Sunday, 22 March 2015

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Heart of Dragon

Co-directors Sammo Hung and Fruit Chan subvert a tearjerker premise by playing it straight, bordering on mean. In Heart of Dragon Jackie Chan is a selfish cop struggling to look after his intellectually disabled older brother. Considering the matinee popularity of Chan and his co-star Sammo Hung, it'd be tempting to assume that the pairing will largely be played for laughs. It isn't. Heart of Dragon might careen headlong into melodrama, but it also isn't afraid to push the actors in unusual directions.

Chan plays Tat Fung, an action figure working as an ancillary member of a Police special forces team who dreams of becoming a merchant seaman. Unfortunately the frustrated Fung is stuck babysitting a mentally challenged adult in an aggressive, hardscrabble borough of Hong Kong. Sammo's Dodo is a towering manchild who hangs out with the local brats and plays with Masters of the Universe toys. Dodo isn't even the smartest member of the gang. The kids have him pegged as a dimwit and exploit him accordingly.

This callousness is everywhere in Heart of Dragon. Every single adult Hung meets feels obliged to bully and take advantage of him. A local job search quickly turns demeaning with Dodo prompted by a cruel restaurant owner to wriggle around on the floor, acting like a succession of animals. It's the flip side of the aspirational Hong Kong lifestyle seen in the Lucky Stars films. These people aren't upwardly mobile, they're stuck and lashing out.

A Japanese exclusive version of the film (entitled The First Mission) accentuates this effect by weaving in two extra fight scenes. Since the confrontations are absent for every other territory, their justification is throwaway and deliberately flimsy. Whereas in most films their inclusion would read as a cynical attempt to keep the audience awake, in Heart of Dragon they're just another angle on this dog-eat-dog world. Action director Yuen Biao matches this hostility with some savage fight set-ups involving submachine guns, machetes and even a pickaxe.

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