Not a Shining Moment For Hong Kong Action
Up and coming martial arts legend Max Zhang has already shown himself to be quite a presence in such films as Kill Zone 2, Ip Man 3, and Master Z: Ip Man Legacy. He even came out of the most unfortunate Escape Plan: The Extractors relatively unscathed. Here he plays Kowloon, a Hong Kong detective on the hunt for a serial killer taking out female police officers (including his own fiancee). While Zhang very much shined as the lead in Master Z, he can’t save this outright dud.
Before enumerating the various ways that Invincible Dragon simply doesn’t work, I’ll go ahead and share a few positive takeaways. Rising female action star Juju Chan (Wu Assassins, Savage Dog) gets an opportunity to show her skills as the mysterious yoga instructor Lady. Her battle with Kowloon on a subway car stood out as one of the better fight sequences in this action-heavy film.
Dang. You know? I hate to say it, but that’s really all I’ve got in terms of positivity. It’s actually hard to overstate how much I disliked Invincible Dragon. It was a very tough watch. As a huge fan of the golden era of heroic bloodshed films from Hong Kong, I just remember the time when Hong Kong cinema was the absolute arbiter of “cool”, showing the world how action cinema is done. Invincible Dragon feels like it’s trying to be badass at every turn, but just not hitting the mark.
Zhang isn’t necessarily the problem, what with his super sharp haircut and undercover goth look. But he’s saddled with a frankly dreadful script from Fruit Chan and Kee-To Lam. It’s a mystery without suspense featuring a killer without menace. It’s a rogue cop story without any soul. It’s a melodrama without any drama. And while this is really my first introduction to UFC star Anderson Silva either as a fighter or an actor, I’d have to say he really should stick to the former. I’m generally loath to say things like this, but Silva’s performance here is show-stoppingly bad. I assume he’s a native Portuguese speaker asked to film his dialogue sequences in English. And when he and Zhang are either trading combative grunts or threats with one another or attempting witty banter, both in broken English, the work just does not translate well, at least to this westerner. They’re not backed up by the aforementioned script, either.
Another element that maybe just didn’t land for me as a westerner that perhaps could have played differently to a native Chinese audience was the supernatural theme at play. Kowloon translated apparently means “9 dragons”, and our titular hero is tattooed with a giant dragon whom he saw in a vision during a near-drowning incident as a child. There’s this theme running throughout of what both dragons and tattoos symbolize, and Kowloon calls on the spirit of a very literal dragon god throughout the movie. It’s a shoddy CGI dragon that really plays poorly against the attempted slick/gritty Hong Kong street action of the rest of the film. Eventually this dragon spirit, still looking visually rough and cheap, physically intervenes in a giant fight sequence in a way that is supposed to be redemptive or dramatic (I believe), but simply fizzles into a slapstick climax that’s shockingly unsatisfying and ineffective.
I don’t know how others may react to Invincible Dragon, and I don’t even know if it was a big hit in its native China or not. I remain on the Max Zhang train and will continue to seek out his work. But it seems perhaps the filmmaking work of Fruit Chan and the acting work of Anderson Silva really aren’t for me. I hope others who check out the film find more to enjoy than I did, but I really struggled to make it through this one and found the mystery taking me exactly where I thought it would from the beginning and offering no surprises to keep me invested.
And I’m Out.
Invincible Dragon hits Digital, Blu-ray, & DVD October 6th, 2020, from Well Go USA Entertainment.