Clarence Ford’s “The Dragon from Russia”, essentially an adaptation of the Japanese manga “Crying Freeman”, makes Christophe Gans’ lackluster 1995 adaptation “Crying Freeman” look like a masterpiece without equal. I kid you not.
There’s just something so wrong with “Dragon” that defies any sort of verbal brutality I can visit upon it. Director Clarence Ford and writer Ella Chan seems to be stuck on two completely different ideas — one is to adapt “Crying Freeman”, while the other is to make a completely different movie altogether. Except for about 20 minutes of screentime, “Dragon” shares no resemblance to the manga at all.
Sam Hui stars as Yao, the artist turned assassin. Hui seems to be channeling Jackie Chan half of the time — complete with goofy face and bad overacting for comedy’s sake — and Bruce Lee the other half — complete with loud Bruce Lee-like shrieks and poses. Maggie Cheung (“Hero”), still mired in bad Hong Kong movies back in the ’90s, plays a damsel in distress that helps Hui’s Yao to remember who he used to be. Of course that doesn’t quite explain how Cheung’s May seems to have the worst luck of any human being, since she keeps stumbling across Yao’s killings.
In a nutshell, “Dragon” transplants the “Freeman” storyline to that oddball dimension where Hong Kong action movies-cum-goofball comedy made in the ’90s is at home. This is the same dimension where films like “New Dragon Inn” and “Once Upon a Time in China” makes complete perfect sense. A dimension beyond the physics of space-time, it is only here that a coherent screenplay is a myth.
What I’m trying to say is, if you expect “Dragon” to have any semblance of logic to its comings and goings, then you are barking up the wrong tree. It’s mind-boggling how unnecessarily convoluted the many plots of “Dragon” are. Then again, it’s also mind-boggling how the movie’s characters possess such child-like simplicity.
Whereas the Freeman was originally brainwashed and then forced to kill, Sam Hui’s Freeman is brainwashed, told he’s a Vietnamese orphan, and is trained by the evil Snooker (Dean Shek) and his Japanese assistant Pearl (Loletta Lee) in what can only be described as 30 minutes of slapstick comedy.
Actually, Snooker looks like an evil female hooker, what with his plastic-surgery-gone-terribly-wrong face and nasal voice, which I think are supposed to be funny.
Nothing about “Dragon” is funny, unless by “funny” you mean terribly, terribly bad.
The only thing that saves “Dragon” is its many action sequences. But even those suffer greatly from a propensity for under cranking, which gives the fights an unnatural quality as actors speed kick each other back and forth.
I hasten to say that there’s not much about “Dragon” I would recommend, but really — there’s not much about “Dragon” that I would recommend.
Clarence Ford (director) / Clarence Ford, Peter Ngor (screenplay)
CAST: Sam Hui …. Yao
Maggie Cheung …. May
Nina Li Chi …. Chime
Carrie Ng …. Huntress
Loletta Lee …. Pearl
Dean Shek …. Snooker