Dragon Heat (HK 2005)

Rating: **
Review Date: 5/18/08
Executive Producer: Steven Seagal
Director: Daniel Lee
Martial Arts Choreography: Chin Kar Lok
Cast: Samo Hung, Maggie Q, Michael Biehn, Simon Yam, Eva Huang, Li Bing Bing, cameo by Gordon Liu (?)

Silly and disappointing. Five hot young Interpol agents come to Hong Kong with evidence to convict a notorious criminal named Panther. Naturally, Panther gets rescued en route to the trial, but his liberators are not who he expected. No, they're a cutthroat mercenary gang with an axe to grind with Panther's brother, Tiger. Poor Panther... The rest of the film revolves around the youngsters trying to track down the bad guys and attempting to look as cool as possible in the process. Disgraced police officer Kong (Samo Hung) finally agrees to help them out, as he also has a score to settle with the leader of the bad guys.

First of all, the film is hard to watch because the editing is AWFUL. Good grief, is this what they're teaching kids in film school these days?!? The lighting is good and the film looks very polished, but the camera work is a disaster, making it almost impossible to follow the action. Action-wise, the film is a mixed bag. There's a protracted gun battle in the middle of the film that's very nicely staged. Naturally, being a Hong Kong film the air is full of debris flying around from some unknown origin. However, what's most noteworthy about the fight is the sound design. The gunshots are very bold and crisp, and each gun has its own unique voice and dialog. Very nicely done. Sadly, the martial arts sequences are disappointing, and even more in that Samo's best fight was edited out of the film. Only Samo and the head bad guy can fight worth a damn, but Samo is definitely slowing down and looking tired. Most of his scenes are in the dark, making it hard to tell what's going on and if he's being doubled. In other scenes, it's only him in the frame so you can't see his opponent or where his hits are landing. Very disconcerting.

The most curious aspect of the film is the inclusion of American actor Michael Biehn as a soldier of fortune seeking revenge for his slain brother. He's awkwardly out of place and his acting seems incredibly wooden compared to everyone else in the film (similar to those Hammer Studios/Shaw Brothers co-productions of the 70's). His John Woo inspired showdown at the end of the film is laughably absurd, as he and one of the good guys pump each other full of lead at point-blank range. He falls, while the good guy miraculously survives and effectively shrugs it off. The only two bright spots in the film are cute Eva Huang and a refreshingly subdued and restrained Maggie Q. While neither of them have much to do, they sure look great packing heavy artillery. It's also nice to see Maggie in a role that doesn't require her to be an over-the-top glamour doll. Sadly, pretty Li Bing Bing is reduced to a mere window dressing role as Tiger's long suffering girlfriend.

While "Dragon Heat" isn't a terrible film, it depressed me to see that this is the state of Hong Kong cinema. I almost wish that veterans of the glory days like Simon Yam and Samo Hung would just quietly retire rather than see them reduced to working with this new generation of filmmaking.