Sunday, March 23, 2008

Heart of Dragon

The Action Mutant…
is thankful they didn’t have Sammo wear a diaper.

Heart of Dragon

review by Joe Burrows

(written February 15, 2008)
"You read a lot about movies with budgets of $25 to 30 million. Hell, if a studio can piss away that kind of money, why not let 'em piss on me?"

- Roy Scheider (1932-2008) talking about films in 1980. Man, how times change. Rest in Peace, Chief Brody.

The Plot, as it was:
Jackie Chan plays Tat Fung, an adventurous cop that is responsible for taking care of his mentally challenged brother Do Do (Sammo Hung). Tat has finally landed his dream sailing job that he’s wanted for years but Do Do requires 24/7 care, as he often gets in hairy situations with the neighborhood kids or is taken advantage of by others. Do Do offers Tat seemingly constant frustration and it doesn’t end when Do Do stumbles upon a case of expensive jewelry that belongs to some robbers. When Do Do is kidnapped by said criminals, Tat and his cop squad have no choice but to unleash a can of the ass whip on them.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Remember when I stated that Crime Story was a change of pace for Jackie Chan, due to it being a Woo-esque urban crime thriller? Scratch that. Heart of Dragon is a definite change of pace for Chan (and his longtime cohort Hung). There is little to no action for the first 2/3 of the film, with the lone examples being a tactical jungle exercise in the beginning and Sammo being used as a punching bag on a few occasions. Only in the last 15 minutes are we treated to what is quite possibly one of the best filmed fights in Chan’s career. What the rest of the film possesses is some fine dramatic pathos from the two stars and a likewise affecting look at caring for someone of a diminished capacity. Chan gets to have one or two good emotional scenes but Hung makes the film with his totally credible performance. His already unlikely non-fighter build makes him more acceptable in the role and he doesn’t provide a false moment. However, Hung does falter once or twice as the director of this piece, particularly when he decides to kick the title piano track in to jerk the tears. There are some obvious credibility stretches (such as why other adults can’t tell within five seconds that Do Do is “slow” and not a fully functioning adult) and things get more uniform once the standard Action plot sets in but Chan fans can count this one as a solid effort, as long as they can be kind to the un-Chan like stuff in the film’s body. You know, like a plot, characterization and things of that nature.

Body Count/Violence: 20. As mentioned, the first hour or so just has a tactical exercise with shooting and Do Do being smacked around some. After a pretty good car chase, the final fight commences and that includes all of the insane falls, weapons use, gunplay, grenades and martial arts one would expect in the situation. Though not bloody, my favorite (mainly because it’s so “out of character”) is Tat burying a machete into the side of a crook’s neck.

Sexuality/Nudity: Hung’s behind is visible in a bathtub at one point but it’s because Do Do’s doesn’t realize he’s drowning so that’s supposed to be the focus. One thing: the relationship Do Do has with the neighborhood kids is a tad creepy, as it amazes me that none of the adults walking around Hong Kong found it odd that 8 year old kids are hanging out with a 30 year old fat guy in overalls. Maybe it’s me.

Language/Dialogue: Just some mild insults and dialogue.

How bad was it?:
Reaction was quite mixed indeed. Few critics seemed to like the film outright, as most generally point out that Chan fans will be disappointed by the overall lack of action. Other critics also added that the dramatic stories of the developmentally disabled should be left to Cruise and Hoffman. However, the film was nominated for five HK Film Awards, including Chan as Best Actor and Hung as Best Director (the lone win was for the title song as Best Original Song). Seriously, don’t listen to us critics…ever!

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Distributed by Golden Harvest and released in October 1985, Heart of Dragon made $20.3 million at the HK box office though it wasn’t the cash cow that other Chan films have been (no budget figures available). It was released in America in 1987 and is available under the 20th Century Fox/Fortune Star DVD line.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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