Anchor Bay / 114 Minutes / 2011 / Rated R / Street Date: April 16, 2013
Viewers not versed in the makeup of Peter Chan’s Dragon might find it surprising that the movie bears a heavy resemblance to David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. There’s no overt cultural meditation on the connection between aggression and humanity at large, as there was in Cronenberg’s acclaimed treatise – no, it’s mostly just butt-kicking here, and for the most part, that’s just fine.
The movie starts with halcyon familial stasis, with Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) leading a normal life with his wife and her son. But in a scene that is a specifically wonderful mirror to Cronenberg’s picture, Liu defends himself against an attack in a way that all but proves that he’s no normal dude living a normal life: he must have had some serious training in his past. And once the question of his background comes into question, Dragon’s narrative starts to take dangerous turns.
It’s disappointing, though, that more isn’t done with the source material here. When Liu really starts to kick ass and take names, Dragon takes on a rollicking excitement that it wears quite well, but it treats its simple dramatic scenes with a comparative dullness – any sequence that doesn’t involve whip-kicks or drawn blood pretty much seems like a placeholder. For those of us who know how martial arts films work, sometimes this is forgivable, but Dragon – as exciting as it sometimes can be – can’t fully shake the dramatic hollowness that tethers its aspirant high-flying acrobatics to the ground.