Flying Dragon, Leaping Tiger

Reviewed by YTSL

Saddled though it is with the sort of (English language at least) title that led to initial rumors of it being a spoof of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, that which looks to be a Hong Kong-Mainland China -- and maybe also in small part Thai? -- co-production actually turned out to be a serious – even if very heavily action packed -- period piece.  While the not unambitious effort -- whose choice of name plus (desert and high country) settings seems to readily invite what would otherwise be an undoubtedly unfair comparison between it and the winner of four Oscars along with various other awards – surely is some ways away from being as awe-inspiringly epic and all-round sophisticated in tone as the Ang Lee helmed wuxia work, I nevertheless am inclined to look askance at the ethically dubious steps taken by Harvey Weinstein to ensure that it would not get to see the light of day in many parts of the world.

This is not least because FLYING DRAGON, LEAPING TIGER stars Hong Kong action movie fan favorites Sammo Hung (as a legendary bandit named Luk Cheng Yeung), Cheng Pei Pei (as his formidable estranged wife), Fan Siu Wong (who plays an escaped detainee turned dedicated follower of Cheng Pei Pei’s Liu Ru Yuen character) and Jade Leung (as the attractively spunky daughter of Luk and Liu).  Adding to the strong amount of promise plus interest that was generated by the announced co-appearance of this pair of veteran and younger talents is the happy realization that first time director Allan Lan knew enough to provide the Golden Sun Film’s four principal cast members – and quite a few of the more capable supporting performers, among whom is this effort’s near legendary lead actress’ real-life daughter, Eugenia Yuan – with plenty of opportunity to impressively show off their martial artistic moves (or, at least (especially in the case of Jade Leung), their ability to give off the sort of fiery intensity and throw out the kind of stares that are guaranteed to chill the bones of worshippers of feisty fighting femmes).
FLYING DRAGON, LEAPING TIGER’s story is one that’s thematically simplistic yet structurally convoluted.  The first half hour or so of this clash filled offering – one that gets off to a surprisingly quick start, and whose unexpected feel was undoubtedly enhanced by my spending a few moments searching in vain for English (never mind Chinese) subtitles to supplement the Bahasa Malaysia ones on the 35 mm print version that I viewed (in a Malaysian cinema) -- has Cheng Pei Pei taking center stage (as the kind of enigmatic character who is a force to be reckoned with, even when badly wounded), then sharing it with Fan Siu Wong (whose wide-eyed countenance helps to endow him with an appropriate air of admirable idealism).  Sammo Hung – whose assigned hefty role is that of a man whose continued loyalty to a sworn blood brother (Kiu Hung is essayed by Fong Ji Go), even after this individual betrays him and seriously endangers his family by leading a troop of armed government men to his hideout, results in his less forgiving wife deciding to separate from him and elect to bring up their daughter on her own – doesn’t really have to do much early on but turns out to be the pivotal personality around whom others, and certain salient developments are revealed to, revolve around.
Eugenia Yuan
Although her character has strong links with those of Cheng Pei Pei as well as – as it turns out -- FLYING DRAGON, LEAPING TIGER’s two main men, Jade Leung doesn’t actually appear in the picture until well after the elder woman permanently leaves the tragedy fraught scene.  When she does so, it’s in the wake of two equally assured young females (one of whom is portrayed by Eugenua Yuan), who are part of what could be described as her commanding character’s retinue.  And it is a good deal prior to the proceedings shifting to her part of the picturesque expanse of the (old) Silk Road -- that looks to have played host to the cast and crew of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” as well as this Lan Tien Hong production (whose Tiger and Dragon look to be more hidden than the Columbia-Sony offering) – that the often glowering villain of the piece (who, to the best of my knowledge, was played by Tsiu Ke) makes his entrance and also shows his misguided revenge-seeking hand.
If I were to cast a critical eye over FLYING DRAGON, LEAPING TIGER, I’d have to fault this recognizably budget-constrained production with particularly coming up short in the editing, music, costuming and dramatic acting departments.  There also are those occasions when the film’s fight scenes – which, should it not be already manifestly apparent, constitute the movie’s biggest plus points – suffer from over-excessive under-cranking plus are let down by examples of poor wire work and, more than anything else, distinctly El Cheapo looking CGI effects.  At the same time, this (re)viewer will vouchsafe that it’s not at all like there’s nothing whatsoever in the turn of the Ming and Qing Dynasties action work that can’t entertain, thrill and even elicit a gasp or more from those viewers who have latterly felt starved of realistic looking swordplay and the types of skilled martial artistic moves that fewer and fewer contemporary Hong Kong – never mind Hollywood -- actors and actresses appear capable of enacting.
Eugenia Yuan
In a nutshell: For all of it being so that many of FLYING DRAGON, LEAPING TIGER’s battling action scenes can appear pretty workmanlike rather than absolutely creatively inspired, this effort does possess its share of at least competently choreographed, nicely shot, well framed plus exuberantly performed kinetic sequences that can be a real joy to behold (as well as appear like venerable throwbacks to the not so long ago Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema).  Consequently, fight fiends ought to be happy enough with an offering whose familiar as well as familial tale of long term grudge-bearing and harboring of secrets together with inter-generational revenge-seeking can come across as more tired than timeless.  And even if it were only to spite the (dick)head of Miramax, I’d urge (East) Asian movie fans of all stripes and genre proclivities to track down and check out that which cannot be considered a classic but still surely does not deserve to be callously consigned to major obscurity.

My rating for the film: 6.

(Pictures from various sources on the web + from Femme Fatale article on Eugenia Yuan)

Cheng Pei Pei and Eugenia - 2002 and 1972