The big-budget Hong Kong actioner “Dragon Squad” (which was supposedly “produced” by Steven Seagal) is a big, loud, and dumb movie made for a globalized world. The narrative makes no logical sense, with the type of incredible leaps in plot development that could only exist in a film written to be an action movie first, with dispensable characters plugged in and around the action set pieces later on to pander to various audiences. The film’s list of characters was created with an eye toward international distribution, with both the good guys and bad guys originating from Hong Kong, China, America, and England. It’s all very “global” of “Dragon Squad”, but alas it’s too bad the film is just so, well, stupid.
“Dragon Squad” features pop star Vanness Wu (also in Lee’s “Star Runner”) as a young foreign agent who, along with other agents from other countries, are sent to Hong Kong to deliver important evidence needed to convict a murderous criminal. Joining Vanness is Hong Kong cop Shawn Yue (“Initial D”), Mainland Chinese sniper Cheung (Yu Xia), a British SAS agent with raggedy hair, and undercover Hong Kong cop Eva Huang (“Kung Fu Hustle”). Although the film’s brochure claims the agents are from Interpol, this is never made clear in the movie, which isn’t a surprise because, well, not a whole lot is ever made clear in the movie. In fact, not a whole lot makes sense in the movie, but we’ll get to that later.
Unfortunately for our tyke agents, during transportation of said criminal and evidence, the criminal part gets lost when a murderous gang of killers led by Ko (Jun-ho Heo, “Volcano High”), with able assist from Michael Biehn as a guy looking for payback, steps in with a hail of bullets. It’s a good thing, then, that our young agents are the dogged types, because they quickly form a team (don’t they have posts to get back to?) and begin operating against orders from local cop Simon Yam (“Explosive City”). Our freelance operators get able assist from retiring cop/chauffeur Kong Long (a cigar-chomping Sammo Hung, who looks like he was driving back and forth between the set of “Dragon Squad” and “Sha Po Lang”, judging by the hair coloring and wardrobe). As expected, the present case has everything to do with the past, a whole lot of bullet casings are discharged, and a lot of stuff that the script can’t possibly explain happens.
In an interview he did for a screenwriting book, “Lethal Weapon” scribe Shane Black relates how he spent many sleepless nights trying to explain how his characters got from point A to point B so that there wouldn’t be any narrative gaps in his script. I bring this up to say this: I get the feeling the phrase “narrative gaps” never even occurred to the screenwriters of “Dragon Squad”, because the film is overwhelmingly idiotic, featuring gaping plot holes and character motivations that makes not a lick of sense. Why didn’t these foreign agents go home after their job was over? Don’t they have bosses demanding that they return? So, er, they can just hang around Hong Kong and do their own thing at will? Apparently so.
Make no mistake, “Dragon Squad” is all about the action, something director Daniel Lee manages with skill, even if he does tend to bring unnecessary attention to the camera’s zoom lens. Lee also makes an odd choice by constantly flashing back to some indeterminate time in the individual character’s lives when they’re plying their trade. For example, because Maggie Q. is a sniper, we constantly get flashbacks to the same sequence showing her, well, handling her sniper rifle. The same for the rest of the cast. It’s all a little gratuitous, actually, and makes you wonder if Lee has attention deficit disorder and needs to constantly remind himself what these people’s singular personalities/backgrounds are, or if he thinks we have ADD and can’t keep up with the film’s 20 or so characters.
Which isn’t to say the script is completely lacking, because it surprises on some occasions, such as its insistence on giving the two main bad guys real pathos rather than just make them cardboard villains. Sammo Hung’s Long also gets a backstory, involving a daughter who doesn’t want anything to do with him and a past connection with Heo that involves a bloody gunbattle. Curiously, the young agents are clean slates from the moment we meet them. Some attempt is made to give them backgrounds, but they’re half-hearted and oftentimes feel forced. Not that anyone will mistake “Dragon Squad” for a character-driven film, mind you. Nevertheless, it’s somewhat disturbing how little interest the script has in its own main characters.
There are some inspired moments sprinkled throughout “Dragon Squad”, including a scene featured in the trailer that briefly shows a unit of Hong Kong SWAT cops gathered on a rooftop preparing their weapons. Another great moment is a lengthy and completely chaotic gunfight inside an alleyway as a storm of confetti paper billows about. The scene features two groups battling it out in the alleyway below, while on the rooftops snipers Song (Maggie Q.) and Cheung battle from behind scopes. Of course for every great action scene there are pointless logic questions, such as: During that cemetery shootout between Song and Cheung, when exactly did Song get the time to rig up an elaborate ambush? She’d probably need at least an hour, not the 3 seconds she actually had onscreen.
But perhaps I’m over thinking “Dragon Squad”. It’s clearly not a movie whose makers stayed up nights trying to make even semi plausible. As a purely action film, it delivers on the bangs and style to warrant a slight recommendation, even if Daniel Lee’s use of drums in the soundtrack begins to get a tad tedious toward the end. And did the film’s final 20 minutes really have to devolve into a series of one-on-one fights between the good guys and bad guys? In any case, if big and dumb action movies are your thing, then “Dragon Squad” is the way to go. Here’s some advice, though: instead of just checking your brain at the door, remove it; you’ll thank me later.
Daniel Lee (director) / Daniel Lee, Ho Leung Lau (screenplay)
CAST: Sammo Hung …. Kong Long
Michael Biehn …. Petros Davinci
Jun-ho Heo …. Ko
Lawrence Chou …. Andy Hui
Vanness Wu …. Vanness Chang
Simon Yam …. Hon Sun
Shawn Yue …. Lok
Maggie Q …. Song
Yu Xia …. Cheung
Eva Hueng …. Suet
Bingbing Li …. Ching