Film & DVD Review
Sing is an outstanding cadet in the police cadet school and is appointed to be an undercover cop to infiltrate a powerful triad group. He advances to become a reliable right hand man to Flying Dragon in five years. One day, Dragon's brother Leopard is betrayed by White Head, who is one of the Leopard's brother, but an undercover of the police. To take revenge Leopard's son Man Chung decides to kill White Head...
Century of the Dragon is a triad/cop film from Hong Kong starring Andy Lau and Louis Koo. I watched this film during a strange period of my Hong Kong film watching life. For some bizarre reason, and this was not planned, it just so happened that these were the films I watched at that time, the first time I watched this film I watched it during a spell where every film I watched appeared to star Louis Koo. There was this, The Suspect, The Rules of the Game, Conman In Tokyo and La Brassiere. I did not decide I wanted to watch these films because he was in them, it was merely they were, by chance, the films I decided to watch. Where Century of the Dragon was placed in the viewing order I can't remember, but I certainly got accustomed to Louis Koo's acting ability!
"Time to relax, and think..."
Century of the Dragon is the story about an ex-triad boss who has gone straight, and a cop who has been sent undercover in order to bring him down. Louis Koo is the undercover agent Sing, and Andy Lau the ex-traid boss Fai Lone. After three years undercover, Sing has managed to work his way up the ranks and has become Fai Lone's right hand man. However, despite going straight, his connections with the triads are nigh on impossible to sever, and in one way or another they always come back to haunt him.
One night Fai Lone's best friend, Pao (Anthony Wong) who is still a triad leader, is critically injured after being shot by a policeman, and his completely paralysed bar a few minor motor functions. This leaves the head of the Hung Hing triad society vacant, and it is the desire of the other bosses that Fai Lone takes the seat. He refuses this honour as he does not want to get dragged back into the triad way of life. Pao's son, Chun, wants revenge for what happened to his father, and believes that there is an undercover police officer in the triad ranks. He then sets the task that whoever finds out who the undercover agent is, and gets revenge for his father, is worthy of taking over as head of the society.
"Who put the whoopy cushion on my chair?"
The head seat is something which Chun wants for himself, despite only being 20 years old. He also has some inner hatred towards Fai Lone, as Fai Lone ended up with all the money and his father, Pao, with relatively little, despite the two fighting along side each other when they were younger. As such he plans to bring down Fai Lone, and claim the head of Hung Hing for himself. At the same time, Sing starts to get put under great pressure to pin Fai Lone for some crime so that the police can arrest him. Sing has to explain, but to deaf ears, that Fai Lone has gone straight, and is no longer a triad - something his superior is not interested in hearing.
Ok, that is a rather crap summary of the basics of the plot in Century of the Dragon. I'm not sure how I made it sound to people reading this review, but it is a good story! Honest! Admittedly there isn't really anything that complex to the film. There aren't any major twists or turns in the plot, which are something which you quite often associate with the better films around. What this film does have going for it, though, is a very well acted, competent story which is played to its full and well made in the hands of Clarence Fok and Wong Jing (yes, I'm surprised too given that he's attached!).
"The lighting alones proves that he must be evil!"
There are three main actors in the film: Andy Lau, Louis Koo and Patrick Tam. I've seen a lot of films starring Andy Lau, and like I've already stated, I've seen several Louis Koo films. However, I'm not overly familiar with Patrick Tam's work. I've definitely seen two other films which he has been in, but I can't remember him from those films. That being said, I was very impressed with him in Century of the Dragon. He had the smile and the look which, depending on which way you saw it, appeared to be the charming, friendly look, or just as equally the sadistic, "I'm an evil bastard" look. He is ruthless, smart and really quite charismatic in his role, and is suitably evil to be the bad, bad guy in the film. All in all from Patrick Tam, I thought it was a first class performance.
"I'm too cute for you to be annoyed at me!"
The same is pretty much true for the other two leads. Louis Koo appears to be another actor who can easily handle very diverse roles. This and La Brassiere could barely be further apart if they tried, but in both he fits his role. He is a good cop who wants to do right, but at the same time he has to be a triad, and a convincing one at that so that he doesn't get killed. After following Fai Lone for three years he has built up a lot of loyalty towards him, and knows that he has gone straight, but also knows of his past, which does put some pressure on his shoulders as to who's side to take at the present. For me, this was another first class performance.
Not quite as good as the other two, but still decent enough, was Andy Lau as Fai Lone, the good bad guy. At some points it did just look as though he was riding on his smile in the film, but at other times, you could see that this was not the case. For the majority of the film his character is very calm and placid, I guess reflecting the fact that he has gone straight, and wants to distance himself from the violent life of a triad. But as the film progresses and he is drawn closer and closer to the triads, his temper begins to be tested, and he becomes more cunning and ruthless. I do believe that he is out shone by the other two, but this performance on its own is as good as you are likely to see in most decent films these days. 'A-' class acting, beaten into third place by an 'A' and an 'A+'. Can't really complain, can you!
"Here comes the Men In Black... sh!t, forgot my sunglasses!"
Shooky Kwan has a small role as Fai Lone's wife, which she plays convincingly enough, but for me one of the highlights of the minor roles was Joey Man Yee Man. She plays Sing's girlfriend, a hostess in a nightclub. I don't know what it was, but something about her really appealed to me... I mean other than the fact that she is an attractive female. She delivered a very "incredibly cute when I need to be, strong when I want, but at all times convincing" performance, which I really liked. The sort of cute girl delivery thing when she speaks to Sing just struck a nerve... and I liked it!
Some of the other minor characters, alas, were not as convincing or likeable. The fat bloke in the film, who always owes someone money, is just really bloody annoying. He started off ok, but the more he was like how he was, the more it grated on me. The other main triads were nothing special either, ranging from decent to the sort of 'whatever' feeling towards them.
"A nice bit of pyrotechnics never hurt anybody!"
So all in all, Century of the Dragon is a highly competent film which, if you like the triad/cop genre, I honestly believe you are certain to like. There may be nothing that special about the plot, no twists or anything like that, but you have excellent acting by the main cast, and very good direction and production values, which make it rise above a lot of other films which I've seen.
"I feel feint everytime I see blood. Especially my own..."
Audio & Subtitles
I watched Century of the Dragon in the Cantonese option, with english subtitles. I'm guessing that the original soundtrack for the film was a mono or stereo recording, which has been mixed into a 5.1 track. The reason for thinking this is that there were no discrete sound effects coming from the surround speakers. They were only really used for general things like the sound of rainfall, the cluttering of plates in a restaurant or to spread music around. Regardless, all effects did sound good enough. Speech was clear at al times, and only came from the front centre speaker. There was one instance where a line of Patrick Tam's dialogue was very clearly dubbed over. Why this happened, I have no idea. The voice sounds nothing much like him, and the words don't even remotely match his lip movement. There was also an instance where a word or something appeared to be bleeped out. Again no clue why. It could have just been a digital error or something in the sound mixing which caused it, as I can't see why anything would be bleeped out. Those complaints aside, everything else was decent enough. The subwoofer was used every now and then to good effect, and volume levels were well balanced between foreground and background noises.
"Don't think I don't know what you're going to do with those chopsticks, dear."
The english subtitles were digital removable subs, positioned on the letterboxed film print, and were white in colour with a black border around each letter. This made them legible at all times. Spelling and grammar was good, but not great. There were several instances of the wrong tense of a word being used, or a spelling error in a word. Fortunately no sentence was incomprehensible. Unfortunately there was one or two occassions of unsubtitled Chinese characters. I don't think they were that important, but somethings would have been a little clearer had the characters been subtitled. The strange thing a character was subtitled in a very important scene towards the end of the film. Win some, lose some I guess! Another comment worth making is that there were also quite a few lines of text which weren't really on screen for long enough, and I had to rewind the film so that I could read them again. That's a little annoying...
A quick comment about synopsis written above, taken from the back of the dvd. The synopsis refers to the characters by their name translated into english. This is somewhere that the subtitles are a little at fault. Andy Lau's character is called Fai Lone, meaning Flying Dragon. I, however, was always under the impression from the romanisation of chinese words which I've seen in many places, that Dragon sounded more like 'Long' than 'Lone'. As such, the subs are maybe ever so slightly at fault here. Doesn't really make any difference to the film though!
"Nothing can beat a friendly family dinner."
The film print is letterboxed, and looks ok. There is quite a lot of speckles on the print throughout the film's duration, but fortunately they don't really detract from the enjoyment of watching the film. I didn't really notice if there was much grainyness to the print, which I can only take as a good sign, as if it was there, it obviously isn't too bad. Something which I don't know how to comment on was the look some scenes had. In particular the restaurant fight scene between Sing and Loan Shark Ko. That scene had a very green tint to it, which I don't know whether it was a deliberate effet, or something wrong with the film reel being used at that time. Detail levels in the film are pretty much on par with most other Universe releases. There isn't a great amount of detail visible in the background, but foreground objects and people do look as though there is a good amount of clarity and detail to them.
DVD & Extras
For extras, there really isn't much to chose from on the Century of the Dragon dvd. You've got the thatrical trailer, the trailer for A Man Called Hero and star files, in english and chinese, on Andy Lau and Louis Koo. That's yer lot mate.
On the whole I found Century of the Dragon to be a highly enjoyable watch. There is nothing overly clever about the plot, but that really all the more compliments Clarence Fok for his direction. Despite there being nothing special about the plot, the film never drags and is always engaging and interesting. Most performances were of a high standard, and really there isn't much on which to fault the film. I've rarely, if ever, heard people talking about this film on any online forum which I use, which gives me the impression that there is a reasonable chance that a lot of Hong Kong film fans may have let this one pass by. That is a shame, and I hope this review can help change that (!), as it is definitely worth buying.
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