With turns in Ip Man 3 (2015), Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018), and Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018), Max Zhang is slowly becoming recognizable in the stateside martial arts community. His movements are fast, his skill precise, and his presence commanding: the perfect combination for a star in the making. Personally, after seeing him in Master Z, hearing the name Max Zhang immediately perks my ears up as the notion implies I’m going to be in for a good time. Enter 2019’s crime drama actioner Invincible Dragon (originally titled The Invincible Dragon) with a home release from distributor Well Go USA, whose track record of films includes Swing Kids (2018), The Witch: Subversion (2018), Better Days (2019), First Love (2019), Shadow (2019), and Furie (2019), and you’d think you’d be set for an exciting, blood-pounding time. Even when Invincible Dragon just lets loose, going absolutely full-tilt insane, the execution of the narrative is so rushed and haphazardly edited together that very little satisfies even if it’s entirely memorable.
Zhang stars as Kowloon, a Hong Kong police detective known for solving difficult cases who finds himself demoted after an undercover arrest goes badly, resulting in him being sent to Lau Fau Shan. Soon after his arrival, a series of murders prompts the higher-ups to tap Kowloon with finding the killer. When things go bad, Kowloon loses everything he has left — his job and his fiancée — sending him down a spiral of shame he doesn’t seem able to come out of. But when a new lead comes up a year later, Kowloon’s former teammate Chow Mo (Endy Chow) encourages Kowloon to help him. When the two stumble upon an old acquaintance of Kowloon’s, Alexander Sinclair (Anderson Silva), they discover that the killings may not be as random as once believed.
Upon completion of Invincible Dragon, it’s easy to see what kernel of an idea birthed this film, what narrative thread it tries to follow while also offering moments of martial arts action. Dragon isn’t the first film to run its lead through the emotional ringer to elevate the pay-off in the final confrontation and the way Dragon attempts it is admirable. The serial killings and the subsequent escalation of events is explained slowly, like a picture slowly gaining higher resolution, adding elements of a thriller to the relatively straight actioner. Once the puzzle is put together, there are few holes in the logic, demonstrating that writer Kee-To Lam (Three Husbands) and co-writer/director Fruit Chan (Three Husbands) weren’t just interested in creating moments for Zhang to kick ass, but to create something far more compelling. Speaking of Zhang, the character of Kowloon enables him to stretch his more dramatic skills in a way we haven’t seen in films like Uprising or Master Z as the character grapples with loss after loss, sending him from top tier undercover cop to loose cannon out for justice.
The trick is you have to be willing to make it through endless voice-over short-handing scenes which are utilized in place of taking the time to build moments of meaning, through scenes that are basically tossed together without transition so that the characters move from one point in the narrative to another, and through a series of complex narrative beats used to get you to a conclusion so balls-out crazy that you’ll still be thinking about it months after you’ve finished the film. As an example, there’s a scene in which Mo and Kowloon are trying to get into a Macau-based establishment in order to do some investigating outside of their jurisdiction. To do so, they enjoin Dr. Wong (Annie Liu), Kowloon’s sometime-doctor and the daughter of a Macau tycoon, to drive Mo to the building when local cops intercept her. This sets up a fun, yet minor automotive stunt sequence that doesn’t serve the story at all. Moments like this one are pervasive throughout Dragon, disrupting the flow of the narrative in its more interesting aspects. It certainly doesn’t help that through Dr. Wong the narrative seems keen on treating Kowloon as borderline insane. See, in the introduction of Kowloon, he tells the story of the time when he went on an adventure with a nine-headed dragon as a child. That story pops up again and again, some questioning its validity and others taking it (and Kowloon) as legend. Dr. Wong, however, diagnoses him as possessing obsessive compulsive disorder, pinning his violent tendencies on it instead of the fact that his job requires him to investigate violent crimes. Toward the climax, the narrative seems intent on making Wong sympathetic as she attempts to forge a bond with Kowloon, but it makes little sense in the context of everything the two characters have said or how they’ve engaged thus far. Considering how much of the film is communicated via voiceover, the short-handing of so many moments prior to this weakens any attempts at creating emotional resonance.
As with any home release, there’s the question of bonus features. Sadly, outside of trailers for the film and previews for Well Go USA projects, there’s nothing to either enhance or explore Invincible Dragon included. Considering the mythology, the story incorporates of the nine-headed dragon and the gonzo fight that makes up the climax, having something to dig in to the thought process of either would be particularly of interest.
Invincible Dragon Special Features
- Invincible Dragon trailers
- Well Go USA Previews
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital October 6th, 2020.
For more information, head to the official Invincible Dragon website.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.