R (violence); 97 min.
Two hardened criminals drop in to rob a store. They beat the daylights out of the proprietor and his wife. An employee cowers behind a counter, until he summons up his guts and hurls himself at the brutes. And as others look on, he bungles and stumbles his way into killing them both.
But was he stumbling? Were those misplaced blows and sword-slashes accidents? Or does this fellow have...skills?
That's the killer opening of Dragon, a fun collision of the David Cronenberg film A History of Violence, traditional over-the-top Hong Kong martial arts pictures and sort of a CSI: Yunnan Province. Because even in 1917 China, there are investigators working for the government who can examine physical evidence, draw logical scientific conclusions and re-create in their minds what really happened.
That's what Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) can do. A bespectacled detective, he comes to the rural village where Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) has somehow brought down two notorious killers. He's an accidental hero, "a good man," the locals say. And Xu Bai-jiu isn't having it.
Xu Bai-jiu narrates the case, an obsessed man who grows more obsessed the more he digs. Perhaps, like us, he recognizes the great martial artist, actor and action choreographer Yen (Iron Monkey, Hero).
Peter Ho-Sun Chan's film is at its most entertaining during this confrontation and its investigation taking place.
Dragon becomes a much more conventional gravity-defying chop socky picture as the CSI part of the story fades into the background. It's still one of the best movies of the genre in recent years.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Exclusive: Cinemark 10, Plano
-- Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service