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Dragon Fist
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"You bastard! I love this shirt!"

Jackie Chan works an opponent in Dragon Fist.
Chinese: 龍拳  
Year: 1979
Director: Lo Wei
Producer: Hsu Li-Wa, Lo Wei
Action: Jackie Chan
Cast: Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, James Tien Chun, Yen Shi-Kwan (Yen Shi-Kwan), Hsu Hsia, Gam Ying-Fat, Ouyang Shafei, Wong Kwong-Yue, Chui Siu-Hung, Ko Keung, Peng Kong
The Skinny: A not-so-typical revenge flick from Jackie Chan's early Lo Wei years.
Review by

Before Jackie Chan hit it big with Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, he starred in a string of kung fu flops under the direction of Lo Wei. After working with Bruce Lee in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, the prolific director sought to make Chan into a similar type of action star. Of course, Chan wisely abandoned that philosophy and went the kung-fu comedy route when he was loaned out to Seasonal Films for a quick two-picture deal. Since Dragon Fist was released the year after those previously mentioned hits, Chan apparently had a few more films on his contract with Lo Wei. Though by no means a classic of the genre, Dragon Fist is much more than a typical chopsocky flick.

Chan stars as Tong How-Yuen, a devoted disciple of nice guy sifu San-Thye. His master has just won a hard-fought martial arts tournament only to end up getting killed by a dastardly misfit named Chung Chien-Kuen (Yang Yee-Kwan). Try as he might, Tong can't beat the guy, and the evil king fu master leaves without so much as a scratch on him. Now here's the moment that most kung fu flicks would just go on autopilot. Naturally, the audience would watch as Tong was forced to endure grueling training exercises with a new sifu as he honed his martial arts skills to their true potential. This, of course, would lead up to a final confrontation with Master Chung, right?

The funny thing is, none of that happens. Sure, Tong's skills improve considerably as the film progresses, so he must have prepared for the big showdown, but strangely, we don't see him experience a single Rocky Balboa-style training sequence. Furthermore, the villain ends up suffering a tragedy of his own, which causes the poor guy to atone for his sins in a way that most rational people wouldn't even begin to understand. And in another departure from traditional Jackie Chan fare, even Jackie's character ends up flirting with the dark side as his thirst for revenge temporarily gets him mixed up with some lowdown, dirty scoundrels. Of course, all is worked out by the finale, but the film's attempt to bend the conventions of the average chopsocky film is certainly admirable, and most definitely a welcome change of pace.

However, despite Jackie Chan carving his own comedic niche with Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, the specter of Bruce Lee still surrounds the film. The presence of frequent Bruce Lee co-stars Nora Miao and James Tien serve as unintentional reminders of the martial legend as are the Jackie Chan-coordinated fight scenes. The brutal efficiency of the battles are straight from the Little Dragon's repertoire as is the trademark exaggerated yell, which Chan conjures up for a few of the fight sequences. To his credit, the fights do contain traces of humor, but these hijinks are relegated to the reactions of Jackie Chan's combatants rather than the clown prince of kung fu himself. Still, the intricacy of the choreography exudes that undeniable old school charm. Ultimately, Dragon Fist may not feature Jackie Chan at his very best, but he's pretty darn good in what could have been a totally uninspired film. (Calvin McMillin 2003)

Notes: • This review is based on the Columbia Tri-Star DVD version, which boasts superior picture and the original language track, but reportedly cuts around twenty minutes of footage from the movie.
• The box art says Jackie Chan's character is named "Juan." Dios mio!
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and English Language Tracks
Removable English and Spanish Subtitles
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image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen