12 December 2003 | wucan
Serious Seventies. Quality Chan.
If you're a recent Jackie Chan convert, or you've been watching his films since 'Police Story' his backlog of seventies films is a daunting place. There's a lot of terrible, terrible stuff out there. You might have seen 'Eagle Shadow Fist' or 'The Killer Meteors' and shied away from anything else. I wouldn't blame you. But he made some decent films in this era. It's just a matter of finding them.
The Director of Dragon Fist is a man called Lo Wei. I say a man, not a director. Lo Wei was more interested in Gambling than directing.
Bruce Lee nearly came to blows with Wei in the filming of 'Fist of Fury'. Wei spent more time listening to horse racing and sleeping than he did with a megaphone. The result? Lee got his own input. Better movie. That's maybe the point with Lo Wei. The less he directs, the more the other people direct. And that could be a good thing.
Lo Wei director or produced (almost) all of Jackie Chan's films between 1976 and 1978. Chan = Lee. That was the plan. At first anyway. His first starring role in this period was 'New Fist of Fury'. It didn't work. Wei was trying too hard. When he sleeps the stars talent takes over. Anyway, Chan can't play straight. Or can he?
Most of us will be cursed to see Dragon Fist in it's 4:3 pan and scan, poorly dubbed, damaged washed out version. Even taking this into account I think it's the best film Jackie did before 'Snake in the Eagles shadow.' (yes 'Snake and Crane arts of Shaolin' had the best action, but it wasn't as good a film.)
This film is crying out for a remake.
It takes the simple themes of revenge and distorts them till your not sure who's in the wrong. Or Right.
Yam Sai-Kun plays the bad guy. One of his earliest roles. He's a hard, hard man. In the late 60's he swam from China to Hong Kong with the aid of a basketball. He later played roles in Films such as 'Fearless Hyena' and 'Iron Monkey'. But this role, like Iron Robe Yen in 'Once Upon a Time in China' is one of his most psychologically complex. He chops off his leg early on to try and ease his guilt. His self redemption seems, to this viewer, to excuse him of his crime. That makes things more uncomfortable when it's the very crime that Jackie's out to avenge. Jackie, in his role as avenger, blurs the line between good and evil. He joins the 'bad guys' (to comply with the black and white polarisation of these films). He goes too far. But he goes further. There's always a point when you think. 'Come on Jackie, realise that your fighting for the wrong side, beat the hell out of them.' But he still fights. It's a dark film.
Budget constraints. Technological constraints. Lo Wei. Lot's of elements try and turn this film into the 70's schlock it's often compared to. But somehow it rises above all of this. The Choreography varies between the average and the mind blowing. Chan hasn't been better in a straight role until Crime Story (15 years later.) You can probably pick this up for a few pounds. If so it's a good place to start. Enjoy.