Fans of Hong Kong movies expect great fights, beautiful cinematography and charismatic performers, but Peter Ho-sun Chan's "Dragon" is one of the first HK movies in years to experiment with a touch of nonstandard narrative storytelling.
Donnie Yen — who replaced Jet Li as the preeminent HK martial arts actor after the latter slowed down — plays Jin-xi, a simple small-town papermaker circa 1917. When two thugs attack a neighbor, the timid Jin-xi bravely joins the fray and manages to kill the bad guys, seemingly through good luck. But Xu (Takeshi Kineshiro), a slightly geeky government inspector, suspects that Jin-xi may be a martial arts master/killer, who is hiding his real talents and has started a second life. As Jin-xi's villainous father, Jimmy Wang Yu — a retired star of the '60s and '70s who hasn't acted in 20 years — displays dramatic acting chops I never expected he had.
The setup is very reminiscent of David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence," which itself drew from the Hemingway story "The Killers" (among other sources). Along the way, Chan uses a cool technique similar to the "quick mental assessment of what will happen" shtick in Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" when Xu reconstructs the Jin-xi's shellacking of the two thugs.
The Blu-ray is an excellent transfer with a sharp image and unobtrusive surround track. The default setting is Mandarin language with English subtitles. Extras are sparse but interesting — about a half hour of interviews and making-of stuff, and a music video for the ugly-as-sin theme song.
"Dragon" (Anchor Bay/Weinstein, Blu-ray, $29.99; DVD, $24.98)
--ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).