MAAC Review: THE INVINCIBLE DRAGON

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Fruit Chan’s long delayed The Invincible Dragon finally makes its ways to cinema screens, released on the coattails of Chan’s recent Three Husband’s (2019) and leading man Max Zhang’s Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2019). Originally titled The Man with the Dragon Tattoo, it is clear upon viewing the completed product that a retitle was not the only issue facing the action thriller. 

Sadly, The Invincible Dragon is one of the poorer films to come from both Chan and Zhang, at times blackly comic, brutally violent and tonally inconsistent. On many occasions this can work to a film’s advantage, being one of the contributing factors in many Hong Kong classics that set them apart from typical movie fare. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case with The Invincible Dragon, with these inconsistencies being a major detriment to the overall flow of the movie. Saying this, there are aspects of The Invincible Dragon that still make it a worthwhile viewing experience, notably a charismatic leading performance from Max Zhang and some well-done fight scenes.

The film opens with undercover cop Kowloon (Max Zhang) taking down a crime ring with him chasing a cameoing Lam Suet through a wedding banquet, only to shoot Suet’s arm off when he captures him. This action does not sit kindly with the higher ups, with them re-stationing him to a small precinct where it is thought he can do less damage. 

It is not long before Kowloon becomes involved in a serial killer case with the killer targeting female police officers. During the investigation, Kowloon’s fiancé Fang-ning (Stephy Tang) becomes the latest victim and Kowloon gets suspended from the force because he gets shot. Things only get more ridiculous from here.

Kowloon ends up wallowing in despair, with him only returning to the force once the killings begin again, this time in Macau. Through his investigation he is brought into contact with Gym owner Alexander Sinclair (Anderson Silva), who he had competed against years before. Could Sinclair be more involved in the case than he appears?

With Fruit Chan at the helm, it should have been apparent that The Invincible Dragon would not have been a straightforward action movie. Cutting his teeth on indie fare like Made in Hong Kong (1997) and The Longest Summer (1998), it would seem that The Invincible Dragon was more of a step towards the mainstream. It certainly seemed so in regards to the films promotional material. 

While it does initially appear that we are going to be served with a straightforward martial arts action thriller, similar to Max Zhang’s recent action hit The Brink (2017), Chan begins to fill his film with many stylistic touches that jar with the story being told. 

There are elements of film noir, with an unneeded voice over that is seemingly only included to explain away the plot as well as the inclusion of unnecessary black and white flashbacks. In addition, the film is poorly paced and incoherent. During the film, Zhang’s Kowloon is only given two weeks to catch the killer. With this, you would think he would perhaps spend his time focusing on the case, instead of spending his time getting back into shape in order to take on Sinclair. 

This is shown in a musical montage that harkens back to the action movies of the 80’s and 90’s. The film makers idea of making Zhang look out of shape is laughable, giving him some facial hair and what looks like a pillow stuffed into the front of his hoodie. Remarkably, his two weeks training seems to be enough to shape Zhang back into a lean, mean fighting machine. I would love a copy of his fitness regime.

Kowloon’s methods of detective work range from re-enacting crime scenes, angrily beating up suspects or having a dream about the case. Other’s speak of him being the best, but the film does not exactly show any evidence of him carrying out proper detective work, with him just coming to the correct conclusion. 

The incoherence of the film could perhaps be laid at the feet of someone other than Chan if he was not also responsible for the script. Working with long time writing partner Jason Lam Kee-To, their script is a convoluted mess. 

They do include some nice ideas, such as Kowloon clearly suffering from a mental illness and Sinclair having a little more depth than typical villains. However, even these are poorly established, with Chan and Lam’s script lacking the complexity of some of their previous work. 

It is unclear what they were trying to say with this film, as some of their other ventures have clearly had a message. It could be their attempt at a parody to the action genre, but this is not inherently clear. Audiences may gain more enjoyment from the film if they view it with less serious eyes. Come the ending, with it encroaching into more fantastical territory, it would be impossible to view it with anything else. 

Leading man Max Zhang does well enough with material he is given, even when the script has him do some extremely silly things. The film makers attempts at conveying mental illness leaves a lot to be desired, with one laughable scene having Zhang attempting to strangle himself. Still, Zhang manages to rise above the more laughable aspects of the film, with his charisma shining through.

As expected, he excels in the fight scenes, with his one on one fights with MMA legend Anderson Silva clearly being the highlights, even if they are not as epic as expected. 

Speaking of Silva, he also equips himself well in the fight scenes, but his acting leaves a lot to be desired. His line delivery is especially stilted and even though his character has some added depth, Silva is not a good enough actor to convey this.

Faring slightly better is Juju Chan, who does well in an underwritten role. Chan gets a good chance to show of her considerable physical skills during an exciting chase scene that culminates in her squaring off with Zhang on board an out of control train. 

Kevin Cheng and Endy Chow manage to add more to their characters than is on the written page, playing Kowloon’s fellow cops who assist him on the case.

There is also Annie Liu, who plays a clearly smitten doctor enamoured by Zhang’s Kowloon. She adds some fun to proceedings, with her character additionally being the means of bringing in Hong Kong movie legend Richard Ng, who makes any film better by just appearing.

As inconsistent as The Invincible Dragon is, it is visually appealing, with Chan employing the expertise of ace cinematographer Cheung Siu-Keung. A Johnnie To regular, he has carried out work on the likes of Running Out Of Time (1999), Election (2005) and more recently Three (2016). His lensing of the action is first rate, with him perfectly utilising both the Hong Kong and Macau settings. Only some woefully inept CGI detracts from his work, most notably during on otherwise well shot train set fight scene between Zhang and Juju Chan. 

In addition to the look of the film, the action somewhat saves The Invincible Dragon from complete mediocrity. Action choreographers Tung Wai and Jack Wong create a number of well-done fight scenes that are peppered throughout the film’s run time. The fights are slightly let down by some obvious wire work as well as the afore mentioned CGI. As well as this, some poor editing takes away from their overall impact. 

Still, Wai and Wong’s action still generates a fair level of excitement, even if their work here pales in comparison to their previous efforts. Tung Wai may be better known to some as the young boy Bruce Lee asks to “concentrate on the finger” in Enter the Dragon (1993), but he has created some of the most memorable action scenes in Hong Kong cinema. His work in minor classics Pom Pom and Hot Hot (1992) and Fox Hunter (1995) are especially noteworthy.

Jack Wong has worked alongside Tung Wai on numerous occasions, assisting on such films as Hitman (1998), Extreme Challenge (2001) and Bodyguards and Assassins (2009). Most recently they collaborated on the excellent Operation Mekong (2016), a far superior display of their skills than this film.

Ultimately The Invincible Dragon is nothing more than an interesting failure, with enough action to at least make it moderately interesting to martial arts fans. Fans of Fruit Chan may be put off by how different it is in comparison to his other work, but their curiosity should be sated if they were wondering how Chan would approach a mainstream feature.

Plot: 2.5/5
Acting: 3/5
Action: 3/5
Overall: 2.8/5

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