The Dragon from Russia
(Hong chang fei long) (1990)
Directed by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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Yo (Sam Hui) and May (Maggie Cheung) are orphans living in Russia, where they fall in love. Their romance is, however, rudely interrupted when Yo is mysteriously abducted from a train. Sometime thereafter, he awakens, having lost his memory, in the house of a strange and very ugly Kung Fu master, who holds him prisoner and teaches him to be an expert killer. Before long, his new master is himself attacked and Yo, having escaped and gone to Hong Kong, begins to work as an assassin for the secret society headed by his teacher, which brings him into conflict with the widow of a powerful gangster after he kills that man on a mission for this group. Fortunately, while in Hong Kong, he also encounters May and reignites his romance with her, although, when he does so, some of his master's other students decide that he must die for so initiating a relationship with a person outside of their clandestine organization.

Clarence Fok Yiu-leung's The Dragon from Russia is an amorphous, almost incoherent film, but it is so filled with frenetic and wonderfully choreographed fight sequences that it is genuinely entertaining to watch.

In fact, it is probably wisest not to think too much about the movie's plot, as it is so vaguely presented and so loosely structured that it is almost incomprehensible. Not only that, but as it generally exists merely to provide excuses for the film's very frequent action sequences, it is almost irrelevant to the movie's enjoyableness.

These fight scenes, however, are almost all great fun to watch. The director has included wild, magical duels in the style of those found in movies of the Wu Xia genre, in which combatants leap through the air and perform various impossible feats, with more traditional Kung Fu sequences, and even with gun battles and car chases. The film is absolutely packed with a variety of these scenes and is genuinely exhilarating as a result. The various fanciful contests Yo has with his master, in one of which the latter even spins a web and traps his student as a spider would a fly, are particularly amusing, although there is hardly such a scene in the whole of the movie that is not both tremendously exciting and inventively realized.

What is more, while The Dragon From Russia is usually visually pedestrian, it is punctuated with a number of scenes of surprising beauty. I have to admit that I was actually surprised when I was presented with several of these moments. Placing languid figures whose dishevelled kimonos reveal ornately tattooed bodies before paper screens lit with deep magenta lights or upon silken sheets spread before lovely backdrops, the director has infused a number of scenes in his film with such beauty that they are sure to fascinate the viewer.

These moments also contribute to the movie's quirkiness. The Dragon From Russia is a truly odd mélange of different elements. Besides such often stunning images, the director has included in his film hackneyed car chases, pointless explosions, weird conceits, and more, all of which give it a peculiar but pleasant flavor.

Despite the movie's appealing elements, I must concede that its lack of structure, its intermittently substandard production values, its lapses into melodrama, and the occasionally inept performances of its actors do limit its quality.

Even though The Dragon From Russia is hardly a great movie, it is, nonetheless, so fast paced, so exciting, and so eccentric that watching it really is an enjoyable experience.

Review by Keith Allen

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