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Invincible Dragon, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Could be better, or at least more entertainingly weird."
2 stars

Every once in a while, I'm reminded how many films were produced in Hong Kong before the handover, and the sheer volume (four or five new movies a week for a population of 7.5 million packed into 415 square miles, roughly the size of New York City) beggars belief. It resulted in a fair number that were kind of half-baked, like the industry literally did not have the time and manpower to make all of that good, but the messiness that resulted had its own kind of charm. "The Invincible Dragon" arrives at the same sort of place via a different route, and while that means it's not exactly good, it's weird and messy in the same ways as those other oddities.

It's the story of Kowloon (Max Zhang Jin) - family name Kow, given name Loon, not necessarily named after the city - a detective who starts the film undercover only to have that end in impressively messy fashion, ruining some poor couple's wedding. He's assigned to a tiny precinct on the outskirts of the territory where nothing ever happens and referred to Dr. Kay Wong (Annie Liu Xin-You), whose traditional Chinese medicine may help with his OCD. Of course, once he and fiancée Fong Ning (Stephy Tang Lai-Yan) transfer there, a serial killer starts attacking policewomen, eventually resurfacing in Macau, where the latest victim was last seen in a yoga class Lady Lam Tik-Fong (JuJu Chan Yuk-Wan) runs in a casino resort where her Brazilian-American husband, MMA fighter Alexander Sinclair (Anderson Silva), is a major investor, meaning he must work with Macanese detective Tso Chi-Ta (Kevin Cheng Ka-Wing), who wisely wants nothing to do with this train wreck.

This compresses things a bit - a narrator has helpfully informed us that a few months have passed twice before the film is half-over - and glosses over how Kowloon's impressive dragon tattoo is inspired by a nine-headed dragon he claims to have seen while swimming when he was three. The narration is often a strange choice, waving the audience past what would often be the boring parts but still making Kowloon feel like a passive part of the story. Director Fruit Chan is best known for art-house films, and it would not be surprising if he and writer Lam Kee-To did this to pay the bills for Three Husbands; they spend a lot of time noodling around the edges of things. There's not really a whole lot of story here and the filmmakers aren't terribly interested in either going into details or using the genre framework as background for something else.

Not that you necessarily want this cast digging deep into emotion or the like. Max Zhang has proven a good adversary or foil in other people's movies, but his best leading role was in the spinoff Master Z where he had an impressive ensemble cast to work against, and despite all the quirks the film tries to give Kowloon - along with an ill-considered mustache that makes one wonder just what Chan and company are going for through much of the second act - he never quite becomes the sort of figure that makes a compelling center for this movie, and the sparks with Annie Liui Xin-You's Dr. Wong just never materialize. He's still more charismatic than Anderson Silva, a UFC Fighter brought in to bring credibility to the film's action scenes.

Which, it must be said, he does. Zhang is one of Hong Kong's best screen fighters and his big throwdowns with Silva and JuJu Chan's Lady are nicely choreographed by Stephen Tung and Jack Wong, with Chan eye-opening for how quick she moves and how nimbly she leaps between rooftops in Macau. She and Zhang have the best big fight scene, a one-on-one in a runaway train that shows the limits of the film's visual effects budget but still feels impressively frantic and dangerous. Some of that happens during the big finish out on a ledge dozens of stories high, but even with some seams visible, it still feels like a high-stakes battle with nifty choreography, at least before things get really screwy.

That screwiness toward the end may be a step too far for some, but I doubt it - the line between jaw-droppingly ill-conceived and insane creativity is always thin in the nutso flicks of earlier ages, and that's the case here. "The Invincible Dragon" is neither clever nor subversive enough to be a good action film, but it's occasionally just weird enough to be memorable.

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originally posted: 12/17/19 15:27:06
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Directed by
  Fruit Chan

Written by
  Fruit Chan
  Kee-to Lam

  John Zhang
  Annie Liu
  Anderson Silva
  Stephy Tang
  Kevin Cheng
  Juju Chan

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