Monday, August 21, 2017

Dragons Forever (1988)

DRAGONS FOREVER (1988, dir. Sammo Ma-Bo Hung, Corey Yuen.)

Review by Goat Scrote

     I was excited to see a Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung/Biao Yuen collaboration on the list of Deep Red movies. My expectations may have been set a little high by the mind-blasting awesomeness of some of their other work. The action in this one felt a little too familiar, like a retread of bits and pieces of fights we've seen in their other films. It’s still very exciting action, but it feels like they didn’t challenge themselves to do something new and interesting despite the spectacular talents involved.

Go on, try. I dare you.
    “Dragons Forever” has all of the fights you could hope for. Some of them felt like they were only there to pad the time, or their setup was contrived, but the important thing is that they were fun to watch. There’s plenty of Jackie Chan's trademark humor and prop-based action, but no big set-piece “wow” stunts that popped out at me. Sammo Hung’s fight choreography is superb of course, but the editing in a handful of the action scenes was a little choppy, rapidly cutting in a way that made it harder to tell what was going on. The stunt work, as you'd expect, is utterly phenomenal.

     If you’re a fan of any of the main actors you will probably find plenty of enjoyment here. It entertained me thoroughly, although there are a lot of other movies in the same vein I would rather re-watch. It’s a better-than-usual Hong Kong action/comedy/romance flick, it just doesn’t rise to the level of invention and excitement which Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan deliver in some of their other projects.

     The plot contains a heavy romance story element, which might make it a decent date-night action movie. The characters are mostly quite flat and underdeveloped, however, and only the innate charisma of the main characters carried the romantic side of the movie. There are two interconnected romance plots, one each for Sammo and Jackie. I don’t really like romance movies and there was a lot more of that element here than in your typical HK actioner. The romances drive the character arcs of the two male leads and has a direct impact on the shifting alliances in the movie, so I can’t hate on it too much.

Stop! In the name of love... and my invincible kung fu.
     The romantic storylines arise from the other driving force of the story, the legal battle against narcotics manufacturer Boss Hua. He is operating under the guise of a legitimate chemical factory, which is poisoning waters downstream and affecting a fishery. This eventually grows into open violent conflict between the three heroes and the forces of corporate and criminal evil. The various subplots directly intertwine and affect each other, so the romance elements really are essential to the plot.
     The movie opens with a meeting in which Boss Hua Hsien-Wu (Wah Yuen), a mobster, screws over a business associate and shoots him in cold blood. Hua’s lackeys don’t even flinch, but damn, somebody is going to have to get a new sofa now, and that sofa really pulled the room together.

Asian Grouch0 Marx enjoys a post-homicide smoke.

     Defense lawyer Mr. Jackie Lung (Jackie Chan) and his assistant Mary (Crystal Kwok) have lunch. Some men show up, smack Mary for opening her mouth, and abduct her. Mr. Lung fights his way through the thugs to rescue her. As a reward, she slaps him and accuses him of working with the bad guys, so he slaps her back. I didn’t quite get the purpose of this entire scene, as I didn’t ever catch on to how the assistant figured into the overall plot or who these thugs were working for.

     Mr. Lung flirts with a whole series of woman while walking down the halls with his assistant, to establish what a ladies man he is. In court, Mr. Lung proves to be kind of a sleazy defense lawyer, defending a rapist and getting him loose on a technicality. Then he defies that first impression when the defendant thanks him, and Jackie delivers a brutal uppercut. He is apparently conflicted about the work he does. The judge just overlooks this little infraction. If I am to believe this movie, the Hong Kong legal system runs in a very counter-intuitive fashion. It’s a lot like the feeling I get watching an episode of “Law & Order”. I am skeptical about whether the scriptwriters have any practical understanding of what they're writing about.

Whoa, this aquarium is a tube, dude, and it's blowing my mind!
     Miss Yip (Deannie Yip) tries to negotiate with cigar chain-smoker Boss Hua. She wants his factory shut down because it is poisoning local waters and ruining her fishery business. He doesn’t want production shut down because he is making obscene amounts of money. Jackie Lung represents Hua Chemical Company against the fishery, and Hua wants his staff to use every underhanded trick in the book to find dirt on Miss Yip and the fishery. Miss Wen (Pauline Yeung), beautiful cousin of Miss Yip, consults with the lawyers about the ecological testing she has done. Jackie relentlessly and inappropriately flirts with her and she stonewalls him.

     Elsewhere, Luke Wong Fei-hung (Sammo Hung) is dealing firearms out of his duffel bag in an abandoned warehouse. When his clients can’t afford the guns, they attack him to try to take the merchandise and he gives them a solid beat-down. Luke gets a phone call from Jackie on his huge 1988 cellular phone, and the two meet up.

I've had a very emotional day. Now I'm gonna shove your
machete up your ass. Sideways. Deep.

     Some time later, eccentric  burglar Timothy Tung Tak-Biao (Biao Yuen) returns to his unusual home and discovers someone is up to something sinister inside. He acrobatically ascends the roof and climbs in through the skylight. There is a fight in the dark, before Timothy realizes he has been attacking his friend Jackie. Jackie came by to ask Timothy to use his electronics and cat-burglar skills to plant a listening device in the apartment of Miss Yip.

     Luke/Sammo moves to a new neighborhood and meets his nice lady neighbor, who is (not by coincidence) Miss Yip. It’s obvious he’s here to spy on her when he breaks out wacky listening devices. He spots Timothy climbing around the building, trying to plant the bug in Miss Yip’s apartment, and he doesn't know that they're both working for Jackie. The burglar gets caught (after stupidly planting the electronic bug in a watery vase) and gets into a fight with Luke. Afterwards, Miss Yip sees Luke as more of a hero.

Go, go, Gadget creep-o-matic!

     Things get complicated with Timothy when he shows up in the middle of a date between Jackie and Miss Wen the ecologist. Then Luke shows up too, but he is supposed to be undercover and has to hide in the apartment while Miss Wen is there. Luke stumbles across the burglar Timothy, who is also there to talk to Jackie, and the two have a fight while Jackie tries to prevent his date from investigating the loud noises. He rushes her out of the apartment and breaks up the fight, then tries to mend the conflict since the two criminals are both helping him.

     Jackie meets with Boss Hua at a club. A rival gang shows up and attacks with cleavers, fighting with Hua’s men. Jackie and his two friends are caught in the middle and forced to help fend the attackers off. Hua’s criminal enemies start specifically targeting Jackie now, because he is both a ruthless lawyer and a skilled fighter. 
"If do right, no can defense." - Mr. Miyagi

    Jackie and Miss Wen go on a date on a yacht, when assassins on ski-doos or whatever they’re called attack the boat. Jackie gets into one of his signature acrobatic, prop-heavy fights against a legion of foes and sends one of them flying overboard. Then the last assassin jumps in the water willingly, since he doesn’t want to face the fury of Jackie! This puts an end to another date with Miss Wen.

     Sammo flirts with his neighbor Miss Yip relentlessly. She turns him down, he’s too pushy. Even so, Miss Yip ends up showing up to the place he said he’d wait for her, a restaurant, and he chases her shouting his devotion through a megaphone. Somehow this works and she ends up going on a dinner date with him when she should be getting a restraining order. (Shades of John Hughes here.)

And you stink like sweaty ass-crack.

     There are lots of cutesy scenes showing the couples each bonding on their own. The two couples are genuinely falling in love. An assassin attacks all four of them while they are together. The assassin gets caught and turns out to be their crazy friend Timothy. He then spills the beans about the two other men dating the women to help win the case. The women  storm away, quite understandably, and don’t give them a chance to explain what their real feelings are.

     A three-way free-for-all develops between the friends, each of them mad at the other two for the turn things have taken. This ends with the trio getting arrested and released shortly afterward.

Sammo Hung's brief, controversial bondage porn career.
     Luke blocks a road to get the women to stop so he can declare his devotion to Miss Yip. She hits him with a wrench and then feels bad and wipes away the blood. He convinces her that he is no longer in it to win the case, or for money, but for love.

     In the factory, the two buddies Luke and Timothy sneak in to take pictures to prove the place is a drug factory. They discover secret doors and Luke slips inside one to get to the “real” factory where the narcotics are made and where the pollutants are dumped straight into the water. The workers notice him taking pictures and he has to fight a room full of thugs to get away with his photographic evidence. Since he is a righteous badass he beats the lackeys, but then a non-asian guy (martial arts champ Benny Urquidez) shows up and beats Luke badly. He is tied up and injected with narcotics to knock him unconscious. Timothy is still free, and escapes to get help.

I would put a joke here but I'm afraid Benny Urquidez
would rip out my still-beating heart.

     In court, the hearing begins. Jackie is there defending Boss Hua, putting him at odds with Miss Yip and Miss Wen. Jackie cross examines his main squeeze Wen and asks her under oath if she loves him. Improbably, the judge compels her to answer. She says yes and this gives Jackie an excuse to recuse himself from the case because of the conflict of interest, freeing him from his allegiance to Hua.

     Timothy, Jackie and Wen sneak into the factory again and end up in a confrontation with Hua’s men. This leads to lots of acrobatic fighting on walkways and rapid-fire stunt work. They find their drugged friend Luke and Timothy fights a horde to rescue him. The head enforcer played by Benny Urquidez is the last foe to face off with Timothy, and takes him down with one kick.

The inventor of the used-panty vending machine.
     Jackie keeps fighting the endless minion supply elsewhere, trying to get at Boss Hua. He chases Hua and they fight, then Benny shows up and takes over. Jackie and the Benny have an epic boss fight, while Boss Hua occasionally darts in to deliver a kick or a cigar burn before flitting back out of reach. This fight is much more entertaining because of his antics.

     Given the creators involved I expected some insane set-piece battles, especially here at the climax. Although they definitely use the multileveled terrain of the drug factory the climactic confrontation is more of a straightforward kung fu fight with some comic relief.

I just fucking LOVE being EVIL so god-damned MUCH!
     Hua spots Miss Wen and attacks her, but Luke leaps to the rescue and injects Hua with a fully-loaded syringe of the drugs. Boss Hua is tossed into the toxic waste tank while overdosing. Jackie takes down Benny the badass shortly afterward. The good guys get their girls, all three of the friends survive without going to jail, and the bad guys get their just desserts. Hooray!

Ooooh crap. Isn't this how the Joker got his start?

Flap your arms really fast and you can fly, just like Jackie Chan!

Yum, semen flavored!
(Oh shit, I am gonna get murdered for real now.)

Taste my bacon-flavored shoe of justice!

Gross, you never kung-fu fight with dogshit on your shoe!

So it's true... Sammo IS hung!

Hey Jackie, remember that time you saved my life
and to say thanks I slapped you really hard? Good times!

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