8 October 2017 | Skaigear
While not a terrible movie, the only good reason to watch it is two words: Donnie Yen
Chasing the Dragon is a Chinese crime drama film directed by Wong Jing and stars Donnie Yen and Andy Lau. When I first heard about the movie in production last year, a biopic based off the true story of infamous crippled Hong Kong gangster Ng Sek Ho, I thought it was a strange choice to have a world-renowned action star like Donnie Yen play him. Not that he is a bad actor or anything, but Yen is more famous for his karate chops than his acting chops. So who in their right minds would cast him as a handicapped character, essentially immobilizing and disallowing him to what he does best? Equally peculiar of a choice is Wong Jing as the director of the film. I felt his slapstick humor and sloppy storytelling would conflict with the overall serious tone intended for the movie. Coming out of the theater, I felt Donnie Yen is once again the best thing about a movie featuring him, but unfortunately Wong Jing's amateurish direction ruins everything just about everything else.
Donnie Yen plays Ho, an illegal mainland Chinese immigrant in Hong Kong. His character is very sympathetic, as he is family man looking after his people, earning 10 Hong Kong dollars a night as a street fighter. Here he gives the best performance I have ever seen and I really enjoyed his character, I felt he was able to channel between different emotions and display empathy, sympathy, loyalty and relentlessness. While he is probably not going to win an Oscar in February, he did go above and beyond his usual spectrum. The Chaozhou accent and language he used was very good and along with the excellent costumes and set design of 1960's Hong Kong, giving the film an overall authentic feel.
Where Chasing the Dragon really failed however was the storytelling, particularly as it relates to the editing and pacing. The movie starts out very simple and easy to follow, but soon expands unnecessarily to convoluting proportions with subplots of different crime bosses and corrupt officials I did not really care about. One of the worst piece of editing I have ever seen was a tragic sequence that bookends the first act. The scene was supposed to make you feel emotional and wrecked, but it just made me roll my eyes the entire time. I felt really annoyed because story-wise, the tragedy made very little sense for us to feel sad since we do not even know who the character is, but the technical execution of the scene was even worse. The film then transitions months ahead into the story and at that point, it had no idea what it wanted to focus on. Was it his love for his brothers? His friendship with Andy Lau? His mourning of his family? His desire to rise to the top? No, the film touches upon everything only slightly, but never truly exploring any of it in great details. Any of important plot points were montaged through quickly, with the director expecting the audience to know the true backstory to fill in the gaps. Instead of seeing Ho earning his power, we just see things getting handed to him. What exactly has he done except being a good fighter and a loyal friend to deserve all the accolades? Another big issue I have is the final 20 minutes, which pertains a subplot that blows up and becomes the main plot and the whole movie then turns into a revenge fantasy for no reason at all, because the writers said so.
My initial trepidation of Donnie Yen playing a crippled character, hindering his ability to perform his trademark moves was right on point. Donnie's acting was good, but because for half the movie he can barely walk, he is utterly wasted nonetheless. Simply put Chasing the Dragon is not an action movie, so if you go in expecting Ip Man quality fight scenes, you will be sorely disappointed. There are few hand to hand action scenes in the first half, but even those were poorly done by Donnie Yen standards. They were short, shaky and lack the oomph of a satisfying fight scene.
Overall, I feel the movie failed to tell a compelling story with its cast and production value. Wong Jing was definitely a very poor choice of director, and it shows throughout. His style simply does not mesh well for the story content. Who is the movie made for? Action fans? The action is not very good. Crime drama fans? The drama is muddled with technical problems. While not a terrible movie, the only good reason to watch it is two words: Donnie Yen.