When Panther Duen is apprehended and brought to justice, an international team of special agents are brought to Hong Kong to testify against him. During his transport to trial, Panther’s police caravan is attacked, and in a military-style ambush, Panther is taken away. While at first it is thought that it was his triad who saved him, it becomes clear after inspecting the attack style and the aftermath in the criminal underground that Panther has been abducted instead. The agents that were only brought in to testify have now teamed up and storm the streets to figure out who is behind the brutal attacks. Commander Hon (Simon Yam) offers all the police back up he can, while Kong Long (Sammo Hung), who has been demoted to transportation supervisor, offers the team advice on what they are going up against. And what they are going up against is a team of ruthless mercenaries who will stop at nothing to collect the money that is owed them.
For pure balls-to-the-wall action that is going to satisfy your need for hails of bullets, there is still no other source more reputable than Hong Kong to turn to. Even in this day, where current films must live in the shadows of their predecessors, Hong Kong can still deliver the goods. Director and writer Daniel Lee, who was the force behind mid-nineties martial arts fare such as One-Armed Swordsman ’94 and Black Mask starring Jet Li, now focuses his lens and pen on the cops-n-criminals bullet fest genre.
Lee is really only interested in giving his characters the most rudimentary of backgrounds before unleashing action sequence after action sequence. Each character, whether good or evil, is given a two-sentence on-screen bio with accompanying freeze-frame pose and a blitz of flashback images. From there, the characters merely go through the motions whenever their guns aren’t drawn in order to get to the next hyper-kinetically edited shootout. Lee’s script allows just a bit of depth for Sammo Hung and Simon Yam, who look great doing what they do simply because of how many times they’ve portrayed these character types. The younger police crew, including Shawn Yue (of the Infernal Affairs series) and former Taiwanse singer Lawrence Chou, are merely kids when it comes to these two powerhouses, though Yam does ask at one point to “give these kids a chance” in a monologue that may be directed more at the audience watching than at Hung.
Maggie Q, as a silent assassin, is merely here for window dressing for her stylish looks, wicked trench coat wardrobe, and huge sniper rifle. Her part is much less than the DVD cover might have you believe. Michael Beihn is most excellent here, and it hasn’t been this much fun to watch a western actor run rampant in Hong Kong since Paul Rudd co-starred in 2000’s Gen-Y Cops. Beihn offers the majority of the English dialogue in the predominantly Cantonese soundtrack, and lets other characters speak in English too, so as to give a break from the subtitles. Beihn really gets to let loose during the action sequences, and you can see a glimmer of his time with James Cameron with each gleeful pull of the trigger.
There is plenty of action to be had here, and the ensemble cast all get their go at doing the classic gun-firing dives, quick-swishes, and stoic poses. Unfortunately, Daniel Lee has so many characters to keep track of during most of these sequences, that his ultra-fast editing and rapid camera work loses much of the tension and stunt work brought to the screen. Many times you’ll just see jump cuts back and forth of all the characters, with little idea of who they are firing at and who is firing at them. Even Sammo Hung’s one martial arts fight sequence, which is the only battle that doesn’t involve guns, is shredded in the editing, which is a real shame since the legendary “Fat Dragon” can still do some incredible moves and damage. It does get a little frustrating for those that enjoy longer takes, though Lee’s skill as a director does keep everything exciting and avoids letting the scenes disintegrate into an incomprehensible mess.
Originally released in 2005 under the title Dragon Squad, it has been given the classic Weinstein rename treatment and redubbed Dragon Heat for the domestic DVD release under their Dragon Dynasty genre label. The film is thankfully released uncut with a pristine Anamorphic Widescreen transfer, and includes the original dialogue track which features Cantonese and English in your choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS with accompanying subtitles, or a purely English dub.
One of the main features of this DVD release is an audio commentary track by Hong Kong film expert, Bey Logan. Logan, who is British and absolutely obsessed with Hong Kong cinema, previously did commentaries for the UK DVD outfit HK Legend before moving on to work for Dragon Dynasty. Logan has such a passion for the material that it comes through in every one of his carefully crafted thoughts. Listening to a commentary track by Logan is like going to a crash course study of Hong Kong, and it is a guaranteed good listen that will key you in on the more subtle nuances of the movie. Keep a pad of paper nearby, for when Logan makes a suggestion or remarks on a film or actor, you would do well to listen to him.
The remainder of the special features are bits of fun and fluff. A half-hour “Making-Of” includes snippets of interviews with most of the cast and crew, and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the action set-ups. Co-stars Lawrence Chou and Michael Beihn are on hand for solo interviews and discuss how they became involved with the movie. Beihn’s interview in particular is interesting, as he discusses being introduced to the Hong Kong film industry. A brief fight sequence involving Sammo Hung and a gang of robbers rounds out the features. Although quick, it is a shame this had to be deleted, as it would have given fans of Hung a little taste of what is to come at the end of the movie.
While Dragon Heat may skimp on the plot and development, and then demand that we actually care about characters when they perish, for adrenaline junkies that just need one gun battle after another, Daniel Lee’s outing is a delicious pu-pu platter that is catered specifically to them.
Dragon Heat is out on DVD today.