By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
As you may have guessed from the title, Chasing the Dragon is about drugs. This story is about the infamous Ng Sek-Ho (Donnie Yen), who emigrated from China with his buddies to make a name for himself in Hong Kong in the 1960s. After arriving, Ho and his buddies join a street fight between rival gangs to make some money, but expect to flee if there’s actual fighting. A fight erupts, and his gang of friends try their best to escape. The skirmish is stopped by Ernest Hunt (Bryan Larkin), who is an infamous English police superintendent sent over to Hong Kong to enforce British law. After being released, the gang of four start making their way up the ranks of the illegal drug trade. Ho joins forces with corrupt Chief Detective Lee Rock (Andy Lau) to put a stranglehold on the drug business. Lee constantly reminds Ho that they can do whatever they want, as long as they don’t murder any British cops. There are some subplots with Ho, arranging for his family to be smuggled by boat to Hong Kong, and his brother dealing with a drug addiction.
Ho’s brother eventually becomes desperate enough to approach Ernest for drugs. In the 1970s, an ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) was established to clean up the streets of Hong Kong. The partnership between Lee and Ho begins to erode. Lee wants to escape Hong Kong with Ho, but Ho just wants to settle the score.
Hong Kong’s corruption in the 1960s is well known for people who grew up there. I tried to do some research to find how much of the story between Lee and Ho was true, but did not find much on English-language websites. This movie isn’t advertised as a biopic and other reviewers point to exaggeration, and the family subplots were unfounded.
Donnie Yen is known for his role in the Ip Man film series — a martial arts hero who saves his people from outsiders, and he’s had supporting roles in recent U.S. blockbusters XXX: Return of Xander Cage and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The fight scenes aren’t choreographed the same way as Ip Man, but street fights were done well nonetheless. I was cringing at the scene where Ho receives his infamous nickname Crippled Ho. There are a few plot twists that can be expected. In Chasing the Dragon, Donnie isn’t portrayed as a villain as much as the trailers make him seem. It is refreshing to see him playing a multi-dimensional character, and I’m excited for Donnie’s future movie opportunities.
Andy Lau settles right into his role as Lee Rock, since he plays the same character in the movies To Be Number One (1991), Lee Rock, and Lee Rock II. With Andy’s extensive movie career, he plays a calm and calculated cop always making sure he covers all the angles perfectly. Andy and Donnie did a fantastic job supplementing each other.
Surprisingly, Chasing the Dragon was released over China’s National Day, and there is speculation why a film dealing with corruption was allowed on such a prestigious occasion. All films released in China are heavily censored to make sure they follow China’s political and moral views.
The director, Wong Jing, stated, “We’re showing how the British colonial powers didn’t do anything good for Hongkongers. They were only colluding for bribes. Of course, not all of them did that, but maybe 70 to 80 percent did.” That perspective from the director was how Chasing the Dragon got the green light to be released.
Chasing the Dragon is currently playing in 52 theaters in the United States and has grossed $60 million worldwide. Seattle is extremely fortunate this movie is playing at Regal Meridian 16. Don’t miss it!
John can be reached at email@example.com.