Dragon Squad

Film review by Lee Alon

Amalgamate improbable characters speaking a multitudinous mishmash of languages, laughably OTT action, insane dramatics and a hokey story. Of course the result would be a travesty. Not! Such a concoction can only lead to 2005's best shot at a seminal HK action flick, courtesy of dependable helmsman Daniel Lee, who previously provided us with the good but wholly underrated Star Runner (2002). Better yet, Dragon Squad erases much of the bitterness left after Election cast a pall on local crime-oriented cinema, and successfully brings to the fore almost all the celebrated ingredients we love so much and have been yearning for. Chief among these are guns, which here come in almost every imaginable shape or form, occupying a huge chunk of proceedings, to the extent of bullets flying as if typhoon season had no inclination to end. This leaden deluge culminates in one of the longest gun battles on record, a scene that does drag on a bit but when viewed in the proper context surely warrants our respect. Indeed, it has been too long.

Make no mistake, DS also includes a sharp touch of choppers for good measure, and characters that can take numerous slices as well as gunshot wounds before even hinting at going down. What more on any planet could you possibly ask for in a gung-ho action bonanza? All this comes as both a surprise and drought-breaker, for too much of an interval passed since the last of this blessed breed of motion picture emerged from HK, and kudos to Mei Ah for supporting the project. Cast, crew and producers apparently made sure every classic detail made it, down to smoking, an activity so cherished from bang-bang watersheds like John Woo's, despite the anti-lighting-up trend currently sweeping the globe.

So you clamor for story. Silly! At any rate, there is one if you insist. Sammo Hung, one of our favorite heroes when he's not meddling with crap like Legend of the Dragon, does veteran and almost retired cop Kong Long ("Dinosaur"), who gets called upon to mentor a posse of brash Interpol agents on their most vital task to date. The titular Dragon Squad consists of Shawn Yue as special Hong Kong police officer Lok, Lawrence Chou in the role of left-handed US SWAT shooter Andy Hui, Xia Yu (In the Heat of the Sun) as smooth mainland military sniper Cheung and Eva Huang, who depicts undercover hottie Suet. In addition, former F4 member Vanness Wu comes in to help save the day as UK SAS trooper Chang, and the whole kit and caboodle apparently showcase some kind of international cooperative effort, hence the resultant linguistic snafu, with Cantonese, Putonghua and English mixed to deliciously HK-ish effect. Its all way better than Star Trek's universal translator.

And while none of the good guys really excel (save maybe Sammo, whos back to form with his ubiquitous cigar in tow), it's the villains that steal the show. Facing off against the Dragon Squad, our baddies arrive in the city to take care of personal vendettas aimed at local triad maestro Tiger Duen, causing the Dragons to step in as protectors of law and order. On the evil squad we have chilling Maggie Q (Naked Weapon and the upcoming MI:3) as a somewhat-demented Vietnamese sniper Song, and what a marvelous job this girl does. She definitely comes in as a natural for the bitchy-murderous type. To bolster things further, Korean actor Heo Jun Ho appears as sadistic but honorable Colonel Ko, plus action stalwart Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator, The Abyss) puts his two cents in via Colombian assassin Petros, leader of the bad guy cartel. All of the above generate highly distinct characters with an ominous feel, while at the same time making sure we realize they're not truly wicked, but rather driven by genuine, even valid motives. The movie goes on to depict camaraderie among the opposition, something it does not achieve in dealing with the good people.

Certainly, there is an attempt here to convey more than violence, and DS spends time on sentimental content periodically, flirting with love interests and Kong Long's relationship with his daughter (Isabella Leung). While not superfluous, these segments surely play second violin to the meaty action portions, at best amounting to a harmless variation. What this picture boils down to is top-notch gun battles, done with impressive attention to detail. There's almost none of the glaring continuity problems often afflicting HK products, so things make sense, and exchanges, no matter long or short, feel and sound substantial. Compliments must go to the sound department: audio-wise, Dragon Squad makes one believe they're being shot at.
And while some cast members don't convince as bonafide weapons handlers (most notably Eva Huang), others come across totally skilled, as observed in Maggie Q and Biehn.

Most importantly, DS is one violent movie, drenched in crimson start to finish. With that and several gratifying mature language moments, it probably deserves a Category III rating more than Election ever did. Speaking of which, Dragon Squad also features memorable cameos, including one by Election star Simon Yam (as police captain Hong Sun). Others join the fray, too, with both Daniel Lee favorite Andy On (Black Mask II, Star Runner, New Police Story) and Li Bingbing (World without Thieves) adding to the already intoxicating recipe.

Perhaps it has to do with opting for world-acclaimed supervision (Steven Seagal co-produced), or maybe we were just due for some karma adjustment. Either way, this amounts to an action experience straight from the textbooks (choreographed by Chin Kar-lok), and should not be missed by anyone hankering for old-fashioned bullet-infused antics with more than a modest dollop of Hong Kong mannerisms.

Rating: 8/10

Directed by Daniel Lee
Starring Sammo Hung, Shawn Yue, Michael Biehn, Maggie Q, Eva Huang, Lawrence Chou
2005, Cantonese/English/Putonghua, 110 minutes

Contact Lee Alon here