Enjoyable Andy Lau/Triad potboiler
Libretio | 05/22/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
DRAGON IN JAIL
[Yu Zhong Long]
(Hong Kong - 1990)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Theatrical soundtrack: Mono
Kent Cheng Chuk-see's convoluted action-thriller toplines actor-singer Andy Lau Tak-wah as a gold-hearted convict who befriends fellow inmate Kenny Ho Ga-ging (THE RED WOLF) whilst they're both in jail on manslaughter and embezzling charges, respectively. Upon release, however, they're forced to go their separate ways - Ho becomes a lawyer, whilst Lau is dragged into the underworld via the machinations of a thuggish Triad underling who frames Lau for murder. The film's second half charts a series of appalling tragedies which drive the normally peaceful Lau to seek revenge against his tormentors, culminating in a predictably blood-spattered finale.
A fairly typical Hong Kong potboiler of its day, DRAGON IN JAIL combines heart-rending melodrama with sudden eruptions of choreographed violence, all of which serves to underline the bonds of friendship which unite the leading characters. Ho acquits himself admirably here, playing a fairly cliched role, whilst top-billed Lau coasts through proceedings on the strength of his good looks and sensitive acting style, showing no signs of the heavy workload which saw him appear in more than a dozen movies in 1990 (his commercial success meant that he was a popular choice for get-rich-quick Triads who were operating within the HK film industry at the time). Production values are limited, but Lam A-do's excellent cinematography makes a virtue of the low budget art direction and rough-hewn locations, while Wong Ming-lam's snappy editing keeps the narrative moving along nicely. Some of the cutting seems a little ragged in places, however, indicating a rushed post-production schedule.
Elsewhere, director Cheng - taking a break from countless acting roles in the likes of RUN AND KILL, CRIME STORY, etc. - acknowledges the sexually ambivalent aspects of the prison setting with a couple of surprisingly candid 'sex' jokes, while the movie's only substantial female role (Gigi Lai Chi, playing Lau's ill-fated girlfriend) is basically sidelined in favor of the intense, 'platonic' friendship which develops between Lau and Ho. HK movie commentator John Charles has recently chided western observers for their constant citation of 'homoerotic undercurrents [in HK movies]... that would not be viewed in such a way by Chinese audiences'. Maybe not, but the filmmakers themselves seem to know exactly what they're doing! Ultimately, DRAGON IN JAIL is an enjoyable entry in the HK crime canon, distinguished by its busy plot, fine performances, and energetic action sequences.