aka: Wu-Xia (original title)
In the eighties there was a different culture of enjoying movies. There were VCR’s and we watched the tapes rented from the local video-stores passionately and devotedly. I think maybe we appreciated them more, new movies were rarities then and newly created myths entered the popular culture with the lightning speed. Marshall Arts are such a myth, especially those made by Bruce Lee. A whole generation was raised on the genre and Lee remained an ideal for anyone eager to prove his importance to the world. Balkans of the eighties. Bruce Lee was the God of the popular culture. Later, when content was more available, we watched Jackie Chan and Jet Lee but the hype of the eighties was gone for good. However, there are few of us left in the late twenties and the early thirties still craving for childhood memories of good, old fashioned MA movies. When the “Ip Man” came in his installments those childhood times were seemingly there again. The legend of Ip Man took the fans by surprise and made Donnie Yen the biggest MA star of the decade. Unfortunately, there were rumors that he will never again be able to convincingly act anything else as he’s now in the minds of fans unmistakably connected to the character of the “Ip Man”. I’m glad to say that those rumors were false, because the “Dragon” proved that, although an ideal “Ip Man”, he’s not limited to the role. “Dragon” is, by itself, an odd mixture. It is a homicide procedural and the MA movie with the slices of anime/fantasy elements. It can be similar to the CSI, but then again, it’s Asian and it’s an MA. That alone would be the reason enough to watch it.
Donnie Yen is Liu Jin-Xi, village paper-maker whose workshop is attacked by the loan sharks. He disposes them and in the process attracts the attention of the local detective Xu Bai-Jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro). His analytic methods are unusual for the early twentieth century China, and he concludes that is more to Jin-Xi than meets the eye. He doesn’t believe in the goodness of people, for him we are just a bit more than animals and his nature is pessimistic to the core. Jin-Xi is his exact opposite and during the film the two will start a game in the best tradition of the crime-procedurals we can see every season on the US television. In spite of it all, the “Dragon” is highly philosophical flick. It asks interesting questions about the evolution and human degradation. Is it good or it’s malice that’s immanent to the human heart? Crime part of the movie is also the most interesting from the storytelling perspective. Visually, there is an homage to the CSI since during the analysis of the conflict we see the internal organs and severed connections between the synapses on the screen. Being human is beyond pure physiology, although Bai-Jiu doesn’t think so. We can see the film not only as a conflict of Bai-Jiu and Jin-Xi, but also as a conflict between physiology and psychology. When these two collide, there is only one possible outcome.
“Dragon”, however, isn’t only philosophical debate about existence. It’s a full-blooded MA movie with the excellent choreography and that’s what makes it interesting. It goes both ways. It’s crime-drama and MA movie at the same time. It even has some elements of anime and fantasy which made it quite unique. Unfortunately, unique isn’t always the best way to go. Too many different genres at times tend to create the sense of confusion, and sometimes we’re not sure about the direction in which the main characters will develop. In a sense, they’re “lost in translation”.
“Dragon” is a pleasant surprise nevertheless. I expected something “trashy” and repetitive, but I gladly admit that I was wrong. It’s a good move, worth of time invested in it. Some scenes are maybe comical, and some are “a bit too much” but I think you’ll definitely enjoy it if you’re an MA fan. If you’re not go and see it anyway. Maybe you’ll find it more serious than you think.