• Year: 2005
  • Directed by: Daniel Lee
  • Starring: Vanness Wu, Shawn Yue, Shengyi Huang, Lawrence Chou, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Michael Biehn, Maggie Q
  • Written by: Daniel Lee, Ho Leung Lau

It’s hard to know how to review a film from another culture sometimes. Can I really say that any one way of filmmaking is the “right” way? I don’t think so. Well, let’s just say that I enjoy martial arts films, but also enjoy the economy of scenes in Western films. With that in mind, I can confidently say that I had a good time watching this movie, but it got gratuitous and mired itself down with too much development.

As near as I can figure, the plot goes a little something like this: An important witness is being transported under heavy guard so that he can testify safely. A young team of hot shot cops is assembled to protect him during transit. An old team of hot shot bad guys assembles to liberate the witness. The old team beats the young team and they make off with the witness, but not to rescue him. Instead, the witness is used as ransom by the old team bad guys to lure out the witness’ brother who happens to be a different bad guy. And the reason they want that bad guy is because he got Michael Biehn’s brother killed. Actually, every character on both the good and bad teams has a beef to sort out with someone else on the other side. And that’s precisely the reason why the film breaks down.

With so many characters and plots — not subplots, mind you — to keep track of, you’ll be hard pressed to remember character motivations from scene to scene. At one point, you just won’t care anymore and you’ll stare blankly, reading subtitles and thinking that the next action scene couldn’t come fast enough. Then, just when you’re about to hit the stop button on the remote and call it a night, someone starts shooting a gun or wielding a machete and you give the movie a few more minutes.

The action sequences really are the saving grace to Dragon Heat. The shooting sequences get a little tedious and prolonged, especially when the director (Daniel Lee) recycles footage like in the scenes with the snipers, but they get the job done. The martial arts scenes, however, will actually surprise you at how well choreographed they are. It’s also refreshing to see a plump guy like Sammo Hung doing fight scenes typically reserved for more agile-looking men.

Another word on the direction: It seems like Daniel Lee tried to elevate the movie beyond what it could achieve. He constantly and inexplicably flashes back to the characters performing canned poses, tossing handguns into the air and catching them dramatically while wind swirls around them, animating their long, black coats. Those shots serve no purpose other than to remind us of more entertaining John Woo films.

At the end of the day, you’ll probably leave Dragon Heat more positive than negative, but it’s definitely not a film you want to invest all of your attention on. Rent it or stream it and have it on in the background while you fold the laundry and you should be fine.