1988 is a significant year for martial arts fans as it’s the last time the trio known as the Three Dragons were captured on celluloid. The group comprised of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao would make several films together, each person never quite overshadowing the other, each one given the chance to showcase their signature fighting styles in a variety of creative ways. Directed by Hung and executive directed by Corey Yuen (No Retreat, No Surrender/Yes, Madam!/The Transporter), the action romantic comedy Fei lung mang jeung, more commonly known as Dragons Forever, is a strong note to go out on, offering brilliant stunt work and hilarious comedy that holds up as strongly in 2023 as it did in ’88. Thanks to 88 Films, Dragons Forever has been given a high-definition restoration with enhanced picture and sound for each of its three versions (Hong Kong, Japanese, and International), two brand-new interviews, and a varied assemblage of previously available bonus materials in a limited edition package that’ll excite long-time fans and avid martial arts collectors.
Lawyer Jackie Lung (Chan) is hired by factory owner Mr. Wah (Yuen Wah) to defend him against fishery owner Miss Ip (Deanie Yip). He decides separately to hire his two friends Wong Fei-Hung (Hung) and Dung Dak-Biu (Biao) to help him learn more about Miss Ip and her environmental expert cousin Nancy Lee (Pauline Yeung). Not only does conflict arise when Wong and Dung don’t realize Lung hired them both, but both Wong and Lung start to develop feelings for the women on the defense’s side. What will Lung do, especially as Mr. Wah proves to be far more dangerous than anyone realizes?
Before parsing the restoration and packaging, let’s first look at the film itself, something which at once is brilliant to behold and yet not entirely timeless. As directors who are equally comfortable in front of the camera as behind, Hung and Yuen capture the action elegantly, allowing the audience to see everything clearly, no matter the speed of the characters, whether through long takes, wider shots, or rhythmic edits that convey the swiftness and ferocity of the physical impacts. With so much of Dragons Forever predicated by the acrobatic prowess of its three stars, the directors make sure that the audience not only gets to see each of the performers shine individually, but that, as a group, none outshine the other, making for an experience where one is excited for the next action sequence to see what these three will do next. Thankfully the action scenes run aplenty as the narrative itself is flimsy and not well explored. Chan’s Lung is quite the womanizing shitbag of a person, hitting on every single woman he meets, representing scum, and generally only caring about whether he gets paid. In the first scene in which we meet Lung, he’s trying to convince a plaintiff to let his client off the hook when they get attacked by goons. It’s a scene that, had Lung not been trying to get his client off on the charge of rape, might have endeared the audience to Lung, but then, in reaction to being attacked, the plaintiff slaps Lung, thinking he’s behind it, and he slaps her back. If Lung were a proper hero stuck working for terrible people, he wouldn’t engage in such misogyny. The only reason we really root for him is (a) the fight scenes are as imaginatively choreographed as ever and (b) his developing honest affection for Lee has Lung reconsider his morals. Another strange bit of business is that if one isn’t aware of the off-screen relationship between Chan, Hung, and Biao, the connection on-screen of the characters would remain a mystery as, outside of a comment that Lung is individually friends with the other two (the implication being that each are long-time friends), there’s no background provided with how they met or why an enemy might refer to any of the three as “dragons.” Using the pre-existing relationship between actors and audience is a smart way to get to the core of story quickly, but it does mean that anyone jumping in late (say in 2023 with no prior knowledge of the trio) will have more questions than the narrative is interested in answering. On the upside, this also means that as paper-thin as the film is, it’s still enjoyable because there’s nothing actually deep about it. Bad guys are bad guys (Wah Yuen sucks on a stogie the way a villain might twirl their mustache) and the good guys are agile, fleet-footed, and ready to get down with the get down on the bad guy’s thugs. In short, it’s an action fan’s dream.
To be as crystal clear as possible, the 4K UHD edition of Dragons Forever is a two-disc set: one 4K UHD disc and one Blu-ray disc. In the U.S. version, sold by distributors like MVD Entertainment who provided this retail review copy, the on-disc materials for each disc are identical except that the 4K UHD disc is of higher resolution with Dolby Vision. Additionally, the Blu-ray disc is set to Region A, so anyone with an appropriate Blu-ray player can view the film.
Because this is a restoration for a film that’s roughly 35 years old as of this writing, consider this writer shocked at how incredible the 4k UHD edition of the Hong Kong Cut looks (as it’s the original release of the three, everything that follows is based on viewing this cut). There’s no visible grain, the 5.1 Cantonese-language track is pristine (great balance with the ambient and surround noise, as well), and the colors are immaculately balanced. In the scene where the audience meets Dung Dak-Biu, he’s sneaking into his own apartment at night. He comes into frame in shadow in front of a building with a yellow KODAK Film sign and several red LEDs. There’s a red tint over Dung, but the color doesn’t make him red and it defuses into the dark air around him. It does lend a bit more red to the bike he’s carrying. Later in the film, as Wong listens in on Miss Ip using a wall mic and headgear, instead of loads of white and grey (as depicted in photos of prior releases found online) there’s more distinction in the individual colors and the letters identifying the sonor ears on Wong’s head are sharper, more defined for easier reading. Though there’re no details included in the packaging as to how the restoration was created, there’s no doubt that the results are immaculate, producing one of the best re-releases to date.
When a film is 35 years old, though, sometimes restoring or remastering the video and audio presentation isn’t enough, and 88 Films brings the goods. First, the release includes all three cuts of the film on both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions; the user need only select which version they want to watch before pressing “play.” Each version has its own feature-length commentary track with the Japanese Cut receiving a brand-new commentary track from Frank Djeng and FJ DeSanto (contributors of other works, like the 4K UHD Police Story Trilogy set). There are 11 featurettes, two of which are brand-new: a 39-minute interview with stuntman Chin Kar-Lok (Yes, Madam!/Millionaires’ Express) and a 47-minute interview with screenwriter Szeto Cheuk-Hon. Though the bulk of the on-disc materials are from prior releases, having them all in one place, with the addition of nearly 1.5 hours of new content (plus a new commentary track) is more than some recent boutique releases often provide.
For those that feel like it’s not enough, the limited edition version of both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray restoration come in a sturdy cardboard hardcase; an 88-page book that includes promotional material for the film, as well as two new essays from film writers and historians CJ Lines and Matthew Edwards (one writing about Dragons Forever as the final Three Dragons feature and the other exploring the reception of the film through the lens of trying to attempt a four-quadrant approach); six double-side postcards (kept inside the disc case); and a large double-sided poster that features the artwork of the release on one side and a reprint of one of the theatrical posters on the other. Taken together (on-disc and package presentation), this is an impressive release meant to satisfy fans for some time.
If you’re any kind of martial arts fans (new or old), Dragons Forever is a film that (overall) doesn’t disappoint. Most of this is due to the obvious chemistry between the Dragons and their ability to sell physical humor like few in the martial arts community can. More importantly, their ability to do so doesn’t diminish or reduce their fighting acumen, it just highlights a different facet of their respective characters. It also smoothly highlights that these three, gifted and absolute forces in combat are also still human, accidents (planned or not) acting as anchors to reality. This matters a great deal, especially when Benny Urquidez’s (Wheels on Meals) nameless thug working for Wah appears in the climax of the film, so that the inevitable win feels earned.
Between the packaging, the bonus materials, and the restoration, if you’ve been considering snagging this restoration, do so with confidence. This one is an easy recommendation to make.
Dragons Forever Special Features:
Limited Edition Features:
- Hardcase featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore
- 80 page perfect bound book featuring new writing on the film by CJ Lines & Matthew Edwards, as well as archival materials, imagery, and more
- Large fold-out double-sided travel poster
- Six replica Hong Kong lobby cards
On-Disc Special Features:
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of the Hong Kong Version [94 mins] in original 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
- Cantonese-language options in Dolby Atmos and mono with newly translated subtitles and SDH
- English Mono Hybrid Dub
- 2002 Remixed English 5.1
- Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema [Hong Kong Cut]
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of the CYCLONE Z Version [98 mins] [Produced exclusively for the Japanese market, this Cantonese-language version includes two extra scenes and an ending with outtakes]
- Cantonese language options in Dolby Atmos and mono with newly translated subtitles and SDH
- English Mono Hybrid Dub
- New Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng and FJ DeSanto [Japanese Cut]
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) of the International Version [94 mins] [Commissioned by Golden Harvest for international audiences outside Asia] with the English Dub and optional English SDH
- New Elite Stuntman: Interview with Chin Kar-Lok (39:17)
- New Writing for the Dragons: Interview with Szeto Cheuk-Hon (47:49)
- Benny Forever: Interview with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez
- Discussing Dragons Forever: Interview with David Desser
- Hong Kong Cinema Forever: Interview with Mike Leeder
- Working with the Dragons: Interview with Jude Poyer
- The Legacy of Dragons Forever Featurette with today’s actors & martial artists including Troy Sandford, Chris Jones, Ross Boyask, Maria Tran, Mike Leeder, Jean-Paul Ly, Mark Strange, Mike Moeller, George Clarke, Jude Poyer & Steve Lawson
- Double Jeopardy: An Interview with Brad Allen
- Beyond Gravity: An Interview with Joe Eigo
- Thai Breaker: An Interview with Billy Chow
- Kick Fighter: An Interview with Andy Cheng
- Out-takes & Behind the Scenes [HD]
- English Trailer (HD)
- Hong Kong Trailer (HD)
- Music Video (English) & (Cantonese)
- New Additional Cantonese Dialogue
- Double-sided artwork featuring new art by Sean Longmore & original Hong Kong poster
Available on 4k UHD and Blu-ray January 10th, 2023.
For more information, head to 88 Films.
To purchase, head to MVD Entertainment Group..