Dragon [Blu-Ray] Peter Chen

Dragon [Blu-Ray] Peter Chen
7
Putting a classic story to good use, Peter Chen's Dragon (or Wu Axia, as it's more aptly titled in other countries) is a great example of how to effectively repurpose folklore for audiences that like their fantasy cut with a bit of realism. You may recognize the basic story — a highly skilled professional killer tries to start life over under a new identity — from many sources: One-Armed Swordsman, A History of Violence, most Joss Whedon shows and any number of super hero comic book storylines. Antiheroes are easier to relate to than the squeaky clean sort, so this tale mutates and endures — in these flawed prodigies, we can see our potential for redemption and participate in the worship of human ability at the same time. With the polished directing talents of Peter Chen behind the camera, a tight script, written by frequent collaborator Oi Wah Lam, and a cast who are almost as nimble when engaged in the acrobatics of subtle emotional interplay as when trading highly disciplined blows, Dragon skilfully blends a modern film noir sensibility with the fantastical embellishments of the wu axia genre. In an inspired performance, Takeshi Kaneshiro (Red Cliff, House of Flying Daggers) plays Xu Bai-jiu, a Sherlock Holmes-esque inspector brought in to investigate an altercation in a remote village, in which a simple farmer fluked his way to victory over two highly trained assassins. Xu reconstructs events in his head based on some serious CSI-ing and knowledge of arcane martial arts practices. The game of conceptual cat-and mouse supports the central mystery of the story — the identity of Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen, the fantastic IP Man) — and provides a great excuse to film graceful, highly elaborate action choreography in the pristine detail of high frame rate slow motion. As Xu breaks down the scenario, the action unfolds along with his postulations. Over the course of the film, the tone shifts from hints of whimsy to some downright macabre subject matter. It's to the credit of actors like Kaneshiro, Yen and Wei Tang (Lust, Caution), who plays Liu's supportive but emotionally guarded wife, Ayu, that no matter how outrageous the action and scenarios become, the story remains in the realm of believability. More modest in its aspirations, but adhering to a similar standard of professionalism, Dragon is the best film of its kind since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As is common with foreign films, the behind-the-scenes footage is more candid than that typically found in North American cinema, where most people simply parrot the company line. Here, the director and actors discuss the challenges of working together and there is an overall sense of realistic self-assessment from everyone interviewed. The candour is refreshing. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a music video for the film's theme song. Judging by the scuzzy little slab of alternative sludge rock with lazily chanted lyrics, news of Kurt Cobain's death hasn't reached China yet. (eOne)