Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao are three martial arts heavyweights who were instrumental in revolutionizing Hong Kong action cinema in the 80’s and their collaborations where all three would feature in starring roles often felt like the kung fu version of assembling the Infinity Stones. Having previously all strutted their stuff in Project A (1983) and Wheels On Meals (1984), the third and final installment in what would become known as the Three Dragons trilogy surfaced in 1988 and proved itself to be arguably the most insane of the bunch that featured more violent flailing limbs than an octopus’ mosh pit.
Strap in and brace yourself for the one of my personal favourites of all the Hong Kong slap-a-thons from the 80’s – it’s Dragons Forever and it’s coming at you like a thrust kick in the ribs from Benny “The Jet” Urquidez.
Jackie Lung is a successful lawyer who finds himself morally compromising situations when successfully defending men who are more than likely guilty. However, this doesn’t stop him taking on a job from a mysterious chemical company to discredit a fishery that claim they’re poisoning the water and in order to gather as much dirt as he can, he enlists two friends into the mix. Firstly he convinces his corpulent arms dealer friend Luke Wong to woo the tough fishery owner Miss Yip and get her to settle out of court and then hires his other friend, wildly eccentric inventor and hideous baggy jumper enthusiast, Tung, to bug the flat of her cousin, Wen Mei-ling. Compounding his questionable ethics even further, chronic womanizer Lung also starts dating Wen, but cracks in his creepy plans start to form when Wong and Tung (who are total strangers) run into each other while in the middle of their respective missions and end up brawling as a desperate Jackie tries to separate them. Further problems arise when the boss of the chemical plant, Hua Hsien-Wu, turns out to be every bit as dodgy as obviously looks like he is (seriously, he’s so suspect it’s untrue) and the chemical plant is revealed to actually be a drug manufacturer warehouse; on top of this hugely predictable problem is the fact that both Jackie and Luke have genuinely fallen for their romantic targets and when a pissed off Tung blows the whole deal by finally letting the truth out. Finally deciding to right some wrongs (some of which they were ironically actually responsible for…), they decide to gather intel on the drugs lab only for Luke to fall foul of Hsien-wu’s psychotic, guyliner wearing, martial arts henchman; can Jackie and Tung save their friend and manage to take out an entire criminal warehouse bristling with thugs before Wong succumbs to a fatal overdose?
An exhilarating romp that’s bursting with more innovative energy than the Energizer Bunny wired up to a car battery, Dragons Forever proves to be an immensely satisfying final bow for the Three Dragons and sits high in the rankings of all three of it’s gravity defying stars. Directed by Sammo Hung with Corey Yung on the assist, the movie is a delirious mix of Three Stooges slapstick and riotous brutality that mixes goofy humor with the face breaking force of the climax of Chan’s 1985 masterpiece, Police Story.
Wilfully ridiculous (casting Jackie Chan as a king fu lawyer is nothing if not original) and utterly loaded with memorable moments and characters, the experience bores it’s way into your brain like an unfortunate case of blunt force trauma related concussion; take the heavily flawed trio for example: Chan’s morals optional lawyer is far more of a romantic lead than we’ve ever seen him before but he’s tempered with a surprising amount of darkness considering that when we first see him he’s trying to convince a rape victim to settle out of court in order to aid his client. While he admitted defends her from thugs trying to force her decision, he still slaps the shit out of her when she (rightfully) accuses him of being technically in cahoots. It’s pretty heavy shit for a martial arts comedy and it’s not made much better despite Chan laying out his defendant in full view of the presiding judge (who is played by the same frickin’ actor who was Lao Chi from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom!) as ways of some redemption. Hung and Biao aren’t noticably much nicer either, the former being introduced while trying to sell guns to a couple of wannabe robbers, while the latter seems to be dangerously infantile and thinks a reasonable solution to his woes is to murder the person who is rightfully suing him for breaking & entering and if it wasn’t for the jocular tone of the script and the comedic clout of the leads, Dragons Forever could have been in very real danger of being virtually unwatchable. Thankfully, the nitty gritty of the story is balanced out by a broad, cartoonish look (the villain’s lair is the most colourful drugs lab you’ve ever seen) and a suprising amount of heart that beats under the oddly cruel surface – Wong’s growing relationship with Miss Yip is genuinely sweet his desire for her forgiveness that leads to her inadvertently bashing him in the head with a spanner still fits with the movie’s strangely mean outlook but is nonetheless suprisingly affecting. The term affecting also extends to the movie’s nefarious villains as they’re portrayed as entertainly murderous overexagerated monsters; like diminutive mobster and chief big-bad, Hsien-wu, who sneak attacks his enemies while obsessively puffing on his oversized cigar while dangling from a bannister like some kind of ghastly goblin-man in a pinstripe suit – or kick boxing legend Benny Urquidez as a psychotic, narcotic scoffing underling.
This, finally brings us to the action – and good god, what action it is. While all the incidental fights are typically as fast and furious as you’d expect, things get taken up a notch thanks to a truly eye-bugging finale and literally any time any of the three leads want to pick a fight with each other. I could literally watch these guys fight among themselves all day as they enact nothing short of a physical, comic opera using nothing but their bodies as they lash out at each other as if Larry, Curly and Mo had the killer skills of Bruce fucking Lee. The only thing that tops these peak examples of hysterical genius is a climax that turns out to be a barely a toe shy of a roundhouse from besting the sublime final act rumble of Police Story. Everyone is firmly locked on beast mode as Yuen Biao effortlessly busts out stunning feats of athleticism as easily as if he was casually stretching for a cookie, while Chan and Urquidez engage in a rematch of the flawless duel that closed out Wheels On Meals and actually come relatively close to beating it while they relentlessly beat each other (no cigar, though).
An extraordinary and fitting end to the misadventures of the three dragons, this is one frenetic three-way you’ll be damn pleased you got into the middle of.
Dragons Forever, FOREVER!