom.

More so than The Young Master, Dragon Lord feels excessive, the Hong Kong equivalent of a director-driven production like Heaven's Gate (or maybe more accurately, how Michael Cimino's film was described by American critics). There's zero sense of control in the film, we skip from incident to incident with barely any visual or dramatic consistency. Chan has great ideas - every action sequence wows, and the image of the star in an unbuttoned, dishevelled changshan has a certain punky appeal, but it's hard to shake the impression we're just watching an emerging talent fucking about on prefabricated sets.

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