Fire Dragon
(Huo yun chuan qi) (1994)
Directed by Woo-ping Yuen

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

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After his adoptive brother, a provincial governor in Imperial China, is killed by Fire Dragon (Brigitte Lin), a powerful female martial artist, Yuen Ming (Siu Chung Mok) sets out to warn a faithful official of the treachery of that woman's master, the Sixth Duke (Lap-Man Sin). She, however, pursues Ming as he does so, although he manages to find refuge among a troupe of acrobats led by the feisty Tang Lyn-Yu (Sandra Ng Kwan Yue), who quickly begins to fall in love with her guest.

Woo-ping Yuen's martial arts adventure Fire Dragon is a fun, action filled, if nearly completely amorphous film.

The story the director tells is, it must be admitted, little more than an excuse by means of which he is able to introduce various fight sequences, and his characters are so crudely delineated that they are entirely forgettable. The villain is ambitious and cruel, if never intriguingly so, and the heroes are likeable, good natured, often quirky individuals who are just as unmemorable as is their enemy. Fire Dragon is perhaps the movie's most interesting character, although even she is not actually a complex individual. She begins the film as a scoundrel, but eventually realizes the error of her ways and changes sides. Regrettably, her transformation is so quick and so arbitrary that it is not really likely to fascinate the viewer.

What is more, the numerous comic situations the director has introduced are, without exception, uninspired. At one time or another, he treats the viewer to such sights as Ming assaulting Lyn-Yu and blinding her by poking her eyes with his fingers, that woman attacking one of her performers, who is smitten with her, and Fire Dragon attempting to hide a suspicious visitor from several persons who have entered her room. All these sequences rely on slapstick, and those who enjoy such humor may be amused by them. Others, less impressed with broad physical comedy, may not.

In spite of its countless faults, Fire Dragon is worth watching, thanks largely to its visual appeal and its exciting action routines. Such details, while they may not entirely redeem the film, do, at the least, prevent the viewer from being bored.

Yuen has, in fact, punctuated his movie with several attractively filmed moments. At one point, he reveals the Sixth Duke reclining on silk sheets arrayed in a luxurious room while his beautiful lover, Snow (Chuan Chen Yeh), who is also a talented martial artist, and Fire Dragon's rival, tattoos a gracefully curving dragon on his back. In others, Yuen presents the viewer with vast courts teaming with soldiers or acrobats, with Fire Dragon and Snow standing atop a wall while colorful banners flutter behind them, with the opulent chambers of a high official, and with other visions besides these.

The actions sequences, happily, are even more exciting than these images are lovely. The director makes use of the conventions of the Flying Swordsman genre and shows his characters leaping through the air, running across vertical surfaces, shooting flames from their fingertips, and performing various other impossible feats. Every one of these routines is wonderfully choreographed, genuinely thrilling, and suffused with a real magical quality.

While Fire Dragon is burdened with a number of faults, it is sufficiently attractive and exhilarating to retain the viewer's interest throughout its duration.

Review by Keith Allen

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