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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Fist of the Red Dragon
Fist of the Red Dragon
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // January 20, 2004
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 20, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

The 1993 film Fist of the Red Dragon (also known as Heroes Among Heroes) is a Hong Kong period action film that all at once seems to exemplify all that is cool and all that is lame about many Hong Kong period action films. Set in 19th-Century China, Fist of the Red Dragon is set in a time during which the opium trade is bringing crime and violence to the country. Corruption is rampant, as many of those engaged in opium smuggling are both royalty and high officials. It is left to martial arts masters So Chan (Donnie Yen) and legendary folk hero Wong Fei Hung (Yuk Wong) to battle the smugglers and restore order to the helpless villagers left in their path.

The action scenes are always entertaining. The panther-reflexes displayed in acrobatics and wire-work are always a pleasure to behold. But there is a lot of "slapsticky" HK humor going on here, and most of it falls pretty flat. Characters are played extremely broadly, with a lot of forced humor that, even by HK standards, seems unreasonably hyperbolic. The fight scenes are a real kick, as evidenced by the sure directorial style of director Woo-ping Yuen, and generally make up the best parts of the film.

What makes this DVD release so disappointing is that Fist of the Red Dragon is being released in a dubbed format only. The OSL has been thrown out in favor of horrifically-awful English dubbing. Doesn't Columbia understand that the people who are most likely to buy this DVD vehemently obsess about hearing the original language, and not some forced, horrific dub? Alas. As it stands, the new Fist of the Red Dragon DVD comes across as a fairly ho-hum and forgettable venture.

The DVD

Video:

Fist of the Red Dragon is presented in an anamorphic-enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. The overall quality is problematic. There is some very discernable debris on the print: nicks, speckles, and other noise are all apparent. Print wear on the negative is visible throughout. Colors are flat and occasionally muted, and transfer is somewhat soft. Grain structure is evident. Contrast levels are smart and reasonable. Overall the film looks acceptable, but it won't win any awards either.

Audio:

Again, the bad news is that the Original Soundtrack Language is missing here. You have a choice between English dubs in 5.1 and 2.0, and a French dub as well. The 5.1 mix is obviously the more spacious of the two, but it fails to engage on an overall level. There is some forced directionality and occasional smart use of the expanded soundstage, but the overall effect is pretty flat. The dubbed dialog often sounds hollow and thin. Again, the presentation is barely decent, but unmemorable.

Extras:

The extras included on this disc are trailers for Fist of the Red Dragon, Legend of the Red Dragon, Returner, and So Close.

Final Thoughts

Donnie Yen is always a charismatic and entertaining presence, and Woo-ping Yuen knows how to bring out the best in an action scene. Yet Fist of the Red Dragon never comes across as more than a standard and ultimately unmemorable entry into the HK action cannon. The film demonstrates both the enjoyable and the annoying elements of the genre, and never really gels into anything too special. The DVD presents a pretty lifeless presentation of the film, and without supplements of note I cannot really recommend this disc to anyone but hardcore HK/Donnie Yen/Woo-ping Yuen fans. And even then, the lack of the original soundtrack language pretty much deep-sixes that recommendation.

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