Dragon Lord (1982)

Reviewed by Koray
August 10, 2015


Jackie Chan • Michael Chan Wai-Man • Suet Lee • Mars • Tien Feng •Tai Bo
Young Master in Love
Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan • Jackie Chan’s Stuntmen Association • Corey Yuen Kwai • Fung Hak-On
Full Screen, English Dubbed via Netflix
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Dragon (Jackie Chan) and Cowboy (Mars, POLICE STORY) are two mischievous young men who spend most of their time trying to win the affections of the girls in their village, and competing in local sporting events. When Dragon stumbles upon an evil gang trying to steal national treasures, he must do all that he can to stop them, and save his village from the gang’s evil captain (Whang In-Shik).

After the success of THE YOUNG MASTER (1980), Jackie Chan set out to create a sequel to the film, entitled THE YOUNG MASTER IN LOVE. The production of the film was reportedly somewhat troubled and it went over budget, going through changes in the process, until it finally became the stand alone-film that is DRAGON LORD.

The opening sequence, which features a massive group of stunt performers climbing a bamboo pyramid and engaging in an interesting football/brawling hybrid, instantly grabs the viewer’s attention. Sadly, the film quickly loses that momentum and level of excitement as it progresses.

The tumultuous nature of the production seems evident in the finished product, as the film lacks a clear focus, spending much of its running time on Jackie and Mars’ attempts at courting girls and comedic sequences that do little to move the film’s plot forward. The only thing making these scenes watchable is the genuine chemistry between Mars and Chan (and if you have an old VHS copy, the funny English dubbing), the former being a long-time actor/member of the JC Stunt Team. The film seems to wander into its main conflict, not unlike Dragon does in the film, giving the impression that this plot-point was crafted after shooting had already started.

Though I don’t seek out Jackie Chan movies for their storytelling, this particular film seems to care far less about plot than most of Chan’s previous films up to this point. I think part of DRAGON LORD‘s lack of story focus has to do with what I believe the film attempted to achieve, namely, to serve as a vehicle presenting a new type of action choreography. DRAGON LORD comes across as more of a creative experiment from Chan, where he attempts a mash-up of the old school kung fu movies that made him famous (DRUNKEN MASTER, SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW), and the stunt-filled contemporary action movies that would become his specialty (PROJECT A, POLICE STORY). The fights feature no defined styles or shapes in the choreography, instead going for a more contemporary kickboxing style combined with impressive stunt-work, an approach that would later dominate Chan’s work throughout the 80’s and beyond.

For me, this makes the fighting more interesting than exciting, as the choreography becomes a look at the transition between the Jackie Chan of the old school era, and the Jackie Chan style of today. That’s not to say that some of the action sequences aren’t creative and engaging; the previously mentioned opening sequence, and the films ‘shuttlecock sequence’ are great fun to watch. In the later, Chan and his stunt team (among them Fung Hak-On from WARRIORS TWO) work to keep a shuttlecock constantly in motion while ferociously battling it out, and doling and taking extreme punishment in the process. It’s clearly a sequence that took a lot of effort, and one particular shot reportedly required over a thousand takes to complete properly!

Though there’s potential for a great film in DRAGON LORD, it spends too much time on goofy antics, and too little on the actual action. Which, though it is impressive at times, does not occur often enough, nor hold the same level of quality as seen in Chan’s previous films or other movies released around that time. NINJA IN THE DRAGON’S DEN (1982) and THE PRODIGAL SON (1981), superior films in my opinion, were nominated alongside DRAGON LORD for best action choreography at the Hong Kong film awards, with PRODIGAL SON taking home the prize.

To me, the finale between Whang In-Shik and Chan is the film’s biggest disappointment. Instead of a great rematch between the two, on the level of what was seen in THE YOUNG MASTER, we get a bout that in comparison to their first battle, is lacking in both quality and quantity. Like the rest of the action up to that point, the finale features more fast punching and tumbling, sprinkled with stunts, and lacking the intensity and atmosphere of their previous fight. There is nothing here that’s on the same level as their first clash, which successfully matched Chan’s less elaborate fighting style against all of Whang’s impressive joint-locking techniques and classic Hapkido kicking combinations. The extended, epic, battle-to-the finish feel of the earlier film’s final fight is totally missing here. Though Whang gets some good bootwork in, and Jackie is in top shape, the feeling that both of these guys have done better work together onscreen before is still evident. Though there are solid moments in the finale, with harrowing bits, and hard falls, it simply does not deliver on its promise.

My opinion of the final fight of DRAGON LORD is also representative of my feelings towards the film as a whole. Though all the ingredients are there for another classic kung fu comedy- the setting, the actors at the top of their game, and a capable filmmaker behind the camera- the results are simply not enough to achieve true greatness.

In the end, DRAGON LORD stands as an interesting creative exercise that tries to combine the best of two worlds;  an old school movie with new school ideas. But it does not quite reach the heights of the legendary Jackie Chan films that preceded it, nor the stunt-heavy classics that would follow.

The film is recommended only due to a few moments of brilliant stunt work, making it an only slightly above-average film.

For a more successful example of a Jackie Chan film that combines modern stunts with traditional martial arts, I would recommend DRUNKEN MASTER 2 (1994).