Made in China in the late 80s, Dragons of the Orient is a respectful survey of martial arts set against a lush backdrop of cultural sites and natural scenery and accompanied by a swelling soundtrack. The tone of this movie seems to be a mixture of corporate video and the tamer type of travelogue. Cheesy dubbed American voices talk us through a rudimentary history of Chinese martial arts, and provide a loose narrative context for the dazzling displays of martial arts that constitute most of the material of this film. The martial artists include Shaolin monks (who all seem to have unbelievably skinny ankles), silk pyjama clad elite Chinese wu shu athletes, and amazingly nimble geriatric martial artists (one is 100 years old and there are also a few in their 90s), just to name a few. Fans of Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple films will recognize the marvelous Yu Hai, who, for some reason, has been made up so heavily that he resembles a drag queen but who, nevertheless, does a great display of praying mantis style.
And speaking of Jet Li, there is lots of footage of him accompanied by a gushing narrative that suggests that whichever member of the People’s Scriptwriting collective was assigned the task of writing the narrative of this film had a serious crush on the young Jet. Fans of Jet will enjoy this footage as it shows him as a child and chubby faced teen earnestly performing wu shu routines and demonstrating the skill that made him a national champion of this sport and lead many to proclaim him a prodigy. My turn to gush now – my favourite is his demonstration of drunken sword at the end. Jet went on to perform drunken pole in Shaolin Temple and drunken boxing in The Last Hero in China. It is an incredibly graceful style and I could watch it forever.