Invincible Dragon 九龍不敗 (2019) Review

In this Max Zhang’s new — though long-delayed — action movie Invincible Dragon <九龍不敗>, I originally found it hard to believe it was actually written and directed by Fruit Chan. Yes, the independent Hong Kong filmmaker who gave us movies like Made In Hong Kong <香港製造> (1997), The Longest Summer <去年煙花特別多> (1998) and recently, Three Husbands <三夫>.

By right, it would be interesting to see how Fruit Chan would handle his first mainstream action genre in Invincible Dragon <九龍不敗>. But after watching the movie, I’m beginning to doubt what Chan is trying to accomplish here.

First, here’s the brief synopsis: Kowloon (Max Zhang and yes, that is actually the name of his character) is a dedicated police inspector known for his dragon tattoos as well as his violent behaviour. His latest case, which involves several Hong Kong female police officers mysteriously killed by a serial killer, resulted in a failure that causes his colleague’s life and the disappearance of his presumably-dead fiancee (Stephy Tang).

Following the incident, Kowloon went into exile until his former colleague (Endy Chow) manages to locate him a year later about a female police officer being murdered in a similar fashion. He subsequently joins the investigation and later discovers it might have something to do with his former rival, Alexander Sinclair (Anderson Silva) and his yoga-trainer wife Lady (JuJu Chan).

Now, if only Fruit Chan approaches his movie as a straightforward mix of police procedural and revenge thriller with a few martial arts action sequences thrown in altogether, it would have been a potentially entertaining result.

But Chan, who co-wrote the script alongside Jason Lam Kee-To clearly isn’t interested to make a typical HK action thriller. Instead, what we have here is a genre-bending oddity that blends everything from action to cheesy/black comedy as well as neo-noir detective mystery (complete with Max Zhang’s voiceover narration, that is!) and even… a metaphorical fairy-tale of sorts involving… the story behind his dragon tattoos. Don’t get me started with the flimsy CGI nine-headed dragons. It’s like what the f*** am I watching here? I get it that Chan is trying to be different here but the thing is, the way he hops from one genre to another is unintentionally laughable than something that resembled an oddly intriguing piece of work.

Getting Max Zhang to play an eccentric police detective poses another serious problem. He is simply way out of his league to pull off such a role and the only thing he’s obviously comfortable at is his physically-demanding performance in the action department. His much-anticipated fight scene between former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva has its few moments, thanks to Stephen Tung Wai and Jack Wong’s gritty action choreography. But it’s a shame that Chan, who also edited his own movie, chose to frame most of the action in a tight close-up and made it hard for the audiences to enjoy its elaborate choreography. Even the supposedly memorable set-piece involving a fight between Max Zhang and JuJu Chan in a speeding MTR train is largely hampered by terribly spotty CGI.

The supporting actors are equally a mixed bag, with Anderson Silva looking largely awkward as the movie’s main antagonist. The rest of them such as Kevin Cheng’s Macau superintendent role along with Annie Liu and Stephy Tang who play respective characters as Chinese medicine practitioner and Kowloon’s fiancee-cop aren’t given much to work with.

No doubt that Invincible Dragon <九龍不敗> is a bloated mess that makes me feel Fruit Chan should have stick to making sociopolitical independent films instead.

ONE-AND-A-HALF-stars

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