Kung Fu Dramatic Fightin’
There’s an unfortunate discomfort watching Heart of Dragon today involving co-star Sammo Hung playing a mentally disabled 30-year-old man. In one scene, Hung is asked to “fly” around a restaurant, act like a dog, and swim like an eel for a cruel manager. It’s meant to make the boss out to be a villain, but Hung’s desperate actions feel too close to awkward comedy, or worse, mockery.
Hung is Heart of Dragon’s centerpiece, creating the main plot points (contrived as they often are) while sending his on-screen brother Jackie Chan into frustrated rage. Three years later, MGM took this concept and turned into an Oscar winner in Rain Man; that movie at the least offered subtle dramatic curves. Heart of Dragon has Chan brawling jewelry thieves in a brutal finale.
Chan’s usual kinetic choreography does play a key part, but this is an outlier in the superstar’s resume. Often, he’s toting a gun, finishing foes with shots to the chest, including one holding a shovel that normally leads to credible fighting. When Chan does turn to hand-to-hand fisticuffs, the brutality also veers from expectations, with Chan stabbing and cutting like a slasher movie villain, but in this case, he’s the hero.
Heart of Dragon just isn’t an action flick though in spite of those headlining the poster. It’s a drama, an uneven one at that, but still effective in bits and pieces. Forever good guy Chan is forced to lash out when his brother’s condition impacts Chan’s life and career, a hard but authentic moment for these two to share on-screen together. When yelled at or confused, Hung’s performance fares better, either swallowing tears or panicking when he doesn’t understand. That’s better than the playful side that cause Heart of Dragon’s core issues. Hung playing with toys feels and looks forced for the camera.
Still, there sits an ambitious (for a Golden Harvest genre film) emotional curve that retains plausibility even during the action scenes. The stunt work looks spectacular, with two incredibly dangerous falls particularly of note. All the while, Chan’s anger grows, forcing him to rescue his kidnapped brethren, and the animosity on Chan’s face is wholly earned.
Generous in sharpness, Heart of Dragon sports a great new master for this Blu-ray release, effectively flawless in replicating the source film stock. A tiny grain structure sits consistently over the frame, resolved easily by the encode. This allows texture and detail to sprout unimpeded. Heart of Dragon’s natural definition is an asset that will last the entire runtime.
Color doesn’t push hefty saturation, yet the primaries still show excellent brightness. Yellows and blues show exceptional density. Flesh tones hold on, also organic and pure.
Black levels rarely reach their deepest grades, if to little detriment. There’s enough depth to go around, helped by a crisp contrast that nicely accentuates Heart of Dragon in HD. The print itself doesn’t show damage, scratches, or wobbling.
Cantonese, Mandarin, and English come in DTS-HD mono. Each track offers acceptable fidelity, handling the score, dialog, and generic action sound effects crisply. The slight coarseness to the overall quality fits the time period/age without marring the source.
Frank Djeng & FJ DeSanto commentate over the longer Japanese cut. Interviews include older ones with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Rocky Lai, and Arthur Wong. Promos for the Japanese premiere come next, with galleries galore following.
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Heart of Dragon
While uncomfortable in places, there’s a decent drama behind Heart of Dragon.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 35 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: