DRAGONS FOREVER (1988) review

Dragon Forever was the last film (or is the last film so far, as I like to think) to feature the mighty trio of Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (aka Biggest Brother), Jackie Chan (aka Big Brother) and Yuen Biao (aka Little Brother). After that film, their friendship would go through rocky times, with Sammo resenting Jackie’s superior degree of success, and Biao wanting to make a career for himself without always being tied to his illustrious big brothers. Well, at least the “three dragons” went out with a bang, because Dragon Forever is a marvel of breath-taking action, zany humour and, more unexpectedly, heart-warming sweetness. Jackie Chan is Jackie Lung, a lawyer who is more interested in money than justice, and who is a bit of a ladykiller, too. He is hired by Mr. Wah (Yuen Wah), the owner of a chemical plant against whom the owners of a fish farm (Deannie Yip and Pauline Yeung) are pressing charges for polluting the water. To gather information and exert pressure on the two women, Jackie calls upon two friends, Luke (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) and the slightly deranged Tak-Biao (Yuen Biao). But when they proceed to bug their house and monitor their actions, the unexpected happens as Jackie falls in love with one of them and Luke with the other. On top of that, they find out that the chemical plant is actually a drug refining plant and decide to take action.

Dragon Forever provides a barrage of fights that are diverse, exciting and inventive, which is the least you would expect from a film starring Chan, Hung and Yuen ; but here, contrary to their previous starring collaborations, Project A and Wheels on Means, the action is evenly peppered through the film, rather than being jammed in the last third. There’s everything from Jackie fighting off goons on a boat, to a powerful re-match against Benny “the jet” Urquidez (from Wheels on Means), as well as Sammo taking on a dozen opponents all at once, and Biao outdoing himself in the acrobatics department (which is saying a lot). But the pièce de résistance is a three-way fight between the three brothers, each man for himself, in two eye-wateringly choreographed minutes of martial arts bliss.

But the film is also very funny, with almost none of the heavy-handed humour of Cantonese comedy, and a very universal form of slapstick that doesn’t make the film go into cartoonish territory. One scene where Jackie is having dinner with the girl of his dreams, all the while having to conceal the presence in the appartment of his two comrades AND stop them from fighting each other, is absolutely hilarious. But it’s mostly Yuen Biao’s delightfully deranged character that gets most of the laughs : he is scarily paranoid and unfailingly loyal at the same time, with a very short attention span and a taste for useless acrobatics. It’s a marvellous comic creation from Yuen Biao who, even though he is given less screen time and no romantic interest, comes very close to stealing the film from his elder brothers. Next to him in the zany comedy stakes is the wonderful Yuen Wah as the cigare-chomping villain, who also is fond of aimless acrobatics, like walking over a sofa rather than getting around it.

But Dragon Forever is also a very sweet and heartfelt film, unsurprisingly through its dual romance, with Jackie Lung falling for, and getting a conscience thanks to, Pauline Yeung’s character Nancy, and most of all Luke’s relentless courtship of the self-doubting and commitment averse Miss Yip (Deannie Yip). As I’m fond of repeating, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo is a very underrated comedic and dramatic actor, and he is irresistible here in his sweet and obnoxious wooing of Yip, baring his soul over a megaphone, as well as singing and dancing for her. His chemistry with the wonderful and pretty Deannie Yip is delightful, and with these scenes, Dragons Forever rises from a barnstorming martial arts comedy (which is already a lot), to a bonafide heart-warming filmic gem. On a sidenote, the knowledge that most of the film’s key players (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, as well as action director Corey Yuen) are childhood friends from the China Drama Academy, adds a sentimental layer to the proceedings. While they have all worked again with one another at some point, they never worked again all together. It’s not too late.

Long Story Short : Undoubtedly the pinnacle of the three dragons’ collaboration, Dragon Forever succeeds superbly at being one of the best martial arts films ever, a hilarious comedy and a heart-warming crowd-pleaser, all at once. ****1/2

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