, 25 Mar 2007
Jackie Lung (Chan) is a lawyer hired by a chemical processing factory to make opposition to their polluting ways, which are threatening the fish farm run by Miss Yip (Yip), disappear.
However Lung discovers he is working for gangsters (led by Yuen Wah) and with the help of friends Fei-Hung (Hung) and Tung (Yuen Biao) sets out to destroy the drug refining and smuggling operation really operating through the factory.
The legendary 'Seven Little Fortunes' opera troupe of Sifu Yu Jim Yuen included many of the great stars of Hong Kong martial arts cinema but the three that made the greatest impression on the industry were Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. The three made numerous films together but only in three of those did they all have starring roles. Project A, Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever. Being a Sammo Hung film it is darker than Project A and lacks the exuberant fun of that film but Dragons Forever, like many of Sammo's films, not only shows off his casts astonishing abilities to their best effect but allows them to stretch them selves in areas they usualy wouldn't.
All three of the stars play against type. Jackie; usualy the moral underdog hero is cast as a shyster, skirt chasing lawyer and when we first see him is defending a rapist in court (though he does give him a hell of a punch after the acquital). Sammo gets to be a bit of a ladies man, something that his build would usualy preclude and Yuen Biao plays a very odd character, an old friend who appears to have gone mad. It is perhaps this deviation from their usual personas that meant Dragons Forever was something of a box office disappointment on its release.
For me though the changes to the familliar personas are a welcome way of providing some variety in a genre that too often only distinguishes itself in the coregography of the fighting.
There's quite a lot of plot in Dragons Forever and that allows for not just a lot of fighting but quite a bit of comedy and even a few more dramatic interludes. These vary in their success. For example there's a charming sequence with Sammo and Deanie Yip night fishing while sharing some food (this, apparently, is based on how Sammo and his first wife passed the time when he was broke) which works beautifully but a broader scene when he pursues Yip down the street with a megaphone trying to get her to go on a date with him pushes the boat out a bit far.
A lot of the comedy involves physicality and never is this better executed than in a scene at Jackie's apartment as first Yuen Biao and then Sammo gatecrash as he tries to woo Pauline Yeung and the tries to hide their presence from her. If the Three Stooges did kung fu it would probably look like this ludicrously entertaining sequence.
If the comedic action is hugely entertaining it really has nothing on the true action beats. There's an excellent early scene for Jackie which takes place on a boat (the venue for his second date with Pauline Yeung) which shows off again his absolute mastery of fighting with props. The three brothers all fight together in a stunning scene in a club which uses a real disco as a standing set in ways that look astoundingly painful. There's a one time only occurence for fans too as Dragons Forever is the only film in which you can see a three way fight between Jackie, Sammo and Yuen Biao.
The plot wraps up (with, sadly, just about the worst scene in the movie) at the end of act two to set up the final few reels for the traditional showdown. It's here that Yuen Wah, reprising the robotic bad guy he played to such effect in Eastern Condors, comes into force and Benny Urquidez arrives in the film. Urquidez (who Bey Logan, who should know, describes as pound for pound the greatest martial artist alive) fought Jackie in Wheels on Meals (and it's that fight that Jackie named his favourite he's ever taken part in) and was brought back as the formiddable last reel opponent here.
Their confrontation is quite simply one of the finest ever filmed. It starts out slow and over about ten minutes amps up to a frenzy of punches and kicks, all of it executed brilliantly. The timing is spot on, the use of props inventive, adding to the scene and Sammo even lets the action pause for a quick comic beat and let the audience catch a breath. Even if it's not the best martial arts sequnece ever filmed (for me that's the Sammo directed duel between Frankie Chan and Lam Ching Ying in The Prodigal Son) it's still right up there and a truly fitting finale to the last of the three brothers films together.
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