Donnie Yen is best known for his work in martial arts and fantasy films. In fact, he’s one of the absolute best to ever grace the screen in films like IRON MONKEY, the IP MAN series, and even ROGUE ONE. While martial arts may be his bread and butter, he’s also a very talented actor who rarely gets a chance to show off a full range of emotions. In recent years, he’s been branching out a bit in order to show this side his abilities. With CHASING THE DRAGON, Yen steals the show with his portrayal of real-life Chinese gangster known as Crippled Ho.
Ng Sik-Ho (Donnie Yen) is a broke Chinese immigrant who makes his way from the Mainland China to the British-led Hong Kong in the late sixties. He’s an illegal immigrant with strong family values but he finds himself thrust full force into the criminal underworld. He finds himself in a life or death situation only to have his life saved by rising police detective Lee Rock (Andy Lau). The two form a bond and go on a blood soaked ascent in the criminal underworld. They control the drug trade in Hong Kong with an iron fist but when outsiders (the British police) come in to take a piece of the action, alliances are formed and friendships are strained. Ho and Rock have two very different ideas of how to handle their growing empires and their strong personalities could be the end of them.
Director Wong Jing has been a staple of the Hong Kong film industry for four decades. He’s worked with all of the biggest stars including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Chow Yun-Fat. His films have topped the Hong Kong/Chinese box time and time again. He’s still going strong and still making an impact. This time out he has teamed with Cinematographer Jason Kwan (COLD WAR), who also co-directed, to deliver CHASING THE DRAGON, a homage to the gangster epics which flooded the Hong Kong box office in the 80’s and 90’s. The pacing during the first quarter of the film was a bit slow and it takes a few minutes to get immersed in this world. The film is loosely based on a true story about both men portrayed by Lau and Yen. The story has been told before in the early 90’s with the films TO BE NUMBER ONE and LEE ROCK (ironically enough, the title character was portrayed by this films Lee Rock, Andy Lau). I’m one of those people who will be forever devoted to Donnie Yen. He’s one of the most charismatic performers to ever grace the screen. He truly does chew up every scene, showing to the world once and for all he’s a fantastic actor. Andy Lau was, is, and always will be a commodity to ever film he takes part in. This might be Yen’s film, Lau adds some levity to the proceedings. Surprisingly, since the film had some funding from China, it manages to be excessively violent. It’s not Yen doing flashy martial arts, it’s brutal street fighting for survival. I’m sure the characters were glorified, the main characters come off as likable anti-heroes, the true story of what really happened is quite dark. CHASING THE DRAGON is an entertaining and violent throwback to the gangster films of the past.