" It’s been 84 years and I can still smell the fresh paint "
— Gloria Stuart, Titanic

MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Jackie Chan has never been one for beautiful storytelling. Usually his movies follow a formula, with wide deviations for stunts, fights, etc. Dragon Lord is no exception, unless it is to say that the storytelling even less mature than in later films. Maybe there is an opera buffa style in Chinese filmmaking that this playground storytelling fits into. It seems more likely to believe that Chan, a likeable martial artist with a boyish sense of fun, was lucky enough to be allowed to write and direct his own movies.

Re-re-re-release

Dragon Lord has been released at least twice before on DVD
Dragon Lord has been released at least twice before on DVD

Dragon Lord is Chan’s directorial debut from 1982. It has been called, over the years, Dragon Strike, Dragon Fist, and Young Master in Love. It has been released before on DVD, at least twice, and at least once before in its widescreen format. There is no hint from Dimension Films why a new release was called for, but here it is.

Dragon Lord is set in an unspecified, simpler time, but a time when there were sports announcers, muskets, and zippers. The film’s big conflict involves bad men stealing vases from the common Chinese heritage, a plot device Chan repeats in later films.

The heart of the movie is more about Chan and his Beavis-like friend Cowboy (Mars). The actors are in their twenties, but their characters seem like they’re 14 and 15. They have adventures in a sporting club and flirt with giggly Chinese girl-women. Chan even puts a slingshot in his back pocket. I guess the Chinese Dennis the Menace is 22 instead of 8.

The connection between the protagonists and the vase thieves is tenuous at best — but then with Jackie Chan one doesn’t generally care too much about the plot, so long as the action sequences are worthy.

Sports and Martial Arts

Dragon Lord features two unusual sporting events, in addition to the usual stunts and fights. One is a mix of rugby and capture the flag; another is shuttlecock soccer. Both are strange excuses for some lithe and graceful martial arts moves. Dragon Lord has no amazing stunts. There are some good, standard fight scenes. But most impressive are the falls Chan and his fellow stuntmen take. A villain falls from a loft onto a dirt floor; Chan himself tumbles down a tin roof while spearheads poke up at him from below.

While the martial arts action is entertaining, Dragon Lord is not Chan’s best movie, and the plot and characters are so bad that only die-hard fans will be able to forgive them.

DVD Extras

The DVD’s extra features are very disappointing. Only a few trailers for other home video releases from Buena Vista are to be found, plus a language setup section. There are not even any outtakes over credits. Apparently Dragon Lord predates that tradition.

Picture and Sound

The places where the picture quality is bad illustrate how good the picture quality is elsewhere. Ends of reels show graininess and washed-out colors, but elsewhere, blacks are rich and solid and colors are lively. It is probably the case that picture quality problems come from source material and not from the DVD transfer, although it is also clear that this edition is not restored.

Sound doesn’t seem to be particularly important in this type of movie. All dialogue is dubbed into English, which is an acquired taste. The bad guys have deep gravelly voices. The cartoonish effect is like a fourth-grader giving voice to his plastic army guys. Some of the sound effects — a door creaking, for example — sound so out of place as to suggest that the entire original soundtrack was scrapped and re-recorded. The DVD encoding is just fine, but the haphazard soundtrack is merely adequate.

Dragon Lord is okay for martial arts fans or those viewing their way through the Jackie Chan canon. But for the casual viewer, there are better choices than Dragon Lord.