Review: CHASING THE DRAGON 追龍 (2017) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Review: CHASING THE DRAGON 追龍 (2017)

Lee Rock (Andy Lau) faces off with Crippled Ho (Donnie Yen) in CHASING THE DRAGON (2017)

CHASING THE DRAGON tells a story about the rise and fall of the triad leader and drug lord Ho (Donnie Yen) as well as the crooked police officer, Lee Rock (Andy Lau) during the bleak 1960s and 1970s crime-infested era of Hong Kong.

REVIEW: The true story of notorious triad leader and drug lord Ng Sik-Ho a.k.a. "Crippled Ho" is no stranger to cinematic treatment. His story was famously adapted in TO BE NUMBER ONE back in 1991, which became one of the hallmarks of the Hong Kong triad genre and even won 2 Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Film and Best Screenplay out of its seven nominations the year after.

A scene from CHASING THE DRAGON (2017)

Over 25 years later, co-directors Wong Jing and Jason Kwan (best known for his cinematography works in the two COLD WAR movies) revisit the same true story and made it their own in the big-budget remake, CHASING THE DRAGON. Among the biggest draw, of course, is the star power of Donnie Yen and Andy Lau who collaborated together for the first time ever. Interestingly enough, Lau even reprised his iconic Lee Rock role who was last seen in the two-part saga of LEE ROCK (also in 1991). For Lau, he displays a typically charismatic performance as the corrupt cop that used to earn him a HKFA nomination for Best Actor in the first place. In fact, it was Lau who steals most of the show in CHASING THE DRAGON.

As for Donnie Yen, his lead performance as Crippled Ho is all surface-level macho swagger and cocky attitude. Likewise, he looks great when the movie portrays him as a tough fighter. But he doesn't convince much as Crippled Ho. Ray Lui, who originally played the same role in the award-winning 1991 movie, remains the best portrayal. Even without comparison, Yen still lacks the significant acting prowess to make Crippled Ho an intimidating figure of either a powerful triad leader or a ruthless drug lord.

Andy Lau takes charge as Lee Rock in CHASING THE DRAGON (2017)

The story, which is written by Wong Jing himself, covers most of the genre requirements that define the old-school era of Hong Kong triad genre. Despite some of the narrative shortcuts and lack of depth such as immersing deep into the roles of Crippled Ho and Lee Rock beyond the superficial nature of their crooked characters, CHASING THE DRAGON remains a refreshing throwback to the violent gangster epic we used to love in the past. 

Speaking of violence, Wong Jing and Jason Kwan manage to work around within the China's restrictive censorship board in displaying a fair amount of on-screen brutality. The action set-pieces are both tense and well-choreographed by Yu Kang, Yuen Bun and Yan Hua, with the extended ambush sequence in the Kowloon Walled City being the best in the movie. Kwan, who also served as the movie's cinematographer, displays engaging camerawork throughout the pacy two-hour-plus length. However, the most obvious drawback is the way CHASING THE DRAGON depicts the British colonial government as well as the British police officers as pure evils who look down on Chinese people. Such heavily-biased perspective is nothing more than to please -- what else -- the China's censorship board, given the fact this movie is co-produced by a few Mainland production companies.

Donnie Yen as Ho in CHASING THE DRAGON (2017)

Other than Donnie Yen and Andy Lau, the supporting cast ranging from familiar faces like Kent Cheng, Phillip Keung, Kent Tong and Kenneth Tsang is all adequate. James Cheung's production design shows mixed results. For all the lavish re-creation of the Kowloon Walled City, the overall setting tends to look too polish while lacking a certain grit that famously characterised the dense settlement. Finally, the movie falters during the unnecessary epilogue that depicts the older versions (complete with unconvincing makeup) of Crippled Ho and Lee Rock. No doubt that CHASING THE DRAGON is an ambitious gangster epic and even though it doesn't achieve the level of greatness, the movie provides decent entertainment values to satisfy most genre fans.

Wong Jing and Jason Kwan's big-budget remake in CHASING THE DRAGON is an entertainingly violent gangster epic, despite Donnie Yen's oddly miscast role as Crippled Ho.

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