Considering the battles are coherent, easy to see, and the punches and kicks seem real, it boggles the mind to wonder how the rest of it could fail so entertainingly.
The film opens with the title music from The Battle of Algiers, which Quentin Tarantino also used for Inglourious Basterds. Even without being familiar with the tune, there’s a clear indicator—based on its origin and later uses—that the playing of it welcomes the audience into a world of rebellion and badassery. While the music is not inappropriately used (Black Dragon is a certifiable badass), the film fails to carry the sense of importance or cinematic savvy necessary to really feel like it’s living up to what that song promotes. Instead of a more thoughtful action-revenge story, as expected from the title and the early use of homage, a plot concerning rival kung-fu gangs fighting over a finger-fighting manual allegedly written by Bruce Lee fills the 90-minute running time. Ron Van Clief plays the eponymous Black Dragon, and with the help of a group of other martial arts experts, tries to track down the finger-fighting manual and discover the secret of Bruce Lee’s death.
Despite the poor production quality overall, the fight scenes are near perfectly shot, edited, and choreographed. When shown alongside all the other scenes that don’t involve kicking and punching, it almost seems like the kung-fu footage was shot by a completely different director. Considering the battles are coherent, easy to see, and the punches and kicks seem real, it boggles the mind to wonder how the rest of the production could fail so entertainingly. And nothing is more inconsistent than the editing. Like I said, the fight sequences look flawlessly constructed and present the action in a way that is easy to follow and also easily excites. But when it comes to a simple scene of two characters talking, it’s almost like they didn’t even look where they were cutting. Sometimes a character will not be finished saying a line of dialogue before the next scene pops up.
But the most unbelievably catastrophic failure was in the sound design. There aren’t a lot of movies that derive their entertainment value almost solely from having absolutely abysmal, ineptly recorded and edited sound. Every single voice is dubbed, even when the actor is capable of saying the lines clearly. There are other moments when the actors (specifically the Asian ones, who I assume either did not speak English or had a very bad grasp of it) are clearly saying something completely different than the sound that comes out of the TV. But the cherry on top is that the voices recorded in post are not only bad but frequently don’t even sound human. Ron Van Clief is the only one with a voice that slightly matches his own. Otherwise, you have monks, kung-fu masters, police, and gangsters who talk like a mix between a Russian non-phonetically reciting English words with no idea what they mean and your computer’s Microsoft Sam voice.
All in all, these elements combine to make a perfect so-bad-it’s-good flick, but only if you don’t count the genuinely competent kung-fu brawls. You get a little of both with this one: shock and awe. Why it isn’t already getting regular midnight screenings is beyond me. | Nic Champion
Other than a trailer, there are no extras on this disc.