Dragon Fight (1989)

Posted in Reviews by - June 01, 2014
Dragon Fight (1989)

A great 80s Jet Li curiosity with chunky mobile phones, big jackets and synthesised mood music. Filmed in San Francisco (the Golden Gate Bridge is crow-barred into nearly every shot) but produced the Hong Kong way – with delirious kung fu action sitting alongside broad comedic moments – the film not only features the future Mrs Jet, Nina Li Chi, but also an early supporting role for HK’s future king of comedy, Stephen Chow, whose charisma just about carries the middle part of the film.

Jet Li and Dick Wei play Jimmy and Tiger, childhood buddies on a tour of America as part of a wushu team (the opening demo is worth the price of admission alone, involving a rare sequence of Jet Li performing a solo wushu form). Jimmy can’t wait to return home, but Tiger has other plans and makes a run for it at the airport, stealing Jimmy’s wallet in the process. Within seconds Tiger kills a cop by kicking his head through a car window, so when Jimmy misses his flight home and winds up stranded illegally in California, the cops believe Jimmy to be the culprit, and a cat and mouse chase ensues.

In the meantime, Tiger rises in the criminal underworld from being the hired hand of a Chinese mafia boss to his right hand man in a drugs trade with some Colombians. Jimmy is taken in by carefree grocer boy Andy (Stephen Chow) who spends a lot of the film trying to chat up girls and getting Jimmy into trouble. Nina Li Chi plays the gangster’s moll who wishes she could return home after the reality of relocating to America turns sour. Its the sort of film where all the subplots and characters converge with all the subtlety of a steam train, and conflict erupts spontaneously for no good reason. It’s kind of nutty, but in a really good way. Like the final big punch up which is set on a California ranch but somehow features traditional kung fu weapons like spears and three section staffs. That clearly doesn’t make any sense, but the action is so vibrant and wild you can’t help but be carried along with it.

Made at a time when Jet Li had relocated to America in an early bid for international stardom, this may now be a footnote in his career but fight fans should still try and seek it out.

AKA: The Defector; Dragon Kickboxer

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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