Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fist of Dragon (龙拳 / Long Chuen)

Leg of Dog

Fiona Xie has been out of the entertainment circle for years already, so it's a good indication to anyone how dated this film is actually, being held in cold storage if not for the obvious reason that its story is fundamentally flawed. The trailer makes it look like it's another Bruce Lee knockoff, with a Chinese man being sent to help his restaurant running relative fend off the neighbourhood thugs, only that such an association brings forth severe blasphemy because this barely could have stood up against a single frame from The Way of the Dragon.

A regional co-production, rookie director-actor-co-producer Michael Chuah perhaps was a wee bit ambitious in trying to be a jack of all trades, and turned out to be a master of none. The direction's pretty blase for an action film, and technically with the credits all being single names, some nicknames even, may suggest that the crew could be a little embarrassed to be associated with this effort. As an actor, Chuah doesn't cut it and his inexperience shows through the constant, wooden one-dimensional look, that of a deer caught in the headlights, which may not be a bad thing since his character Li (note: Any self-respecting martial arts film these days should avoid Li/Lee as character names, and Dragon in the title, seriously) leaves China for the first time to an unnamed Asian city, ala a country bumpkin type. And the worst insult to an actor is that one lacks charisma and as a leading man, isn't blessed in the looks department. I didn't say that, but just echoing what the two girls sitting beside me blurted out in the darkness of the cinema hall.

The story's a waste of time, if only to become an excuse to string together some action sequences for Chuah to show off his fisticuffs, which in many scenes here tried too hard in emulating Donnie Yen's Ip Man, right down to the specific moves used, and we're not even talking about Wing Chun here. To summarize the clunky narrative, it's about a band of gangsters whose members have shifting loyalties at the drop of a hat, made up of sons and daughters of a bunch of simpleton villagers who can't cooperate, thus leaving the door wide open for exploitation and bullying by the thugs. Throw in some inexplicable moments involving secret liquid drugs, throwaway zombies (yes, really) that become forgotten as soon as its purpose is served in one single scene, and plenty of bad acting all around complete with needless supporting characters speaking in a myriad of accented Mandarin, and you get Fist of Dragon. A punch/slap in the face that is.

As an action film however this film does have its moments that you have to give it credit for, although as it goes along it becomes a showpiece for Chuah's fighting skills mostly, and almost quite exaggerated as he becomes a one man army up against hordes of weapon wielding thugs, that becomes repetitive. The final sequence in a warehouse was nicely crafted though involving burning ropes and slight variation in technique, though some wire work was obvious, together with an overuse of powder, and unnecessarily loud battle sound effects that never goes out of fashion with rookie filmmakers.

While Thailand has Tony Jaa and JeeJa Yanin to boast about, and Indonesia has Iko Uwais from Merantau, Michael Chuah somehow lacks that charisma, stature, and physique to be that bona fide action hero. While his moves are hard hitting though at times I was looking out for some editing tricks, one element that stuck like a sore thumb throughout is his disadvantage in reach. Put two martial artists side by side, and I won't put my money on the one who needs to reach out far beyond to throw a punch. But the main villain here (not that poser who can't fight) decked in black jacket, now that is probably the sole reason for anyone to watch the film, as he executes killer moves with venom, coupled with a menacing look that reminded me of Dan Chupong as Crow Ghost in the Ong Bak sequels. Thumbs up for this actor-stuntman-Wushu coach Pui Fook Chien aka Jey Tong, and I hope he goes far as far as action films around the region is concerned.

Fist of Dragon scores for effort only, but the delivery was no better than a schoolboy's first dabble in the film medium. Try harder is all I can say, as this sticks to the bottom of the barrel as one of the worst films this year that's best avoided, unless you're up for some horror comedy.

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