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Review:  Dragon Lord (Hong Kong 1982)

Within the two years after Dragon Lord’s release, Chan would enter into his golden age with the quadruple punch of Project A, Winners and Sinners, Wheels on Meals, and Police Story, catapulting him into superstardom and cementing his reputation as one of the greatest action stars of all time.  But Dragon Lord finds Chan in a transitional period, having established his comedic persona in counterpoint to the more serious Bruce Lee and Shaw Bros film of the previous decade but still trying to move beyond low budget period pieces.  Consequently, most of the film is sub-par slapstick and comic hijinks, consigned to the usual village, warehouse and field sets that so characterized that era’s kung fu films.

Plot-wise, Dragon Lord finds Jackie in his comfort zone, casting him as a bumbler engaged in a game of one-upsmanship with a friend (Chan-regular Mars) over their mutual attraction to a local girl, before they stumble into an antiquity-smuggling operation.  Chan would go on to re-use many elements of the plot years later to much better effect in Drunken Master II.  Chan did introduce a few innovations in Dragon Lord, bookending the first half of the film with some unconventional athletics, both in a team competition combining elements of Capture the Flag and King of the Hill, and in a violent round of team jianzi, or Chinese Hacky Sack.

More importantly, and the one thing making this film more than just a curiosity, the lengthy final boss fight against Korean Hapkido master Hwang In-shik features some truly breathtaking and rewind-worthy stunts and falls, even though the main villain’s lack of presence throughout the film really detracts from the narrative punch.

1 1/2 out of 4 stars (Below average).

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