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Dragon Lord was the follow-up to Jackie Chan's prior mega-hits which were produced at Golden Harvest studios, namely The Young Master (1980) and Drunken Master (1978).  It was created somewhat to redeem himself of the unfortunate (but in the end, valuable) experience he had when attempting to break into the American film market with 1982's The Big Brawl aka Battle Creek Brawl.  And as is mentioned within this DVD, the plot holds very remarkable similarities to his 1992 film Drunken Master II.

His disappointment in America was repeated when he returned to film the unfortunate The Protector in 1985, so out of frustration he decided to re-film all the inferior action sequences and many dialogue scenes back in his native Hong Kong, this was all cut-and-pasted back into the original American footage against the adamant protest of its director.  Weirdly enough, the inconsistencies here were so obvious that it didn't seem all that apparent to the viewer.  He then devised his own Hong Kong derivative with the successful Police Story movie which went on to becoming an equally popular franchise.

He gave up nearly all hope of being recognised in the West until almost ten years later when he was convinced to give it one more go - his admirable efforts resulted in a "third time lucky" situation when he filmed a number called Rumble In The Bronx (on location in Montreal, Canada).  The Hong Kong version was 107 minutes long but American distributor-newbies New Line requested that it be much shorter, so this time Jackie Chan asked to supervise the re-edit and re-scoring of his baby down to an 82 minute opus - this unique arrangement resulted in a huge success for both of the new boys in Hollywood.

"Here, catch this ... ha ha, psyche!"
When Jackie Chan first became the most bankable Asian star in the early 1980s, Dragon Lord was the film that began a very long nightmare for Golden Harvest since he could now call for any amount of money to make his movies with, even when it meant that the initial budget estimate would be blown sky-high if everything wasn't to his satisfaction on-screen - it was either that or he simply would not shoot his movies at all.  In the end, this film didn't light up the box-office like his last two efforts had in Hong Kong.

The first rough-cut of this film was well over 5 hours long - this of course was something that not even Dances With Wolves two years hence could get away with in the cinemas.  Jackie Chan most likely had so many ideas floating around in his head from his last 20 years of Chinese Opera that he probably took this chance to film them all at once, even if much of it never got past his editing suite.  Still this 90 minute foray into excessiveness does follow a reasonably understandable linear path considering that there wasn't a script drawn up when filming began (as well as the excised footage containing other subplots).

This movie was an imaginative work of genius whereby every other filmmaker was just wanting to copy what was currently popular, that being other Jackie Chan movies.  So he figured that since everyone had already seen Kung Fu done to death he then decided to risk his and everyone else's life and limbs in order to create something dangerously new - a spectacular opening sequence involving a huge bamboo tower for everyone to climb on and retrieve a football-like prop for over 100 people in four teams to literally drag into their goal.  It's then a wonderful combination of comedy, drama, romance, narrowly missed spears in the butt, some entertaining martial arts and finally a brilliant Tae Kwon Do vs Kung Fu finale.

Movie
The plot revolves around Dragon (Jackie Chan) and best buddy Cowboy (Mars) with their fathers also being life-long friends before them.  After the annual sticky-bun tower game is won, the two friends follow the girls around town and they both spy upon one particular female that catches their eye, Alice (Sidney Yim).  Dragon devises a sneaky plan to divert Cowboy away from her, but it backfires on Dragon with shameful consequences and the potential loss of his friend forever.  However, they soon resolve their differences and the mischievous duo are back to chasing the skirts.

"Phoar, I didn't know you could do that with a scrubbing board!"
A gang in a nearby dwelling is collecting and packaging precious Chinese artifacts to be sold off to Western buyers.  Tiger (Wai-Man Chan) is a reluctant party to this practice and has some colleagues within this group who secretively feel the same way as he does, but The Big Boss (Ing-Sik Whang) along with his trusty cohorts Hatchetman (Young Moon Kwan) and Killer King (Hark-On Fung) will do anything to stop the truth from being revealed.  After Tiger escapes with his friends' help, Dragon and Cowboy inadvertantly come across the hidden Tiger and then the gang itself who are searching for him.

Afterwards, Dragon's team are playing in the Grand Final of shuttlecock (a cross between badmitton and soccer).  Dragon soon finds out what this mysterious gang has really up to and he pulls out all the stops with his best friend and Tiger to put a halt to their proceedings.  What follows is a showdown between Dragon, Cowboy and The Big Boss that gives new meaning to having your posterior rearranged.

Video
This flawed masterpiece of Hong Kong cinema has unfortunately experienced one of the worst storage and production values ever within this industry, even though Jackie Chan's two previous films are comparitively spectacular in quality from the HKL archives.  This is not to say that anyone in particular is to blame for how this film looks today - it is more a product of the time when Jackie Chan was under extreme pressure to finally release this film in whatever form he could so that the running time would be "cinema friendly" - also the box-office receipts probably deemed this film as not "archive worthy" either.

Considering the amount of artifacting that this movie suffers, HKL have no doubt done their utmost with the elements on hand.  On the whole there is a considerable amount of grain and dirt which probably has had a good cleanup in the remastering, but the moving image itself shows a poor consistency of brightness and stability that it is simply unavoidable in this case.  The transfer has been given a relatively healthy average of 5.37mbps to keep up with any digital problems that may arise in the encoding.

Blacks for the most part are deep enough so that they don't come across as annoyingly grey except in maybe a few unavoidable instances, the shadow detail sufficient enough for you to follow everything that happens on-screen even in the purposely darkly-lit scenes.  Colours are understated but definable enough to help in following the four different teams that have separate head-bands signifying everyone from each other.  However, skintones show a major shift in saturation levels as each particular sequence is played, from the studio interiors to the outdoor shots of open fields or town streets etc.

How to make a Chinese omelette.
Focus is understandably soft for the entire running time of the feature, it isn't so bad that it's unwatchable but don't expect any miracles to come from these source elements.

Audio
Again, the quality of these soundtrack recordings leaves a lot to be desired, but this was of course the golden age of "as-low-budget-as-possible" filmmaking production values in Hong Kong.  It must be said that the dangers of bringing out poorly recorded audio material into today's 24-bit / 96khz world is always fraught with dangers - the main problem with this is when there are certain audio sources which may have been of better quality than some others (say the music is clearer than the sound effects), then you have this problem of not only differing sound levels but also the clarity for various parts of the mix.  This movie is especially problematic with the English version, but unless you have someone from Lucasfilm's THX acoustic specialists on hand to modify every single piece of audio then I'm afraid that these aural shortcomings will have to remain as muddy (or as clear) as they stand right now.

The two soundtracks of Cantonese and English are perfectly servicable and are stored as Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes.  The Cantonese soundmix is quite muffled compared to the much brighter English one but both are clear enough to understand what is being said without much effort.  Also, the redubbed English translations are so different to their more accurately subtitled ones that it could almost be considered a different movie, however the motivations for all the characters stay remarkably the same even when the dialogue being conveyed may exhibit completely separate things at the same time.

The sound effects and music in general is also quite unremarkable but they serve their purpose quite reasonably enough - it could be said that issuing a full 5.1 discrete soundmix is overkill in this case but I think that it should only matter if the remastering itself doesn't come undone when the format is ultimately utilised.  The surround channels are given token usage at best with only the occasional workout for environmental and musical cues, but unfortunately there is almost nothing in the way of sound effects here let alone something that could be deemed as split-surround.  The subwoofer is almost non-existant to the point of complete redundancy, I personally wasn't even aware that it was turned on.

All in all, these 5.1 remixes are produced well enough for your listening pleasure of each soundtrack.

"Hey, what's happened to my home theatre setup all of a sudden?"
Extras
To what is now quite standard in these DVDs, HKL went to chase up some of the parties involved to give retrospective interviews on this now 20 year old movie, as well as renting the services of grandmaster Bey Logan to bend our ears once more with his knowledge of everything in and around the Hong Kong movie business - he will again inform you of what there is to know about this often neglected movie.

The Audio Commentary from Bey Logan is once again remarkable with all the trivia that he recites about this and other Hong Kong movies, it typically goes well beyond the borders of "information overload" mainly because of the names and places that will most likely be forgetten about five seconds after they're mentioned.  However, I'm sure that in years to come these extremely well researched verbal pots of gold will be an invaluable resource tool for those wishing to study up on the golden age of this industry and they may well be the source of a well-written book on the subject one day - so to Bey Logan, thank you for your dedication in this pioneering genre of filmmaking, considering that Hollywood may lay claim in years to come that they invented this now popular style of action (I wouldn't put it past them to be honest).

Under the Special Features menu you will find the UK & Promo Trailers for the movie as well as three separate Interviews - co-star Mars (30 mins), producer Louis Sit (9 mins) and the villianous kickster Wong In-Sik (12 mins).  The talk with Mars is quite an informative look at his own life and then moves onto his involvement and long-term friendship with Jackie Chan which still lasts today.  Louis Sit's interview is little more than a recap of what we heard before from the other extras but it's nice to hear from the man who helped continue on the popularity and phenomenon of Jackie Chan.  Lastly, Wong In-Sik who plays the bad guy biggie in this piece conducts a simple yet deep discussion about his philosophies with martial arts (Tae Kwon Do) and his involvement in the film - I enjoyed this more so for the fact that I train in this discipline myself and recognised much of what he teaches in his classes.

The Further Attractions menu holds six UK Trailers for HKL's already released titles - The Young Master, Project A S.E., Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Swordsman, Flaming Brothers and First Option.

"Tell me again, are we in Mortal Kombat or The Matrix?"
By the way, the Audio Commentary is oddly placed within the Subtitle Options menu system so don't panic if you can't find it at first (or just push the Audio button thrice when playing the movie).  Also, there is a factoid about this film that gets repeated in every single extra here, this is about the filming that was moved to Taiwan after it was deemed that Korea was just "too cold".  As much as it might prove to be slightly repetitive for some people, it is no doubt something that stayed in the minds of everyone involved with the production (since it's pretty hard to ignore that kind of thing at the time).

Summary
This movie truly does deserve a place in cinematic history simply for the lessons that everyone learnt whilst making it (the cast & crew, Golden Harvest and Jackie Chan himself) - not only for the major financial risks involved but also for a five-second sequence in the shuttlecock game footage that took Jackie Chan well over 1,000 takes to perfect.  If anything, the energetic 12 minute finale alone is enough to want to purchase this disc, at least for the sake of completing your Jackie Chan film collection.

As for the rating of UK-18 on this DVD, it begs all reason why this movie was deemed so unsavoury by the BBFC.  The only questionable things that would warrant such a high classification are the near misses of weaponry against human skin and the often lude comments made by the males towards the females on-screen - nobody actually dies in this movie and it pretty much plays out as a very comic adventure.  I can see that the suggestive comments towards the women wouldn't be tolerated in Western society so this may have swayed their decision - but it should be realised that traditional Chinese Opera still had a major influence in the Hong Kong film business whereby every facet of story-telling was very over-the-top and stylised on stage in order to present a moralistic point of view within Asian society.

Jackie Chan fans may well be disappointed with the quality of this presentation but it is simply an issue that could not be resolved without maybe a fully hand-crafted digital restoration of every film-frame and major processing of the original sound elements into something equally consistent.  But if you've had the VHS of this movie lying in the cupboard for some time now, then this upgrade shouldn't disappoint.


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