MRR Movie Review: Dragon

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A sinful martial arts expert wants to start a new tranquil life, only to be hunted by a determined detective and his former master.
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Movie Review: "Dragon"

-- Rating: R (For Violence)
Length: 114 minutes
Release Date: July. 4, 2011
Directed by: Peter Chan
Genre: Action and Drama

In the martial arts thriller "Dragon," Liu Jinxi (portrayed by Donnie Yen), a quiet, hard-working family man in a Chinese village, foils a violent robbery. During the fight, he kills two robbers using (apparently) only his reflexes and a lot of luck. His actions, though completely justified, might just mean that Jinxi is not the solid citizen many villagers believe he is. Maybe he is a member of a sinister and violent gang?

Jinxi has worked as a paper-maker in the village of Yunnan, China for ten years. He settled in the village after marrying a single mother, Ayu (portrayed by Tang Wei). Their idyllic life is shattered by his killing of two villains who attempt to rob his paper shop. The kind of martial arts skills Jinxi displays in the midst of the incident convinces many people, one of them being detective Xu Baijiu (portrayed by Takeshi Kaneshiro), that he is not just an ordinary villager. The detective suspects that Jinxi is actually Tang Long, the runaway member of a gang called the 72 Demons. The violent gang originated from Xixia, China's neighboring kingdom, and their way of life includes murdering and plundering for leisure and profit.

"Dragon" is filled with martial action sequences that are both savage and swift. Originally titled "Wu Xia," the film was written by Oi Wah Lam and directed by Peter Ho-sun Chan. Yen is well known for his well-choreographed action movies, but this may be his best yet. The movie is set in 1917 during the post-Qing Dynasty period when the Chinese were beginning to make the difficult transition from monarchy to republic. This is a classic example of director Chan's attempt of fusing the martial arts movie genre with other international genres.

In "Dragon," Yen uses classic close-contact martial arts that aim to kill or maim with a single strike. This is the same technique seen in Chang Cheh's martial arts series "One Armed Swordsman." The scene where Jinxi fights with Tangut (portrayed by Kara Hui) is one of the most intense, made more elaborate and inventive because the pair fight in an ox pen.

The film was inspired by a movie by David Cronenberg, "A History of Violence," which was itself adapted from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Chan moved the action from small-town America to a small village in China, transforming the action from gangster gunfights to the martial arts. It must be said, however, that he did a wonderful job with this reimagining.

Most films in this genre, and "Dragon" is no exception, don't dwell too much on narrative perfection or even coherence. Instead, the film focuses on exploring society's ethical problems and different states of feeling. That is why there are a lot of references to loyalty, revenge, and honor amid the numerous brutal fight scenes.

With his years of experience in martial arts films, it is not surprising that Yen also choreographed most of the action scenes in "Dragon." Some critics have complained that Chan bungled the choreography with numerous edits and digital enhancements. These people say that this over-editing and over-enhancement resulted in an overly melodramatic movie. Those who oppose this view claim that this audacious style of production provided a more daring and lively movie than what would have been possible with straightforward editing.

Chan is an award winning film producer and director. Some of the films he has either directed or produced include "Bodyguards and Assassins," "Comrades, Almost a Love Story," "Jan Dara," and "Warlords." Yen is a renowned martial artist, movie actor, director, action choreographer, and producer. Wei is a Chinese actress who has appeared in numerous film and television productions, including "Lust, Caution," "Speed Angels," and "Late Autumn." Kaneshiro, a Japanese singer and actor, has also appeared in several films and television dramas including "Love 2000," "Mermaid Got Married," Forever Friends," and "Confession of Pain."

The film seems to be evenly divided between the two superstars, Yen and Kaneshiro. Moviegoers, even those who are not easily awed by martial arts flicks, will find "Dragon" interesting to watch. The cinematography is particularly gorgeous, the audio is thunderous, and the use of balletic slow-motion techniques adds to the audience's enjoyment. It is a thoughtful movie in which violent villains clash with brave protagonists. In short, "Dragon" features enough stylistic devices and clever turns to make it a memorable film.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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