Fantasia 2012: ‘Dragon’ an unusually human martial-arts showcase
In a strange way, Dragon is a perfect companion film for the Shaw Brothers classic The Fists of the White Lotus, also presented at Fantasia this year. (Expect Edgar Chaput to review that film as part of his Shaw Brothers Saturday series this week.) Both films are about the never-ending cycle of violence and revenge, the corruption of Imperial China, and the strange effectiveness of martial arts acupuncture. Both films also feature a climax built around a fight with strangely difficult to kill old men and martial arts masters who are not afraid to appear to be clowns.
How difficult is it to pretend to be terrible at martial arts when you are actually really good at it? How difficult is it to play the buffoon when you are actually a World Class expert? This is the real life problem that Stephen Chow, the class clown of Hong Kong cinema faces. Most of his films cheerfully ignore this problem, portraying his characters as cheerful screw-ups who only surmount their challenges in the final reel.
It is only in the film From Beijing With Love, his James Bond parody, that Stephen Chow lets the mask slip. At the conclusion of the film, his hatchet throwing character suddenly reveals that he has always been a master, that his apparent incompetence has been a ruse designed to give him the upper hand over his opponents. It is almost as if Stephen Chow is using the film to remind people never to underestimate him just because he makes people laugh.
What From Beijing With Love presented as comedy, Dragon presents as drama. Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) is a humble papermaker who blunders into the path of two robbers and accidentally kills them. Or, suggests master detective and acupuncturist Lu Baiju (Takeshi Kaneshiro), Liu is really a master martial artist playing the buffoon. But why would a tiger pretend to be a house cat?