Dragons Forever 4K UHD Review
Blu-ray Release: January 10, 2023
Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1) and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono; English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Fortune Star dub) and 2.0 Mono (classic and hybrid dubs)
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 94:25 (Hong Kong Cut), 97:54 (Cyclone Z Cut), 94:06 (English Export Cut)
Director: Sammo Hung & Corey Yuen
Jackie Lung (Jackie Chan) is hired by the seedy proprietor of a chemical works to defend against an injunction filed by the owner of a fishery. The hotshot lawyer subsequently avails the talents of acquaintances Wong Fei-Hung (Sammo Hung) and Tung Tak-Biao (Yuen Biao) to assist in the case, but finds himself romantically involved with a relative of the opposition as he struggles to maintain both professional and personal interests whilst upholding justice. (From 88 Films’ official synopsis)
Trained in the same Peking Opera School, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen, and Yuen Wah rose to prominence in Hong Kong martial arts cinema together alongside Raymond Chow & Leonard Ho’s Golden Harvest Studios. While Chan’s stardom tends to eclipse the others outside of Asia, all five of the Seven Little Fortunes (a misnomer for a group of up to 14 children) grew into three of the region’s most influential actors, performers, choreographers, and filmmakers, and continued to support each other throughout their careers, often working on each other’s movies. Significant collaborations featuring at least three of the ‘Brothers’ included Tsui Hark’s Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (starring Hung, Corey, and Biao, 1983), Chan’s Project A (co-directed by Hung, who stars alongside Chan and Biao, 1983), Hung’s Wheels on Meals (staring Chan, Hung, and Biao), Hung’s Heart of Dragon (starring Chan, Hung, Biao, and Wah, 1985), and Hung’s Eastern Condors (produced and starring Corey, also starring Wah, Hung, and Biao, 1987). Less well-known here in the US was 1988’s Dragons Forever, co-directed by Hung and Corey, and starring Chan, Hung, and Biao.
Dragons Forever kind of splits the difference between Chan’s grittier action movies and Hung’s Lucky Stars series (The Lucky Stars [aka: Winners and Sinners, 1983], My Lucky Stars , and Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars ), in which Chan and Yuen played cameos. The trick here is that both formulas require a lot of time for set pieces, either elaborate fisticuffs or extended slapstick antics. Add to that a convoluted plot (by Gordon Chan, Leung Yip-ming, and screenwriter Roy Szeto), sudden shifts in genre, and the fact that each star needs their share of hero moments, then cram it all into a compact runtime, and you have a very dense movie. To get around some of this narrative bulkiness, the characters take on qualities of the actors’ more well-known roles and public personas, sort of implying that Dragons Forever is a sequel to a nonexistent original movie, which is amusing, since Chan and Biao are cast against type as a playboy lawyer and paranoid neurotic, respectively.
Fortunately, the hectic and crowded creative environment seems to have stoked healthy competition between Hung, Yuen, and Chan (who reportedly directed some scenes without credit). The fight choreography is incredibly precise and the acrobatic stunts are spectacular, especially the third act showdown, where the goofy romcom schtick melts away, the stakes are raised, and the violence turns borderline brutal. It might not crack any actor’s top ten as an overall movie, but I’m surprised the climax doesn’t come up more often in discussions of the greatest martial arts scenes of the era. You have to wade through some unpleasant, overbearing courtship sequences to get to them, but there are some genuinely funny jokes, too – and I say this as someone who isn’t always susceptible to the ‘80s Hong Kong brand of comedy. Hung gets the best gags, such as a laugh-out-loud moment where he’s trying to take covert photographs of an illegal operation, only to realize every criminal in the place is looking at him.
The Brothers are joined onscreen by Miss World & Miss Universe participant Pauline Yeung, Deanie Ip, star of the Lucky Stars spin-off series Pom Pom (beginning in 1984) and Hung’s The Owl vs Bombo (Michelle Yeoh’s debut, 1984), Roy Chiao, who had just played parts in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and James Glickenhaus’ The Protector (Chan’s second failed attempt to break into the US market, 1985), Shaw Bros. regular Lo Lieh, and Californian kickboxer Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez. Apparently, the star power wasn’t quite enough, though, and Dragons Forever underperformed, which I suppose explains why it didn’t have a stateside VHS release until 1998, when Hong Kong distributors Tai Seng tried to cash-in on Chan’s newfound, post-Rumble in the Bronx (1995) fame in the region. This would be the last time Chan, Hung, and Yuen Biao co-headlined a movie together.
As I said, North American fans without good connections had to wait until at least 1998 to see Dragons Forever. Universe Laser’s NTSC non-anamorphic HK DVD could be easily imported and there was a 2-disc special edition PAL DVD from Hong Kong Legends in the UK, but, until pretty recently, it was difficult to easily find the film in North America. Eventually, an HD streaming version showed up on Amazon. Blu-rays have been released throughout the world since the early 2010s and 88 Films took their first swing in 2020 as a limited edition UK exclusive. That was upgraded to 4K UHD in 2022 and is now (2023) that version are available for US audiences. This collection includes three different cuts of the film: the original Hong Kong release cut (94:25), the extended Japanese version, released as Cyclone Z (97:54), and an English language version commissioned by Golden Harvest for international audiences (94:06). All three versions are taken from the same 4K remaster and all three are presented in 1.85:1, 2160p Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible).
The sample images on this page are taken from the 1080p Blu-ray that is included in the set. They don’t illustrate the extra oomph provided by the HDR enhancement, but you can still see that it’s a really nice transfer. And I’m not just saying that because decades of awful HK transfers have skewed my expectations. Grain is present and gets a lot darker during slow motion inserts, but this appears accurate (aside from a handful of noisy shots that I’m guessing were taken from a different source), doesn’t interfere with separation, and there isn’t notable posterization. Dynamic range looks fantastic in close-ups and very good in wide shots, though the blacks do tend to pool in some situations (it works slightly better with the HDR). Colors are vibrant without blowing out the film’s mostly naturalistic look and print damage is limited mostly to the occasional brownish-yellowish streak.
There are a lot of audio options here. If you’re watching the Hong Kong cut, you have the choice of Cantonese in its original mono in DTS-HD Master Audio and a new Dolby Atmos (core TrueHD 7.1) remix, the Fortune Star-branded, 2002 5.1 English remix, and a mono hybrid of the original Golden Harvest English dub with patched sections from the Fortune Star dub. The Atmos mix is a little unnecessary, but respectful of the mono. It mostly fills out the stereo and surround channels with James Wong Jim’s electronic score, leaving the dialogue and limited incidental effects in the middle channel. Neither English dub really fit the main actors, but the Golden Harvest-branded cast is superior in terms of performance and writing. If you watch the Cyclone Z cut, you can choose from the Cantonese Atmos remix, the original Cantonese mono mix, and the hybrid mono English dub. If you watch the English export cut, you’ll have to stick with the Golden Harvest dub in DTS-HD Master Audio mono.
Commentary by Hong Kong cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema (Hong Kong cut) – 88 Films favorites Leeder, who also works as casting director, stunt coordinator, and producer, and Venema, the director and co-writer (with Leeder) of the upcoming doc Neon Grindhouse: Hong Kong return for another personable and nostalgic look at Dragon Forever, its cast and filmmakers, its various releases, locations (including the current housing prices in the area), and the actors’ fashion choices.
Commentary by Frank Djeng and FJ DeSanto (Cyclone Z cut) – Djeng, the NY Asian Film Festival programmer, leads another fact-filled HK martial arts movie track, this time alongside DeSanto, the producer of various Transformers animated series (among other credits). Together, they break down the greater careers of the cast & crew, the various in-jokes and Cantonese-only puns, audience reactions to the film, and some of the differences between the Hong Kong and Japanese cuts.
Elite Stuntman (39:17, HD) – Stuntman/performer Chin Kar-lok talks about entering the industry, training, the ‘80s era of HK action, safety standards, and working with the three stars over the years.
Writing for the Dragons (47:48, HD) – Co-writer Szeto Cheuk-hon (aka: Roy Szeto) recalls his earliest work in film & television, working with a team of writers under star screenwriter Barry Wong (Lucky Stars, Mr. Vampire , and Yes, Madam ), the logistics of writing so many movies per year, Hung’s generosity, and writing Dragons Forever, in particular.
Benny Forever (24:36, HD) – Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez, the aforementioned California-based actor and martial artist, discusses idolizing Bruce Lee, his fighting record and reputation as aggressive, writing a kickboxing training book, and his movie career.
Discussing Dragons Forever (7:00, HD) – The professor, former editor of Cinema Journal, and author of Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema (Midland Books, 1988), David Desser, celebrates Jackie Chan career and compares Project A to Dragons Forever.
Hong Kong Cinema Forever (6:05, HD) – Leeder returns for a shorter breakdown of the film
Working with the Dragons (6:15, HD) – Martial artist Jude Poyer chats quickly about working with Hung and Chan.
Stunts Unlimited – A set of interviews with members of Jackie Chan’s Stuntman Association taken from the Cine-Asia UK DVD release:
Double Jeopardy (26:36, SD) – Brad Allen of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013), Edgar Wright’s The World’s End (2013), and Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).
Beyond Gravity (13:02, SD) – Joe Eigo of Gordon Chan’s The Medallion (2003) and Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010).
Kick Fighter (38:46, SD) – Andy Cheng of Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour (1998), Tom Dey’s Shanghai Noon (2000), and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Thai Breaker (34:11, SD) – Actor and martial artist Billy Chow of Dragons Forever, Eastern Condors, Chan’s Fist of Legend (1994), who is seen participating in a competitive kickboxing match.
The Legacy of Dragons Forever (2:33, HD) – A short appreciation from actors & martial artists Troy Sandford, Chris Jones, Ross Boyask, Maria Tran, Mike Leeder, Jean-Paul Ly, Mark Strange, Mike Moeller, George Clarke, Jude Poyer, and Steve Lawson.
Behind the Scenes Footage and Outtakes (12:57, HD)
Music Video (2:55, HD) – Including English and Cantonese LPCM 1.0 audio options
Additional cantonese dialogue clip (0:36, HD)
English export and Hong Kong theatrical trailers
Limited Edition box contents
Hardcase featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore
80-page perfect bound book featuring new writing by CJ Lines & Matthew Edwards, as well as archival materials, imagery, and more
Large, fold-out, double-sided poster
Six replica Hong Kong lobby cards
Double-sided artwork featuring new art by Sean Longmore & original Hong Kong poster
The images on this page are taken from the BD (not the 4K UHD) and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.