Dragons Forever

This collaboration between Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao is a terrific action/comedy film, but it is also a thinly veiled endorsement of the then impending handover of HK to China. Its title Dragons Forever (dragons are often used as a metaphor for a country in Asia – ie Little Dragons) indicates a sympathy for the uniting of a greater China. This impression is reinforced by the fact that there are three of them – and though they often fight each other  in the end they must band together to defeat the bad guys. Sammo clearly represents China (I assume because of his girth), Jackie as the immoral lawyer must be Taiwan and Yuen as a slightly paranoid claustrophobic (hates small spaces – ie HK) is HK looking towards the future. Yuen’s statement to Jackie “Keep moving forward and never turning back. Birds are the disciplines of capitalism. Fish are the disciples of Communism” indicates his belief about taking the best of both ideologies and melding them together for the future. Yuen Wah as the villain with his cigars and pinstripe suits could only represent the USA.

Or maybe not! I’ve been reading the Stokes/Hoover book "City on Fire" in which they interpret many HK films as being influenced by the Handover and containing a great deal of subtext. It seemed like a fun game so I thought I would give it a go!

Cutting back to the movie – this was the last time these three would appear together in a film (so far – we can always hope) thus making the title a bit ironic. There was apparently a falling out between Jackie and Sammo who directed this, but the two of them have again worked together in the past few years.

The film has a great mixture of action, comedy and even a little romance that makes it an enjoyable treat. The trio wanted to give their characters a bit of an edge in this film and not make them as likable as they always were in previous films. Apparently lawyers are no better liked in HK as Jackie takes on the role of a sleazy womanizing lawyer, Sammo is a flim-flam man and Yuen is just basically crazy.

Deannie Yip owns a fishpond into which Yuen Wah’s factory is pouring pollutants. She sues him and he gets Jackie to defend him. Not being particularly scrupulous, Jackie hires Yuen to bug her house and hires Sammo to woo Deannie and influence her to sell the fishpond. At the same time he romances Pauline Yeung – the water evaluator – to try and get some inside information. In the end of course the boys come around to the right side of both the law and love and take on Yuen Wah who is in fact using the factory to refine cocaine.
There are of course a number of fights along the way – most of them fairly short but well done. On a couple occasions the three of them fight each other and these were quite humorous. Jackie has a good solo fight on a ship in which he takes on a number of bad guys – Dick Wei being one. All of these fights though are only preliminaries for the final piece de resistance.
This last fight is one of the very best in their catalog. It’s a masterpiece that I never tire of watching. It is full of breathtaking moves and incredibly fierce action. In many ways Yuen Biao is the star of this action sequence. He shows some acrobatic moves on a catwalk and then a perfect jump through a window of broken glass that needs to be seen to be believed. I have watched it often and still gasp in amazement. He then takes on Billy Chow for a one on one.
Jackie then has a one on one rematch (they also fought in Wheels on Meals) with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez that is brilliant and savage. According to Gentry’s book Jackie Chan, they brought in Benny at the last minute because the finale lacked enough oomph and filmed the fight in 24-hours. It’s incredible what can be done in a 24 hours period in HK films!

My rating for this film: 8.0

The Differences between the Hong Kong DVD and the U.S. Video
By Lord Wah

The American distributor has of course, butchered this film to pieces, but there are actually a few scenes that were cut from the HK version that are included in the American cut.  I will explain later on.

From the beginning of the movie until the scene with Sammo trying to sell the dummy guns to the criminals, everything is pretty much the same between the two versions.  The only thing I noticed up to this point was that there was a piece of music cut out when Sammo does his little victory dance after fighting off the criminals on the HK version.

Now this is where it gets weird.  Anybody who’s accustomed to seeing Yuen Biao’s psychiatrist visitation scene from the US version will be shocked to see that it’s not in the HK version for some unknown reason.  Not only does Yuen’s wonderfully psychotic acting go unseen, but so does Stanley Fung Shui Fan’s cameo appearance. Be forewarned; this isn’t the only Yuen scene cut from the HK version.

Later on in the movie in the HK version, when Sammo and Deannie Yip are fishing together, a scene with Sammo doing a Peking Opera-type little number was cut out.  Too bad this was cut because it’s always a lot of fun to see him sing and dance like that.  And as they walked off together, another piece of singing was cut.

From the HK version, I can’t believe they cut out the scene when Yuen goes to the psychiatrist the second time!  I’m sure everyone knows the whole scenario: the doctor’s office is being held up and Yuen taking the advice of some thug posing as the doctor while talking to Yuen over the intercom. Having this scene cut was a bad idea, because it gets really confusing later on as to why Yuen’s character comes to kill Jackie’s girlfriend claiming that he has to kill all the witnesses. Again, this is a scene that is in the American version but missing from the HK version.

In the scene where the final court hearing is being held about the dispute between the chemical factory and the fishpond, there are a few minutes cut from the US version.  Namely when Jackie asks his lady friend, Ling (who happens to be the prosecutor of his defendant) if she loves him or not.  This scene was shortened a bit, because she answered “No” at first, then he reminds her that she is in court and has to answer truthfully.   After that when it is all resolved and the courtroom is clearing out, another part was cut with the two lovers holding hands and smiling at each other.

Ever wonder how Jackie, Yuen and Ling got into the chemical works?  Well, in the HK version there was a scene that showed them sneaking around in the factory, with Yuen telling them everything that happened when Sammo was captured.  Then the three of them sneak up to the secret door that leads to the hidden part of the factory where Sammo is being kept and drugs are being made.  Before they rush in, Jackie grabs a pair of pants off a clothes rack and hands them to Ling to put on under her skirt.  There was a guy guarding the secret door, so they send Ling to distract him while Jackie comes up behind and gives the guy power-kick right in the head!  Now that’s how you get in unharassed!

Everything from here until the end of the movie is all the same, including the absence of out-takes.  Only the Japanese version has out-takes.  When it comes down to which version to get, it’s probably best to see both the American and HK versions to get the whole story.