- Asian Cinema


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Dragon Heat
Maang lung (2005). Directed by Daniel Lee. Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Maggie Q, Shawn Yue, Lawrence Chou.

"Dragon Heat" from director Daniel Lee sports an impressive cast from both Hong Kong, Korea and America. The story deals with a team of young, but skilled Interpol agents and their fierce battle against a group of thugs, led by terrorist Petros Davinci (Michael Biehn).

I won't go into more details, because I can't. I lost track of who wants to kill who after 5 minutes and from thereon in it just got worse. With more than 10 major characters to juggle, each with their own agenda, the plot becomes so convoluted that I just gave up. In fact I considered turning off the film about a dozen times, even as late as an hour and a half into it, because I just didn't care anymore.

Most infuriating, however, is the film's visual style. I enjoyed Daniel Lee's previous films, like "Star Runner" and "A Fighter's Blues" very much, but this is one big mess. A trigger happy zoom lens, grainy black and white shots, slow-motion, fast-motion and still-image montages, combined with fast paced editing and numerous flashbacks are among the elements that produce the visual landscape. I especially detest the still-image style - to me that alone is reason enough to abandon any film. Overall the style used here is so confusing that often you can't tell who's shooting at who, and certainly not why. Even the deaths of a few major characters are messed up, because they are portrayed through choppy pseudo-slow motion shots (the result of slowing down digital footage in post-production).

The film does have its moments. The heroes are undeniably cool, and Lee gives his bad guy an interesting love story, which works extremely well. Unfortunately the film completely fails to nail that Hong Kong vibe I love. It's too American in its shooting style. Take the fight sequences for example. There's a cut every second and most of them are shot in medium close ups. This means that we simply can't see the moves properly, and once again confusion takes over.

I really wish "Dragon Heat" had been a good film. I wanted to like it SO much. The cast is cool, and much respect to Michael Biehn for taking a gamble and heading to Hong Kong to shoot a film, even though he knew nothing about Asian cinema or the Asian film industry. It also saddens me that Daniel Lee has abandoned the trademark cool Hong Kong style by shooting on tape instead of film. I don't have a problem with digital, as long as I can't tell the film is shot that way, but if the technique compromises the film it's just not worth it.

My advice to Daniel Lee is simple: Take a deep breath. Shoot on film next time, make sure the story is simple, and re-watch the old John Woo films, so you don't forget how to shoot a proper action scene. And then, by all means, give it another go.

David Bjerre
January 5, 2009