Chasing the Dragon (追龍)

Bet on the dragon

C hina, you’re not actually giving us more history lessons, are you? :slaps forehead: Look, we’ve been over this; until your national censorship rules lighten, there’s no point in giving us a biopic. I mean, suppose all American films were edited by the Texas State Board of Education: Noah would be labeled a documentary, To Kill A Mockingbird would be retitled The Triumph of Justice, and The Color Purple would be about the color purple. That’s what kind of censorship is going on in the Chinese film industry; until you’re willing to expand the scope of art made with regards to your country, it’s hard to appreciate the impressions you have of yourselves, dig?

That said, I’m not a fan of Chasing the Dragon not for reasons of historical inaccuracy or bias, but just because it wasn’t that good. Following the drug trade in Hong Kong during the 1960s and 1970s, this film represents the touching relationship between a dirty police chief a lowlife druglord … except that their relationship was neither touching nor antagonistic.

The film wastes the first half-hour with unnecessary background. A large confusing street melee introduces Ho as a brawler lookin’ for a good crime and Lee Rock as an officer playing the game. So, get this, Ho’s gangster boss turns out to be a bad guy. Who knew? Ho loses a working leg in his stint as gangster muscle, but trades it for a nickname, moustache, some years, and a completely different demeanor. Crippled Ho (Donnie Yen – no martial artistry here, awwww) emerges as one of the city’s major underground players.

Meanwhile, in Gotham City, Lee Rock (Andy Lau) has simply risen unscathed to rank of Hong Kong police chief. This has happened almost entirely without conflict due to Rock’s charm, grace, and willingness to parcel off the city to its worst elements. This film adequately described Crippled Ho, Lee Rock, and the eventual conflict with untouchable English thug cop Ernest Hunt (Bryan Larkin). Yet, none of the groundwork or even the payoff seemed all that satisfying. This is one of those movies which feels like some critical stuff got left on the cutting floor instead of making the final reel. Considering the film’s length, I think some substitutions were in order.

Chasing the Dragon introduces relationships for the sole purpose of inventing character motivation. At some point over an hour in, we find out Crippled Ho has a brother. Oh Ho! And the brother has a drug problem. Sure enough, within ten minutes the brother is in a coma, having been treated to the English beat, thus exacerbating the tension between the English and the Chinese. The conflict between the English and the Chinese in Hong Kong goes back centuries, so it’s natural for the film to go in this direction, but for biographical tale, this feels like Dragon simply invented a character to get a result.

I’ve seen a fair amount of Yen and Lau in the past decade and both are usually worth a watch. I’m not sure Lao has an occidental following, but even a casual movie fan might know Yen from Rogue One and the Ip Man films. Hence, you might know of what I speak. Bottom line is they’re both good here, but neither man is gonna rest a career on this role.

In Hong Kong, all justice was dead
Drugs left a population well bled
Energies laggin’
While trailing that dragon
Should have chased the Brits out instead

Not Rated, 128 Minutes
Director: Jason Kwan, Jing Wong
Writer: Jing Wong
Genre: Hong Kong Phooey
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Chinese historians, maybe
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: The English

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