14 January 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
THE DRAGON MISSILE Another enjoyable, fast-paced Shaw Bros. adventure
THE DRAGON MISSILE (1976) boasts a clever plot, strong cast and lots of action to make for a better-than-average Shaw Bros. martial arts adventure. Lo Lieh stars as Sima Jun, a killer working for a corrupt lord whose orders are followed without question or hesitation. When the lord (Ku Feng) suffers from a life-threatening boil on his back, he is told by the Imperial doctor that an herb called "Longevity Rattan" offers the only cure and is grown in a remote village by an herbalist named Tan. Lo is sent on a mission to get the herb and bring it back before it's too late (seven days). A jealous aide saddles Lo with six other fighters to accompany him, i.e. steal the herb when they get the chance and race back to the capital so the aide will get the credit. Lo doesn't trust the six and none of them trust each other. At one point, one of the six nearly botches the whole mission.
After a certain amount of bloodshed involving the killing of at least four innocent people, Lo heads back with the herb, but is now pursued by a male-female pair who have each lost a parent and want revenge. This pair even makes an alliance with the one female fighter among the six "accompanying" Lo, who now has eight antagonists to worry about, all while trying to keep the herb safe and block various attempted thefts. And the six fighters are at each other's throats as well. Such escalating tension makes for a steady supply of fights and confrontations, insuring plenty of action and movement throughout the 82-minute film.
Lo sports an unusual pair of weapons, Dragon Blades, that function like boomerangs which always come back to him after he hurls them. They also function like Flying Guillotines, insofar as they're used most often to behead various victims. (Director Ho Meng-hua has a couple of Flying Guillotine films to his credit.) The other characters sport some interesting weapons as well, including the female fighter, Miss Sha (Terry Liu), who has blades that extend out of her fingernails. There are lots of twists and turns, much pursuit and doubling back, and a journey that takes place mostly outdoors past a backdrop of picturesque locations. At one point, Lo is a wanted man in his own city, scurrying about in back alleys as drawings of him are posted everywhere. It all culminates in a big battle at a fishing village. If I have any complaint, it's that the final action isn't extended or intricate enough and the resolution too weak given the great build-up. Another few minutes and a few more difficult moves could easily have been added to the fight finale.
Lo is an interesting protagonist because he works for an evil nobleman and kills on his orders even when he absolutely knows it's wrong, making him a bad guy, too. A certain amount of tension is created by the question of when he's going to turn against his boss and start doing the right thing. Is he strong enough to stand on his own or will he just follow orders to the bitter end? Eventually, such decisions are made for him. This whole angle of choice and loyalty and consequences makes the drama a little more compelling than usual for this type of film. The script is by prolific Shaw Bros. house scribe Ni Kuang.
In addition to Lo Lieh, the other fighters include the always dependable Fan Mei-sheng and Norman Chu and an actress I haven't seen often enough, Terry Liu, who's better known to Hong Kong movie fans as Princess Dragon Mom from the cult classic, SUPER INFRAMAN. The two actual good guys pursuing Lo are Liu Yung (aka Tony Liu), a Shaw Bros. regular (THE CONVICT KILLER), and Nancy Yen, who's better known to kung fu fans for her roles in such Joseph Kuo classics as SEVEN GRANDMASTERS and BORN INVINCIBLE. Veteran performers Ouyang Shafei, Yang Chi-ching, and Hao Li Jen all have good parts as well. The fight choreographers are Tang Chia and Yuen Cheung-Yan.