Sunday 14 August 2011

The Angry Dragon (1973)


Nostalgia is a tricky thing. Often times, when you revisit an old favourite song or movie many years after your initial exposure to it, it just doesn’t stand up. You were younger then, you didn’t have a clear conception of just what it was you were watching or listening to. At the time, you thought that this thing was great, but now, with a more experienced head on your shoulders, you may find that the thing you loved so much is actually pretty bad. Well, we’re going to be taking a special journey today. Today’s film is one that I haven’t seen for years. Since I was about 10 or so, and it has genuinely not been out of the box for around twenty years, give or take. I’ve managed to keep a hold of it all this time and I’m returning to that pre-pubescent mindset for another viewing of the 1973 martial arts flick The Angry Dragon.

Chang Hao (Cheung Lik) is a police officer looking to rid the town of the local gang of smugglers. The gang try to get rid of their enemies by kidnapping the daughter of the head of a local martial arts school, and framing a rival school. The plan falls through, so the head of the gang hires two mercenaries to wipe everyone out.

When it came time to actually review The Angry Dragon for this blog, I was actually rather excited about it. Not really because of the whole ‘haven’t seen it in ages’ bit, but because I actually couldn’t find a listing for it on the IMDb. None. I couldn’t even find a listing for the director, Lee Man Kit. I honestly thought that I had something that, as far as the IMDb was concerned, didn’t exist. This was a short-lived feeling. Turns out that the film I know as The Angry Dragon is known elsewhere as Kung Fu’s Hero, with director Lee Man Kit better known as cinematographer Li Wan Chieh. Why these name changes? Beats me. Besides, all of these are pretty minor concerns. Point is, what’s the movie like? As I said, I watched this a lot when I was much younger and always enjoyed it, but would I make of it now? What I still like it? Would I hate it? Would it actually be pretty good?

I’m not too much of a fool, I can see that The Angry Dragon is clearly not a particularly good film. In fact, it’s really quite bad. The story is needlessly convoluted; the acting is quite bad, though some of the dubbing is actually rather decent; the cinematography is very poor, so a fight scene in a forest is virtually impossible to make out; the set design is ugly as all hell; the direction is lousy; and the editing has more clumsy chopping than the fights. So, really, it’s just like every other low-budget martial arts movie to come out of the 1970s destined for the American late night shlock houses.

On that last point – the editing – some of the fault doesn’t fall on the film itself. Some of this is the fault of the BBFC. For those of you that don’t know, back in the 70s, the martial arts craze had something of an effect on the younger populace – everyone wanted to be a kung fu fighter. This meant that every idiot wanted the kind of weapons on show in the movies, specifically nunchaku. It’s a weapon that’s prohibited in many countries, but it also happens to be quite easy to make, which is exactly what people did. The BBFC then made the decision to cut any and all reference to them in the martial arts films that came through, along with any violence onscreen that could be considered easy to imitate. This does put some pretty big holes in things.

There are some big holes in there anyway. Thanks to the bad editing and the very bad direction, there are characters and sub plots that completely disappear without any real resolution, and at least one villain who gets away. Such poor filmmaking also means that we seem to be asked to accept a love story that has absolutely no basis whatsoever. It would be insulting if it wasn’t for the fact that the film is so poorly made that you just take it as par for the course. And the fight scenes are numerous, rarely staged well and go on forever. I’m honestly not kidding when I say that the last half hour of this film is an enormous fight with dozens of people spread over several locations, interrupted only by a car chase… and when I say a car chase, I mean the good guy, on foot, chasing the bad guy, who’s in a car… and catching him. It’s absurd.

All of this being said, I did still rather enjoy it, precisely because it’s meant to be regarded as dumb entertainment. It can all be pretty much summed up by a moment rather close to the beginning. Our hero, Chang Hao, is chasing a pickpocket down a series of alleyways. The pickpocket gets a bit of distance and takes his advantage, shimmying up the wall to the roof of the building next to him. When Chang Hao arrives, he sees the thief waving from that roof, an easy 25-foot above him. So Chang Hao simply leaps up to the roof in a single bound. Nonsense, bobbins, complete and utter BS… but it sure is funny. I actually still quite like Chang Hao as a hero, too. Thanks to an incredibly thin moustache, he always looks 12 years old, but he’s a real good guy. He relentlessly goes after the bad guy, regardless of who it is, and also sees fit to lecture lawbreakers on why they shouldn’t break the law… that’s right, this guy is basically Dog the Bounty Hunter. And some of the fight scenes aren’t too bad. Plus, and this was something that completely slipped my memory, we also see Bolo Yeung here, the big bad guy from Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport, though this was a time when he was still credited as Yang Sze. That was a nice surprise.

The Angry Dragon (or Kung Fu’s Hero, whatever you want to call it) is ridiculous nonsense and badly made on almost every single level. That said, it is still quite entertaining. This is the kind of stupid crap that you can watch and mock and laugh at, and still feel like you’ve been entertained to some degree. Admittedly, it really stretches your patience in the final act, but it’s not as bad what it could have been. I’m not sure I can really recommend it to people beyond the age of 12, but people with a thing for bad martial arts flicks from the 70s might like it, too.

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