The return of ‘90s thriller director Jing Wong, to the grounds he so well established, is a thing of excitement for those familiar with his work. The prolific director's workflow has rarely slowed, but his success over the past twenty years has wobbled with repeated ventures back to his own classic films. Chasing the Dragon is a stylish latest from Wong starring Donnie Yen as the infamous Hong Kong mobster Crippled Ho.
If the idea of Donnie Yen in a ‘70s set Hong Kong crime caper floats your boat then look no further. Yen is the leading man and carries it with trademark charisma, but the die-hard martial artists out there probably won't be sated by the film's action sequences. Though pleasantly raw, they don't exploit Yen's trademark skills as a bad ass action hero.
Co-directing with cinematographer Jason Kwan was a smart move. Wong's visual practicality paired with Kwan's style results in something effortlessly watchable. The low-key action always looks great and what the film lacks in period detail it makes up for in good camera work.
It's a cool film. Undeniably so, but then what else do you expect when you unleash Donnie Yen on unsuspecting 60's Hong Kong. As a gangster film. it covers all the bases, achieving the density of a political thriller whilst managing bigger Gangs of New York style brawls and intimate character arcs that draw parallels with Scarface's Tony Montana or The Godfather Part 2's Vito Corleone. The characterisation is thin though and never really breaks free of the trope.
Yen was reportedly scouted by Jing Wong whilst he filmed XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, intrigued by the minimal fighting and focus on performance, Yen agreed, and we're glad he did. It's a perfect match oddly enough, with Yen's dangerous skill hidden beneath a façade of a glamorous gangster. Kung-Fu stardom has evaded Yen with Western audiences until recent years () and though this kind of film probably won't catch on, it’s a fair show-case for Yen's depth as an actor. Similar can be said for Andy Lau whose return to the character of Liu Lok makes a great counter-part to Yen's Ho. But as mentioned previously makes this film feel like a Wong mash-up as opposed to a solid stand-alone film.
There's a couple really nifty wee fights courtesy of XXX action choreographer Hua Yan, directed by Yen himself. It always works best when the performer directs themselves and this is no exception. Chasing the Dragon doesn’t go for the big set-piece showdowns usually attached to Yen, instead, blending street fighting with an epic long-haul crime story for fewer but weightier scenes of violence.
The problem is that you've seen it all before. By the end, Chasing the Dragon feels like a stylish retread of Jing Wong's early hits, full of great performances from dependable talent, but missing the scuzzy edge that made his early films so strong.
CHASING THE DRAGON / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JASON KWAN, JING WONG / SCREENPLAY: JING WONG / STARRING: DONNIE YEN, ANDY LAU, PHILIP KEUNG / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW