Well… there’s not much I can say about this somewhat glum and tedious film. A point of novelty is that a young Stephen Chow has a large supporting part and this is the only film he has ever made with Jet Li. Both of them were in the early stages of their careers, and neither of them had achieved the fame they were to enjoy in later years. Chow’s performance is this film is very competent but he is not displaying the lunatic genius that was to make his reputation in his future films. This is understandable – he is not directing this film and his part doesn’t give him the same creative scope as in his more famous movies.
Overall, the acting of most of the cast is quite decent, with, once again, the most ham fisted performance technique being displayed by the westerners in the film (where do they find them?). This was the 5th film that Jet Li made, coming between Born to Defence and The Master. After The Master came the groundbreaking Once Upon A Time In China which was to give Li a signature role in Wong Fei Hung and consolidate him as a star. The first 3 films were the Shaolin Temple films. In terms of Li’s acting style, I group Born to Defence, Dragon Fight and The Master together and see them as being a link between the broader, fruitier style of acting that was appropriate to his first 3 films set in Shaolin Temple, and the more authoritative, mature and nuanced approach to interpretation he was to start displaying from Once Upon A Time In China onwards. His acting in Dragon Fight and these other 2 films isn’t displaying quite the same sense of gravitas and subtlety that we see in his depiction of Wong Fei Hung, but his performance style is still showing far more subtlety and range than in the Shaolin Temple films. Of course, this has a lot to do with the parts he has been given, as well as being due to the gaining of experience. Wong Fei Hung is the first part with any depth that he gets a chance to play, and Once Upon A Time In China is a far more sophisticated film than any of the earlier films, in which he is only called upon to portray earnest and likeable youths in one dimensional stories. I find it interesting to map a course of his acting style through his films and to see where the beautifully modulated and focused performance ability that we see in his later films comes from. In Born to Defence, Dragon Fight and The Master we see this approach to performance slowly being cobbled together.
And perhaps that is the greatest point of interest in Dragon Fight for me. The fight scenes are quite good, especially the final one. But much the same could be said for most chopsockies. Actually I found myself wishing that there were more action scenes to enliven the dreary dialogue centred scenes. This is a fairly macho film with lots of tough guy posturing and close ups of folks getting punched in the head, and I have to say that this holds little attraction for me. I prefer more whimsy in my martial arts movies. Perhaps, the greatest problem with this film is that it seems to move along at a snail’s pace (Born to Defence and The Master are much more briskly paced, and the Shaolin Temple films burst at the seams with energy and colour). It is filmed with a sort of soap opera sensibility that bleeds any dynamism and vitality out of this quite average movie.