Dragons Forever marked the sixth and (so far) final team-up from the ‘three brothers’ of Hong Kong action cinema – Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. The trio studied together from childhood at the Peking Opera School, and their natural chemistry and awesome fighting skills helped make the best of their previous collaborations – Project A and Wheels on Meals – instant kung fu classics. Dragons Forever isn’t in the same league, but still provides some easy laughs and blistering fight scenes.
Chan plays a lawyer who is hired by a slimy corporate gangster (the great Yuen Wah) to represent his shady chemical company. The company is being sued by a woman (Deannie Yip) who claims that they are contaminating the waters of her fish farm, and to help the case, Jackie hires two friends – gun dealer Sammo and all-round crazy guy Biao – to spy on the woman. Matters get complicated when Sammo falls for the fish lady and Jackie develops similar feelings for her friend, an environmental scientist who intends to testify on her behalf.
Despite Dragons Forever’s star power, the film was a commercial disappointment on its domestic release in 1988, and its lack of success can be partly attributed to the fact that Jackie Chan was playing a character somewhat different to what Hong Kong audiences were used to. This guy wasn’t the usual prat-falling, unlucky-in-love Jackie, but a slick lawyer (albeit with a good heart), popular with the ladies and not afraid to bend a few rules; hardly radical changes, but enough to alienate the hardcore Jackie crowd. Similarly, the sight of loveable Sammo Hung selling guns and, in one scene, captured by the villains and pumped full of drugs, is somewhat at odds with the gentle, silly romantic comedy elsewhere in the film.
The plot is slight – almost incidental – but it does set up some entertaining sequences, both comic and action-orientated. There’s a very funny scene in which Jackie woos the environmentalist (played by Pauline Yeung), whilst trying to conceal the fact that both Sammo and Yuen are in his apartment, fighting it out in his bedroom. It’s inventive, amusing scenes like this that show why this trio were quite so popular at the time. What doesn’t work nearly so well are the love stories, which very quickly cross the line from sweet to sappy and take up far too much of the running time, largely at the expense of action.
Luckily what action there is is fantastic. All three leads get to indulge in the fighting – although as the biggest star (and with Sammo also directing alongside an uncredited Corey Yuen), Jackie gets the most combat. The best is saved for last – a bone-crunching confrontation with super-hard Benny Urquidez (best known as the rival hitman in Grosse Pointe Blank) – although along the way there is a showdown with a whole gang of thugs on a luxury liner and a series of scraps in the bad guys’ warehouse. As a director, Sammo Hung always ensured that his fights hurt, and the incredible choreography make some of them the best of the decade.
Dragons Forever isn’t as fondly remembered as many of Jackie Chan’s other films of the period, and lacks the consistency of Project A or Police Story. Indeed, it’s hard not to get restless during ridiculous scenes like when Jackie forces Pauline Yeung to testify in court that she loves him, or when Sammo confesses his feelings for Deannie Yip on a busy street with a megaphone. But the good stuff outweighs the bad and there’s much here to enjoy.
Aka: Fei Lung Maang Jeung
[Hong Kong Legends' two-disc DVD is the company’s usual top class job. As well as the regular audio commentary from the ever-engaging Bey Logan, there’s a retrospective feature hosted by Logan, deleted scenes, kung fu and stunt featurettes, galleries and much more.]
Hong Kong born actor, producer and director and one of the best known figures in Hong Kong cinema. Hung's large frame belies a formidable martial arts ability, and he's best known for his collaborations with Jackie Chan during the 1980s and more recently for his US TV show Martial Law.
In the nineties, he directed Jet Li in films like The Legend, The Defender and The Enforcer, which led to work as action choreographer on many of Li's Hollywood films, including The One, Kiss of the Dragon and Cradle 2 the Grave. Most recently, Yuen directed the Luc Besson-produced action hit The Transporter.