Dragons Forever

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Dragons Forever

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In the mid- to late- '80s, legendary Hong Kong star and director Sammo Hung made a string of kung-fu action comedies which came to be called the Lucky Stars series. Featuring a revolving cast of the Asian film industry's top action stars and comedians—but almost always including Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and later Yuen Biao—the six films were an enormously successful growing experience for all involved. In addition to being lots of fun and making lots of money, these six (so far) films allowed Hung to polish his directorial style, Chan to display his considerable comedic talents and physical ability, and Biao to break out of his Ed Harris-esque eternal-costar mode and eventually star in movies of his own. The first, and shakiest, of the Lucky Stars films was Winners And Sinners (1983), in which bumbling burglar Hung gets in hot water, goes to jail, and meets up with Hong Kong's top comics. They decide to go straight and form a cleaning company, but run afoul of a counterfeiting gang under investigation by overzealous policeman Chan. Unfortunately, the emphasis in this movie is squarely on the humor, which doesn't translate well at all. Lots of bad, badly dubbed/subtitled comedy goes slowly by, with Hong Kong's top comics fighting a losing battle against the language barrier the whole way. There are few good moments, but the 10 good minutes are incredible: Hung's brilliant slapstick breaking-and-entering scheme is foiled by a surprise party, and a rollerskate-clad Jackie Chan uses busy highway traffic to slingshot himself under a moving truck. Great as these moments are, the movie is pretty haphazard. Dragons Forever, made just four years later, is far better in every way. Hong Kong's top comics, whoever the hell they were, are gone; Chan is allowed to be his wide-eyed slapstick best; Biao has a starring role; and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez (the man all Asia loves to hate) is the top bad guy. The plot is even mildly interesting. When a polluting industrialist is hassled by a nice-lady environmentalist, he hires high-priced mercenary lawyer Chan, who then hires Hung and Biao to spy on the woman. When they find that the industrialist isn't just polluting but refining drugs, they turn the tables and raid his factory. But the real fun is, of course, in watching the three leading men interact. While no single scene stands out as a definitive example of Hung's/Chan's/Biao's brilliance, the three are pure magic together, providing good-natured physical comedy, long, demanding, acrobatic fight scenes, and the indefinable, irrepressible energy that runs through the best Hong Kong cinema. Rent them both, but consider even owning Dragons Forever. It's that good.

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