Issue #239a         HOME          E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com        BACK ISSUES        November 22nd, 2004

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Dragon From Russia
(1990; Cinema City)

Cantonese: Hung cheung fei lung
Mandarin: Hong chang fei long
English: Red Square Flying Dragon

 

RATING: 6/10

REVIEW:

A group of powerful assassins called "The Eight Hundred Dragons" ruthlessly hunts down any of their members who leave the organization. One such man, Cheuk Kau (Dean Shek Tien), has managed to avoid the clan for several years by hiding in Russia. When his whereabouts are revealed, the Dragons' leader, "The Master of the Dead," (played by both Yuen Tak and Yuen Wah) finds and executes both him and his daughter (Sarah Lee Lai-yui). The Master also kidnaps Manchurian swordsman Yao (Sam Hui Koon-kit), a friend of Cheuk Kau, and brainwashes him. After subjecting Yao to rigorous (and often humorous) training, The Master is attacked by one of his traitorous former students (Old School veteran Pai Ying), and he orders Yao to be taken to another clan sanctuary. Now known as "Freeman," he successfully carries out a series of assassinations, under the direction of senior clan member, Fu Fung-ling (Nina Li Chi). During one such mission, Yao slays Kishudo, "The Godfather of Japan" (Lau Shun), who was under the protection of Fu Gong-gwan (Carrie Ng Kar-lai), one of The Master's former students. While escaping, Yao is recognized by Yip Mou-mei (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk), his old girlfriend from Russia, who has not seen him since he was kidnapped. As she is a witness, he is ordered to eliminate her, but cannot, even though he has no memory of their love for one another. Yao must then protect Mou-mei from his fellow killers, while also dealing with the vengeful Gong-gwan.

Sam Hui Yuen Tak Maggie Cheung

Like KILLER’S ROMANCE, this Cinema City actioner is loosely based on Kazuo Koike's Japanese manga "Crying Freeman." Unlike that Phillip Ko film (which is a standard gangster meller, aside from its UK setting and location work), THE DRAGON FROM RUSSIA (onscreen title) suffers from aggressively peculiar and muddled plotting, a common fault of director Clarence Ford/Fok Yiu-leung's work. It does also benefit from some of Fok’s strengths, being a very handsome production, with location work in several countries, and four of the most beautiful leading ladies in HK cinema dressed to the hilt in a variety of stunning costumes (many of which incorporate traditional Japanese designs and cost a total of HK$1 million). The action scenes are absolutely spectacular, highlighting some of the most elaborate and thrilling wirework you will ever see. Unfortunately, the storyline is a wearisome mix of hackneyed foundations, jarring mood swings, and haphazard transitions, making for a less than satisfactory whole (in Fok’s defence, the film was recut by Cinema City bosses who left in the action, humor, and scenery and disposed of practically everything else). Loletta Lee Lai-chun and Anita Mui’s sister, Ann Mui Oi-fong (who, sadly, also succumbed to cancer) have supporting roles.

L to R: Maggie Cheung, Sarah Lee, Dean Shek Carrie Ng Nina Li (left), Sam Hui


PRESENTATION:

DRAGON FROM RUSSIA has been given a very nice rendition on this PAL release from England. The transfer is free of notable flaws, and the stereo re-mixes are generally an enhancement, rather than a distraction (though don’t mistake that as an endorsement of the godawful English dubbed version!). One thing this movie has always needed was a new English translation and the subtitles here are a huge improvement, helping to make the plot a little more cohesive and giving the characters their proper Chinese names, instead of nonsense like Snooker and Chimer.

Clarence Fok and actor/stuntman Jude Poyer can be heard on a commentary track, which gets off to a shaky start when Poyer gets the film’s release date wrong by two years. However, just about all bases are covered effectively, with Fok revealing things like the reason Yuen Wah and Yuen Tak (who also has a second role as Wong Dak-yuhn, one of the Eight Hundred Dragon’s assassins and handled the action choreography) alternated playing The Master of the Dead, and how Cinema City cut out two sequences that would have made the storyline a lot easier to follow (Fok’s original cut ran almost an hour longer). Other topics like locations, costumes, and the original manga are addressed, and the pair also chuckle over just how little of the action Sam Hui actually performed (Ricky Cheung Kwok-leung handled just about everything for him). The director appears onscreen in a 15 minute interview segment, mostly covering topics addressed in the commentary, and there is also a deleted scene, which was included in the old Cinema City LD version (the footage has been taken from that source, with the top and bottom re-matted to crop out the original Chinese/English subs).

Pai Ying Loletta Lee Maggie Cheung (left), Nina Li

The HK theatrical and UK video promo trailers are also on hand (oddly, some of the violence in the former has been awkwardly cut), along with spots for other Hong Kong Legends titles. The weakest extra is a superfluous 16 minute section featuring HKL regular Bey Logan and Maggie Q (NAKED WEAPON) talking about the movie. Logan’s commentaries on other HKL discs are a major part of their appeal, but this supplement is little more than an uninteresting promo puff piece for Q(uigley), an Eurasian model-turned-actress who has displayed little ability thus far.

This DVD is available from Hong Kong Legends.

Images in this review courtesy of Hong Kong Legends. To read captions, hover mouse over image.


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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

DVD Specifications

  • UK Release
  • PAL Region 2 Only
  • Hong Kong Legends #MDV 695
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Post-synced Cantonese and Dubbed English Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Dutch English Captions
  • 28 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (1.75:1)
  • 91 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: M 15+
  • Great Britain: 15
  • Hong Kong: IIB
  • Netherlands: 12
  • Ontario: AA
  • Quebec: 13+
  • Singapore: PG (cut)
  • Contains moderate violence

FILM REVIEW RATINGS KEY:

  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful