DRAGON HEAT (original title: DRAGON SQUAD) is directed by Daniel Lee. This film is internationally produced (co-produced by Steven Seagal, I heard) and released way back in 2005. This is an action film that really looks very good, it contains hyper-accelerated action footages with a professional style of quality. It is a pity that the mentioned quality doesn't match its plot and direction. Don't be misled by the dvd cover, MAGGIE Q is NOT the main lead actress in this film, Dragon Dynasty probably only wanted to capitalize on her recent fame in U.S. outings; DIE HARD 4, MI-3 and Balls of Fury.
A team of young interpol agents, Andy, Vanness and Cheung arrives in Hong Kong to produce testimony in a trial against a local crimelord Tiger Duen with local cops Lok and Suet together. However, during prisoner transport to the courthouse, a ruthless mercenary team led by Petros (Michael Biehn, Terminator) assaults the armed convoy. Interpol is humiliated while the op is led by a veteran cop Kong Lung(Sammo Hung), who recognizes the group is made up of known international terrorists. Kong is very reluctant to get involved in another operation until he gets inspired by his young charges who rises to the occasion. They come together to form "DRAGON SQUAD" in the hunt for Petros. The streets of Hong Kong become a backdrop in a battle of wills and wits in a cat and mouse game between the two teams that engage in urban warfare.
DRAGON HEAT could have been the Hong Kong equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay film, only with a lot less "snappy" character banter and little sense of sly humor(Bruckheimer and Bay ROCKS, by the way). You can tell that the direction has the Bruckheimer influence with its cool quick cuts, while the gunfights still have that John Woo inspiration. However, even with its very (so) stylized and energetic action scenes, the heavy-handed direction can't disguise the truth; the movie doesn't "click". Hong Kong is renowned for "bullet ballet" but lately, it has been going towards melodrama, much in the same direction as Korean cinema. It is nowadays rare for a Hong Kong film to be loaded with bullet ballet action scenes, a lot of which DO entertain in a certain kind of way. The action is over-directed that it becomes distracting, with a lot of quick cuts as futile attempts to make a routine and mediocre action scene look sleek. Realism flies out the window during these scenes; MAJOR characters only get shot ONLY in moments to generate wanna-be dramatic moments(it doesn't succeed). Y'know what's most amusing, the mercenary bad guys are DEADLY accurate sharpshooters until they face our young heroes then they keep missing their target. Both sides unload enough ammo to fight a war. Well, I'm used to the usual "movie magic", but it's so fairly obvious in this film because of the heavy-handed direction.
Also, much like a Hollywood film, Dragon Heat give defining personal issues and "baggages" to carry for each of its major characters but it doesn't help much. The characters are uniformly uninteresting, and only achieves a little empathy or identity because of the actors playing them. Example; Sammo Hung, Simon Yam and even Michael Biehn carry some weight, while Vanness Wu(Kumite) and Shawn Yu are dull, basically one-dimensional. Hotties Maggie Q(Naked weapon) and Isabella Leong(Isabella, Spider Lilies) have limited screen time but they both serve well as eye-candy.
Sammo Hung is a legendary icon in Hong Kong cinema. I wonder why would he involve himself with a film so mediocre as this after the huge success of "SPL". Chin Kar-Lok is the action director of the film, it is almost unbelievable how such acclaimed talents can be in a film like this. I guess the director and contracts may have a lot to do with it. Oh, well..
DRAGON HEAT aka: DRAGON SQUAD may still entertain some viewers with its numerous stylized action sequences. The hollow plot and flat characterization makes it laughable, but NOT in the same "legendary" cheesiness of "GEN-Y Cops", "Catwoman" or "Batman & Robin". (There are some films that are so bad that they're good) It is a very pretentious attempt to add some depth into the storyline with canned melodrama that is neither touching or dramatic. To its credit (at the very least), the film doesn't take itself too seriously, perhaps "bad style" does make a movie somewhat diverting.
RENT IT! [2 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
PICTURE/AUDIO: ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN. Exceptional transfer. Natural colors, very sharp and clean. Black levels are very good. The dvd's technical aspects are near flawless. 5.1 DD/5.1 DTS Cantonese/Mandarin w/ English track. English subs are very good. In closing:
This review was Originally posted in amazon.com, August 2007
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