Film & DVD Review
Hung is a kung fu coach on Lautau Island. His son Lung and his fellow schoolmate, Mao, are considered a couple. One time, Hung's fellow Yan goes to Lautau for help. Lung knows Yan is not a good guy, however, Hung orders Lung to accompany with Yan to develop his career in the city. Yan discovers that Lung is a talented snooker player and earns much money from gambling. But Lung loses Hung's land to a group of gangsters in a game. Unfortunately offering more land as a bet is the only way for them to win it back...
Legend Of The Dragon features a cameo from none other than Jimmy White!!
I've seen films that have centred around, or at least have heavily featured, loads of different sports before. There has been football (soccer), American football, baseball, basketball, ice-hockey, table-tennis (ping pong), pool, ten-pin bowling, chess, various card games, wrestling, mah-jong, lacrosse and those are just the ones that I can remember... Stephen Chow has done a film that you may have heard of (no thanks to MiramAxe) called Shaolin Soccer, which as you can guess from its name, focuses on football (soccer). However, about a decade before he made that sports film, he made this one, Legend Of The Dragon, which is the only film that I know of that is based around the game of snooker. Yes, that is right, snooker.
When people think of games or sports that would make the good basis for a film, snooker is not likely to be high up on the list. Now add in combining this game/sport with kung fu, and I imagine that snooker would be even further down the list, but having seen that Stephen Chow could superbly pull combining kung fu and football (soccer), I hoped that he could have done the same here, albeit several years earlier!
The film is about a Lung (Stephen Chow), a student in his father's kung fu school, who has other interests outside of training in kung fu. Specifically, he is a big fan of generally having fun, but also of playing snooker, in which he is a natural talent. His fellow student is Mao (Teresa Mo), a girl who has strong affections for Lung, but is unable to express them to him. Whenever she tries, he misunderstands something and interprets it as a training session and promptly starts sparring with her. One day Yan, a fellow of Lung's father Hung, arrives in their village apparently on a visit, and his stay ends up with him agreeing to take Lung to Hong Kong where Lung has to make his fame. There, Yan realises Lung's talent on the snooker table, and arranges matches for him, while gambling on them behind Lung's back. In one bet Lung unknowingly loses all his father's land in Lautau in a match against Jimmy White (yes, the Jimmy White, not a look-a-like!). With the entire village homeless, Lung and his father take to Hong Kong to get away from the people, but then realise that there is only one way to win their land back.
There really is no doubt that Stephen Chow is the top film comedian in Hong Kong just now, and some of the films of his that I've seen cement this status all the more. Unfortunately there others which chisel away at that cement and try to destroy it, and for me Legend Of The Dragon is one of those films. However, like pretty much all the Stephen Chow films that I've not liked too much, there are always moments of brilliance somewhere in the film.
Where Legend Of The Dragon does have major similarities with many other of his films is that Chow's character is again the 'little-person'; somebody with pretty much nothing, the under-dog who goes on to achieve greater things overcoming those above him on his way. Having seen quite a few films from him with that general theme is probably one reason why this film didn't take to me that well. In essence, I'd seen it all before. With the characters being in very similar situations to other films, while the set-piece gags may not be identical, they are similar and for me this detracted from the humour. In other areas the humour came across as far too forced for my liking, making me groan rather than laugh. The inclusion of snooker in the film gave breathing space for more original humour ideas to be used, but when the snooker games featured those scenes weren't generally played for hilarity, with one scene as a blatant exception.
I've no doubt that there are quite a few people around who will have found some of the gags that I groaned and got tired of, to be very funny. People's humour tastes differ just like everything else, but things like Chow's narcolepsy (spontaneous falling into a deep sleep), only raised a mild smirk on my face, but became tired (forgive the pun) quite quickly. Likewise with the rapid eating that Chow's character and his father do while Yan is visiting. It starts moderately humorous but the gag is overplayed. For me this was the story of the majority of the gags in the film. However, there were moments which were brilliant, like Chow's over-reaction to potting a ball in the final snooker match... now that scene was funny, and the reactions of his father who doesn't understand the game help add to this. Alas for every brilliant scene, there were far too many not brilliant ones.
Despite this Chow still clearly shows his uncanny knack for comedy. His facial expressions and comic timing bring quite a few of the gags up to the 'funny' level, where they wouldn't have been there if it was pretty much anyone else in his place. I may not like all of his films, but I've got a huge amount of respect for his comic ability and the ideas that Stephen Chow has.
A surprise package in this film was Yuen Wah. More commonly seen as a martial art villain in his films, here he is a good guy, and he's in a comedy. This is certainly not a position I had seen him in before! Regardless he fits his role very well! While definitely out staged by Chow, Yuen Wah still shows that he is not out of his depth with comedy. While possibly playing off Stephen Chow's lead, although that may not be giving him enough credit, he reacts to the situations and shows that he too has the facial expressions suitable for comedy films.
Teresa Mo has the role of being the quirky female that frequently appears in Stephen Chow comedies. She loves Lung, but is very poor in expressing these feeling towards him. It is a few scenes with her that I found to be over-played and repetitive. Frequently when she is trying to tell him something, it ends up being a sparring session, and one of the two gets beaten up by the other. This happens more than once in the film, and while it was mildly amusing the first time, each subsequent time that this occurrence happens the humour decreases each time. The last of the main actors is Leung Ka Yan. I think I'll be in the minority as far as Hong Kong film fans go here, but the few films that I've seen him in, I've never really cared for him too much. Of the four main people in this film I found him to be the least convincing in comedy, detracting from the overall humour in the scenes that he is in.
But how could I forget Jimmy White!!! If the Internet Movie Database is correct, this film was his acting debut! He is playing himself, but some scenes were quite funny because of the way he was probably told to be! Having watched snooker on TV before, and seeing him on other TV programs and the like, I had a general impression of the way he is, but in this film I think he had to do a few things out of character! Like when Chow is at the snooker table and he is waiting to get back on, there are shots of him frantically chalking his cue with a slightly evil-ish look on his face! Well, I found it funny!
Unfortunately for me, not even the inclusion of Jimmy White in the film could save Legend Of The Dragon. There weren't laughs a plenty, which I had hoped for, there were merely the odd few good laughs, and quite a few groans as the laughter was tried to be forced from me.
Audio & Subtitles
Legend Of The Dragon comes with a Cantonese mono audio track. I don't really know what to say with mono tracks, as I can't talk about channel separation or anything like that. My overall impression was that it was all right. All the audio was perfectly audible, although maybe slightly muffled at times. There was no tinny echo that I've heard on other DVDs, but equally there was nothing that made it sound extra good. It gets the job done, but without any flamboyancy.
The subtitles on the DVD really could have been better. Spelling and grammar were ok, with a few mistakes throughout the film, however, that is as good as it gets. The rest is downhill. Some lines are not on screen for long enough, resulting in me having to rewind the film to get a second reading. Not all text is subtitled, and there are quite a few Chinese characters on screen at various times in the film. In quite a few sentences there are words missing from the sentence. Fortunately in most instances it is pretty obvious what the word should be, so only a little thinking it required on the part of the viewer. Very peculiarly, not all the speech is subtitled. In the final snooker match there is a commentary from two, well, commentators and only sections of this are subtitled. I have no idea why this is the case, but it is very bizarre indeed.
The letterboxed transfer is reasonably clean for a film of its age. There are speckles and the like at points in the film, but they never are that bad to be distracting. Colours don't fare quite so well, as the print does look to be quite pale at times, and in higher contrast places there does appear to be noticeable colour bleeding. Grain levels from what I recall, are rather low, but detail levels are equally quite low.
DVD & Extras
The DVD comes with a couple of extras. Firstly there are Stars' files in both Chinese and English. These cover Danny Lee, Stephen Chow and Mo Shun Kwan. All there is other than that are trailers for this film, Magnificent Scoundrels and Love Is Love.
Stephen Chow is my favourite Hong Kong comedian, that is a hard fact just now. The originality of his humour, the ideas and parodies that he has done raise him above all others. Alas for every Shaolin Soccer, there is a Legend Of The Dragon. While I don't recommend this film at all, there are elements in there which are genuinely very funny, but you'll have to put up with many others that aren't before you see them.
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