I am often asked which Asian movies I recommend. There is a certain growing interest in oriental cinema; and although the majority only ask for horror or martial arts titles, little by little, the public is watching the premiere or the DVD edition of titles from Japan or Korea more normally. “Chinese movies” are no longer just “geek” rarities and more and more people are curious after seeing a work by Kim Ki-Duk or Johnnie To. One of the most important films to go on sale in our country is ‘Duel of Dragons’Directed by Wilson Yip. A must buy and a title that is not usually missing from my recommendations.
‘Duel of Dragons’ (‘Sha Po Lang’) focuses on the violent rivalry between the triads and the Hong Kong police. After almost his entire family is murdered on the orders of the fearsome mob boss Po, Detective Chan seeks revenge, even if he has to use unorthodox methods to do so. The arrival of his replacement, a young policeman expert in martial arts, will further accentuate the fight for control of a lawless city.
After seeing the DVD cover and reading the synopsis, more than one will have abandoned the idea of buying this film. As often happens, relying on these types of advertising tools is a complete mistake. It is true that there is action. A lot. But this is not a “fighting” film, it is not one in which the only thing that matters is that the guys are constantly kicking until the hundred thousand henchmen die that the bad guy puts in front of the good guy just because he wants to delay the duel between them. It’s not one of those. Here the story and the dramatic relationship between the characters have been taken care of. In fact, it is possible that it is precisely those who are looking for a dose of nonsensical action cinema who are disappointed.
If I had to summarize in one word my opinion about ‘Duel of Dragons’ would be, without a doubt, “awesome”. It was the word I exclaimed the most times during the viewing of Wilson Yip’s film. Although I think it has been made clear, I am not a fan of action movies or martial arts in its purest form. I usually like it only when you know how to mix it effectively with another genre, like comedy or drama. But that thing about seeing a guy walking down the street and suddenly without much sense being assaulted by some macarillas so that for ten minutes it shows that the hero studied kung-fu instead of geography, well, they kind of make me disconnect and think that I’m wasting time. I don’t enjoy watching a wrestling match, but I can if the characters involved have been sufficiently solidly presented and plotted beforehand, and aren’t just mere puppets wanting to slam. I’m not excited to watch a martial arts fight, but I can if the action is shown openly, if I see the guys actually doing these spectacular moves, without too many gimmicks, without a video clip montage, and, of course, without the hand of the computer is noticeable. ‘Duel of Dragons’ I found it impressive because it made me hallucinate when the characters decided to face each other, punching, kicking and stabbing.
The main person responsible for this achievement is Donnie Yen, who can not be expected to give a dramatic interpretation of Oscar, but he can leave you speechless when he fights with another guy. He also has charisma, he’s a star, and it shows when he appears on screen. He is the main protagonist and the person responsible for the action choreography of this film; In both respects, Yen delivers perfectly, obviously showing off in those moments when he lets his fighting skills do the talking. I read some time ago that he was in talks to play the mythical Bruce Lee in another movie about his life, which wouldn’t be bad. Along with Yen, he stands out in the role of the fearsome mafia boss Sammo Hung, whom some of you will know for having starred in a television series that was broadcast in Spain, entitled ‘Martial Law’. The fight between Yen and Hung is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular sequences I’ve ever seen on film. It takes your breath away. And the outcome is to frame it. Brutal. Another specialist in the genre like Jing Wu also has his share of prominence, standing out mainly in an impressive duel against Yen.
In a totally opposite place, we have the character played by the always excellent Simon Yam, the only “real” actor on the main team. Yam, as you can see, is one of the names that remains in the memory of Asian cinema fans, both because of his simple name and because of the good fortune that many films in which he participates have been released on DVD in our country. I’m referring to titles like the memorable ‘Full Contact’, the fascinating ‘Election’, or the more than entertaining ‘PTU’, which recently appeared in stores.
In ‘Duel of Dragons’, Yam carries the dramatic weight of the story, providing his role with all the necessary entity so that, in just a few seconds, the viewer feels great empathy towards him, despite the fact that he is not exactly a “good man”. No one in this film is. They are all guilty men in one way or another, marked by violence, by a fight to the death between police and gangsters, with the unsatisfactory law in the background; ultimately united by friendship/rivalry. Yam personalizes the powerful twilight drama of Wilson Yip’s film, which depicts lonely characters searching for a way out of their tragic fate. So when their lives are in danger, we feel it, which is unusual in the genre. A great success of the script.
The only “but” that can be put (and I put) to the film is its self-limitation. It brings something more than kicks, yes, but it doesn’t do it as much as it would be desirable. Because the story was worth more, there was the possibility of developing it in greater depth, but it is committed (and not without reason, be careful) for the spectacular action scenes and for giving greater prominence to those who know how to fight. Of course, as I think I have already made clear, in this field, you reach the ceiling. Yip endows the film with enviable spectacularity and elegance; unthinkable for the vast majority of current filmmakers who intend to film action and only manage to make the staff dizzy. It’s just that I regret that there are plot ramifications that, I think, are somewhat wasted, underestimated, when they really arouse enough interest.
Definitely, ‘Duel of Dragons’ It is a more than remarkable and surprising action movie, as well as an intense drama with police overtones. Tremendously spectacular, as I said before, it is a title that should not be missing from your bookshelf.