Some fans may be taken in by the film’s soppy theatrical trailer, implying that this is going to be a real tearjerker. Others may see the film’s cover, its title and lead actors Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung and believe they are about to see an all-out, adrenaline-fuelled action movie. A pessimist would say this is neither, but in reality it’s a bit of both, and chances are none of these fans would be disappointed by Sammo Hung’s Heart Of The Dragon
Tat (Chan) is a policeman who must take care of his mentally deficient younger brother Danny (Hung). Danny, with his pudding-bowl haircut and blue dungarees spends most of his time eating ice-cream and playing with his friends, children twenty years younger than him, to whom he is known as “Dodo”. Obviously, he can’t keep out of trouble, and Tat constantly has to look out for him, which is ruining his dreams of marriage and his salty ambition to be a sailor. One day, Danny fucks-up good and proper during a game of cops ‘n robbers, his impersonation of a policeman being good enough to cause a jewel thief to discard his loot and eventually turn informer. The gangsters aren’t chuffed and kidnap Danny. Tat, together with his buddies from the SWAT unit must go in and rescue him.
It has been suggested that Chan-fans both old and new may be disappointed with Heart Of The Dragon, Jackie’s excellent performance as the wannabe mariner already carrying his albatross leaving him relatively little opportunity for bone-crushing stunts and super-fast kung-fu mayhem. But even adrenaline junkies too hyped-up to appreciate Chan’s fantastic thespianism need not worry – around the halfway mark the action kicks in hard with a breathtaking car chase and a magnificent full-on battle in an abandoned warehouse. Some may also complain about the stark contrast between the movie’s two halves; after all, why not make the mix more smooth, pop a little more intensity into the first part? Well, to do that, would ruin the film altogether, completely destroying Heart Of The Dragon’s sincerity.
Hung too is fantastic as Tat’s dimwit brother (well-hung, you might say), managing to evoke sympathy from a role that would provoke laughs for a lesser actor. Potentially funny moments, like Danny becoming locked in a restaurant’s freezer, instead seem tragic, a credit to Hung both as an actor and director. A scene where Tat is afraid that passers-by will think he’s gay when he holds his brother’s hand is the stuff that cut-price comedy was once made of, but here would make any viewer feel a pang of guilt whilst suppressing a chortle. The most painful moment comes with Danny becoming the subject of a sleazy café-owner’s sadistic ridicule – it almost makes you ashamed to be human. It’s rare to see such an intelligent, heartfelt portrayal of mental-illness without the patronising hypocrisy of Hallmark made-for-TV tearjerkers, and certainly nothing like Guy N Smith’s pud-pulling retard Benjy in his market-stall best-seller Crab’s Moon.
Highly emotive, yet in no way boring, Heart Of The Dragon is a cracking film that sadly appears to have taken, over the years, a back seat in the careers of both Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan. Folk are well-advised to check-out this movie – it deserves a viewing if only to prevent it from becoming another “forgotten classic”.
Aka: Long De Xin, The First Mission, Heart Of Dragon
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.