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The latest Hong Kong Legends title to drop onto my doormat represents a radical departure for action superstars Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. Heart of the Dragon (Long de xin in Cantonese) does away with much of the high-kicking antics that made the duo famous, focusing instead on dramatic elements as it explores the relationship between two very different brothers.

Heart of the Dragon
Film
Jackie Chan star as Tat Fung, a SWAT team officer who dreams of resigning from the force to go sailing around the world. However, his dreams have thus far taken a back seat to his responsibilities, including those as carer to his older brother (Sammo Hung), who suffers from a severe learning difficulty, and to his loving girlfriend (Emily Chu). While playing cops and robbers with his friends, Tat’s brother inadvertently gains possession of the loot from a robbery after the courier mistakes him for a real policeman. Fearing a reprisal from his boss, the courier seeks police protection in exchange for informing on his associates, and so in an attempt to force Tat to divulge the whereabouts of the informant, the gang kidnap his brother. With his brother’s fate in his hands, Tat is forced to decide between the two most important things in his life: his family and his career.

Video
The film is presented in the slightly cropped 1.78:1 ratio, complete with customary anamorphic enhancement. Sadly the transfer is somewhat lacking when compared to recent Hong Kong Legends efforts. The image is a little too soft for my liking, and features an excessive amount of grain throughout. There’s also a terribly distracting moment during the car chase when the image quality deteriorates and drifts out of focus for what seems like an eternity. Contrast and black levels were also a problem, particularly during the darker scenes at the construction site towards the end of the film. Colour rendition is passable, but even this is suffers when compared to the region one release.  Obviously a lot of the problems stem from the condition of the source material, and while this is still a fairly impressive restoration job considering what they had to work with, I don’t rate this as highly as most recent efforts.

Heart of the Dragon
Audio
As with the video before it, the audio leaves a little to be desired. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both the original Cantonese and dubbed English, the track is terribly flat throughout, resulting in an unsatisfying listening experience. Now I know that Hong Kong flicks of this era didn’t exactly have dynamic soundtracks to begin with, but Heart of the Dragon suffers in comparison to almost every HKL release in my collection (and that’s quite a few now). This lifelessness makes the already conspicuous looping even more obvious, and extremes of bass and treble cause the track no end of problems.

The dialogue issues are exacerbated by the relatively poor quality of the subtitles, which border on what many would refer to as ‘dubtitles’. There are times when the subtitles mirror the English dub all too closely, and one particularly bad instance is highlighted when Bey Logan talks us through a scene in the commentary. The subtitles bare little resemblance to Bey‘s translation, and serve only to dumb down the exchange.

Heart of the Dragon
Extras
We begin with the usual Bey Logan commentary, and for once I have some negative things to say. While packed with a host of interesting and informative titbits, the track does tend to stray into irrelevancy more often than I’d like. In fact, there are times when Logan misses the opportunity to talk about important on-screen events because he’s too busy finishing an anecdote about something completely unrelated to the scene. A good example of this is how he takes and runs with the appearance of a He-Man toy (Clawful, if you must know) and starts banging on about the Ultraman cartoon. Quite how he connected or confused the two is beyond me. It’s this sort of thing that leads him to completely ignore Sammo Hung’s first appearance in the movie. However, even on a bad day Logan is better than most, and there is still enough here to keep even the most demand viewer happy. During the course of the commentary not only do we learn Sammo Hung’s real name, but also the names of virtually every single actor to appear on screen (no matter how small their role), and the location of Mike Leeder’s home! Oh, and of course, Bey manages to mention The Medallion the usual half dozen times…

Different Strokes is an eleven minute interview with actor, director, and living legend, Sammo Hung. Conducted primarily in Cantonese (although Sammo does occasionally slip into English), the lovely Jocelyn Tse poses questions about the genesis of the film, the various different versions, and more. On the whole this is an interesting piece, but there are times when Sammo seems a little aggravated with the interviewer (specifically when, in his eyes, her information is incorrect).

Heart of the Dragon
Forced Perspective is yet another interview with cinematographer Arthur Wong (this guy’s becoming a regular), in which he discusses how he got his start in the business with Shaw Brothers, working his way up to cameraman by the tender age of twenty. This is another interesting piece, but a lot of Wong’s comments about his early career are repeated on other HKL releases.

Three deleted scenes follow. These include the two much talked-about fight sequences and one slightly extended clip of violence involving a pickaxe. The audio-visual quality of these scenes is poor when compared to the main feature, but they do their job well enough to get the message across. While the scenes are impressive enough in themselves, I can understand the reasoning behind their omission.

The trailer gallery contains both the UK promotional and theatrical trailers, the latter of which runs for over five minutes and has more in common with an MTV music video than anything else. The UK trailer does the job of promoting the film a little better, but it still makes it out to be something it’s not. The final feature on the disc is a short biography of Bey Logan himself, which makes for interesting reading provided you’ve never seen it before!

Heart of the Dragon
Overall
After watching the trailer and viewing the DVD artwork, Heart of the Dragon came as something of a surprise. I was expecting another fast-paced action flick, but instead I was greeted with a fairly sedate movie that gives more thought to characterisation than any other Jackie/Sammo flick I’ve yet seen. The film is, at times, genuinely touching, with both Jack and Sammo putting in credible dramatic performances of the kind not normally associated with films of this ilk, but overall I thought the film failed to succeed as either an action or a dramatic piece. However, all in all I found Heart of the Dragon a relatively pleasant way to pass an hour and a half, and although the disc doesn’t quite live up to the high standards set by other HKL releases it is still worth checking out.


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