Director Daniel Lee serves up what must be one of the most intense action films from Hong Kong in years, a brutally violent cops n' robbers film that has such a fetish for guns and their firing that it borders on obscenity. Well, depending on your views on violence it could be well past obscene - this is not a film for the squeamish!
The plot is broadly nonsense - 5 young Asian interpol agents are in Hong Kong for some gangster's trial, but the convoy is ambushed on the way to court. The HK cops don't want them there, but they are determined to get their man (back). Old-timer Sammo Hung has some hang-ups to resolve, and the kids adopt him as a mentor. Michael Biehn (former terminator) leads a gang of international ex-special force mercenary types who provide the Dragon Squad (for I assume that the name of the film is meant to refer to our young heroes) with some opposition. Something like that anyway - I'm not sure the plot makes a lot of sense, and the dialogue is so full of cheese I flushed most of it out my ears as soon as it entered :p
Daniel Lee has always tended towards visual stylisation, and this film is no exception - there's some very creative and beautiful images to be found, though the film over-does the "people posing with guns are cool" thing in places, turning it into "people posing with guns look silly". There's also a bit of the "hyperactive cameraman + editor" plague that infects so many modern films - there's rarely a static shot that last more than half a second. There are a few shots that specifically recall What Price Survival, but mostly it is a very "modern" film - i.e. shot like an MTV documentary.
Acting is a mixed bag, with the non-Cantonese actors fairing better than the HK pop stars overall. Michael Biehn might actually be the first white guy in a HK film who delivers all his lines in English and *doesn't suck at all*. He fits in perfectly in fact, and is totally convincing in his role. His scenes with Li Bing-Bing (who is still totally hot) are probably the best in the film for drama. Maggie Q also does a good job as a Vietnamese sniper who (IIRC) remains silent throughout the film and is all the tougher for it. Korean actor Hur Jin-Ho also impresses as a villain, especially since he has to speak Mandarin or English for most of the film. In fact, it must be said that the bad guys come off better than the heroes throughout - I forgot I wasn't meant to be rooting for them :p
Anyway, enough of such frivolities... this film is really about the action, more than any HK film in recent memory. There's some intense stuff at the beginning, then it's teased out for a while, then things go seriously ballistic for the final act, with some of the longest and wildest shoot-outs filmed in years. There's probably only Time And Tide in the same league from this millenium. Despite the rapid editing and camera movement, the choreography of the gunplay all flows, and you get a great sense of the layout and movement within the scene - the action shines as being well thought out and put together. I'm tempted to say the gun fights feel very realistic, though the sheer number of bullets fired in the course of 110 minutes makes that claim impossible to justify. The action is refreshingly well crafted, with the kind of attention to detail mixed with creativity that is what put Hong Kong on the map back in its heyday. There's a little bit of non-gun action as well, with Sammo getting a long overdue chance to show some moves... yay! It's guns that Daniel Lee wants to talk to us about in this film though.
If it weren't for the action, DRAGON SQUAD would probably just go down as another embarrassing vehicle for a bunch of kids with no charisma and further proof that the territory has forgotten how to make a good film. So if you're not nuts about violence, this isn't a film for you. If you really miss the days when Chow Yun-Fat could take out an army with just 2 guns in his hand, come get your fix :)