1999 was a year to remember. The new millennium was on the way, the landscape of the world was full of change, and a low budget, straight-to-video war movie titled “Bridge of Dragons” became one of the most hard-hitting action films of the year. Sure, 1999 might’ve been when “The Matrix” completely changed action movies for years to come, but “Bridge of Dragons” had something no one else had with a budding Israeli filmmaker and karate exponent named Isaac Florentine as its director.
Add in Dolph Lundgren and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa making a hero-villain reunion after 1991’s “Showdown in Little Tokyo”, and “Bridge of Dragons” was a serious harbinger of where the man behind the camera was going and what he was going to deliver when he got there…
Dolph Lundgren leads the movie as the conflicted soldier Warchild, in the employ of the ruthless warlord Ruechang, played by Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa.
Rachel Shane portrays Ruechang’s betrothed bride-to-be Princess Halo, with Gary Hudson playing Warchild’s fellow soldier Emmerich, John Bennett plays the Registrar whilst Scott L. Schwartz plays Belmont.
In the war-ravaged future, the land is protected by General Ruechang and his armed forces in the aftermath of the death of the king.
Ruechang intends to consolidate his role by marrying the king’s daughter, Princess Halo, who is hardly eager for her arranged marriage.
Halo, who competes anonymously in underground martial arts fights with the general’s soldiers, comes to learn that Ruechang had her father killed in order to usurp control of the kingdom.
This leads Halo to flee Ruechang’s palace and join forces with the rebellion seeking to bring down his rule. Ruechang deploys his strongest soldier Warchild to bring Halo home, but Warchild’s growing misgivings about Ruechang’s rule eventually leads him to side with Halo’s revolt.
An Issac Florentine Hidden Gem
As one of the early films by Isaac Florentine, “Bridge of Dragons” has an added charm looking back on it now after the “Undisputed” and “Ninja” movies. Still stretching his legs as an action filmmaker on “Power Rangers” and “WMAC Masters”, “Bridge of Dragons” stood out as a diamond in the rough in 1999 long before a Florentine flick was equivalent to solid gold for action fans.
Lacking the budget to realize a dystopian future in the vein of “Mad Max: Fury Road”, Isaac works within his limitations of a relatively modern-looking military landscape, as if things have generally been cleaned up relatively well after the fall of one civilization and the rise of the next.
Florentine Demonstrates his Exemplary Style of Action
Obviously, this isn’t going to win “Bridge of Dragons” any awards at the post-apocalyptic Oscars, but it’s really a backdrop for Isaac, devoted martial arts geek that he is, to show his exemplary approach to action.
When action fans think of an Isaac Florentine movie today, action scenes with an unbreakable devotion to capturing every technique in its full glory with a nice seasoning of exaggerated impact is what they expect, and “Bridge of Dragons” delivers that well before it became his bread and butter.
Rachel Shane’s Mud Pit Fights straight out of a Hong Kong Movie!
Princess Halo fighting in the underground mud pit fights, in the context of 1999 action movies, fully feels like something right out of a Hong Kong movie (“The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk” specifically).
Dolph Lundgren & Rachel Shane show Breathtaking Skills…
Rachel Her and Warchild’s skills are such that the sight of them attacking each other with tornado kicks as they leap from one raised post to another, bo staff in hand, is as believable as it is breathtaking.
In the prism of Dolph Lundgren’s career at the time, “Bridge of Dragons” is easily at the top of his straight-to-video action movies during his B-movie career decline, and his fight scenes rival even his menacing presence as Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV”.
Dolph’s Fight Scenes Rival those in Rocky IV!
Just a single spinning kick thrown at Ruechang by Warchild captures everything “Bridge of Dragons” has to offer in one strike, Isaac making sure that it completely registers with its slow-motion photography and choir-like soundtrack.
Like Isaac’s work in “Cold Harvest”, “Special Forces”, and “U.S. Seals II”, “Bridge of Dragons” just fires on all cylinders with its military elements and fight scenes from Halo’s combat as a rebel, to Warchild and Ruechang’s final showdown, however few pennies it may have had to back it up.
Looking back on 1999, when Isaac Florentine was still an unknown director, Dolph Lundgren was in his pre-“Expendables” semi-obscurity, and the villain from “Mortal Kombat” as its very fitting antagonist, “Bridge of Dragons” is everything that makes straight-to-video action great from one of the greats of that sub-culture of the film industry.
Both Isaac and Dolph have gone onto bigger and better things in the years since, but every fan of Boyka, Casey Bowman, and Gunner Jensen alike owes it to themselves to revisit “Bridge of Dragons” for a career highlight for both of them in a time when their respective rise and comeback still lay ahead of them.
With the added strengths of Rachel Shane’s warrior woman performance and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa in an always reliable villain role, “Bridge of Dragons” is what you get when you let Florentine rip for 95 minutes!
- “No, but what you did was…was without honor.” – Princess Halo (to Warchild after he says he didn’t cheat in his win in the mud pit by throwing mud in her face with his bo staff.)
- “I wasn’t looking for honor, I was looking to win. But if you’re going to go up against Ruechang, I suggest you learn that lesson well, because I assure you, he has.”
– Warchild (in reply.)
- “My father told me there are two men to never fight – the man who doesn’t care if he loses, and the man who knows he’s right.” – Princess Halo (to Warchild.)
- Rachel Shane is the credited name in the movie of actress Valerie Chow, who has since retired and become a fashion publicist.
- Dolph Lundgren and Isaac Florentine originally met through their shared Karate training during a trip Isaac had taken to Sweden.
- When Dolph Lundgren signed on to star in “Bridge of Dragons”, he made the stipulation that he first be permitted to test for his 3rd degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate in his native Sweden, and that Isaac Florentine accommodate his schedule for this.
- Isaac Florentine boarded “Bridge of Dragons” as director on the recommendation of producer Yoram Barzilai.