Dragon Chronicles

1994, NR, 95 min. Directed by Andy Chin Wing-Keung. Starring Brigitte Lin, Gong Li, Cheung Man.

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., May 9, 1997

Two superstar leads and lavish outlays (by Hong Kong standards) on special effects weren't enough to save this weirdly opulent 1994 swordsman/fantasy extravaganza from crashing and burning at Asian box offices. Some post-mortems have theorized that hardcore martial arts fans were rejecting the genre-crossing effrontery of “serious” master thespian Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern, Farewell My Concubine), who seems notably out of her element in the land of flying people and magic scrolls. More likely, though, martial arts zealots were simply confused or annoyed by the film's apparent effort to straddle the fence between tribute to and parody of the old-school swordsman aesthetic. Camp's smirking visage does show itself at regular intervals during a bizarrely convoluted story that includes battles over not only the usual enchanted amulets, scrolls and weapons, but also a “magical wooden tripod.” And the filmmakers, working loosely from a series of popular novels by Jin Yong, do get a little carried away with the addition of video-game-like pyrotechnics to the already over-the-top scenes of wire-riding aerial swordplay. However, as the makers of Big Trouble in Little China and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension proved, it is possible to send up the more patently zany aspects of a beloved genre, even as you're gathering it warmly to your bosom. The fight sequences are as abundant and creatively staged as in any of the competing product, and the f/x overkill actually serves as a perfect complement to the story's loopy melodrama. Perhaps the best indication of Chin's ultimate sincerity is the fact that longtime martial arts icon Lin seems not the least bit embarrassed (in either of the twin-sister roles she plays) and actually appears to be enjoying the chance to give the nudge-wink to such stock tomfoolery as butt-kicking centenarian Buddhist monks and reverential allusions to “the Shaolin Temple.” None of this is to be construed as a wholehearted must-see endorsement of Dragon Chronicles. As with the music of The Presidents of the United States of America, protracted exposure to manic whimsicality can be a serious headache-maker. But as a weekend group outing, when a giddy openness to juvenilia in all forms is holding sway, this might be just your ticket.

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Dragon Chronicles, Andy Chin Wing-Keung, Brigitte Lin, Gong Li, Cheung Man

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