Donnie Yen stars as “Crippled Ho”, based on the notorious real-life gangster Ng Sek-Ho. He is joined by fellow Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau as the corrupt cop “Lee Rock”. The pair require no introduction of course, having been in some of Hong Kong’s best and most popular movies of the last three decades. In recent years, Donnie Yen’s star has risen even further outside of the Asian film markets, with the international success of his Ip Man films and appearances in Hollywood blockbusters such as “Rogue One” and “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”.
The ever reliable Kent Cheng offers support as “Piggy”. He has played similar roles in Ip Man 2 & 3, but is probably best known for his roles in Jackie Chan’s “Crime Story” and as Lam Sai-Wing in Jet Li’s “Once Upon a Time in China”.
Scottish actor Bryan Larkin plays the vicious British cop “Ernest Hunter”. Larkin most recently appeared in the British action thriller “Vengeance”, directed by Ross Boyask.
An illegal immigrant Ng Sek-Ho arrives in Hong Kong in 1963 with dreams of making a better life for himself and his “brothers”. Concurrently Hong Kong cop Liu Lok, known as Lee Rock, despises the way corrupt and racist British colonial policemen run Kowloon’s Walled City, apparently answerable to no one.
It plots the two men on a course that will see them collaborate in violence, crime and corruption, to become Hong Kong’s richest, most powerful and feared gangsters. However, they are never truly free of the shadow of their British masters. As Ho’s hunger for supremacy grows, so does his descent into dictatorship. With the crackdown on corruption in 1974 it leads to an inevitable confrontation by those clinging onto their power.
The Hong Kong of the 1960’s and 70’s is vividly recreated complete with a funky, Starsky and Hutch-style theme tune and original old European cars on the streets. There are even realistic looking recreations of old Kowloon and the famous harbour airport.
It is on these streets where much of the action takes place. A violent mass riot sees action star Donnie Yen having to make do with a mop as a weapon. The fighting remains on the more realistic and violent side of things, with people being thrashed and beaten with batons and bars. Even so, Donnie still throws in a couple of kicks for good measure!
The early scenes are laced with a subtle humour such as Ho’s gang’s innovative method of escape from the riot. However, the viewer is quickly brought back to the gritty reality of gang violence when Ho takes a brutal beating in some police cells.
Before Donnie’s character becomes the infamous “Crippled Ho”, he does get the opportunity for a more familiar display of his fighting skills in a restaurant confrontation with a Triad gang. There aren’t really any pretty martial arts skills here, but there are some cool take-downs and rib-cracking kicks. Chairs, tables and bottles are smashed to smithereens as Ho marauds through the mobsters.
Not all the action is reserved for Donnie Yen though. His co-star Andy Lau has a particularly frantic chase and shootout through the alleyways of Kowloon. When he is surrounded by a baying mob, Lau uses a shovel as an improvised weapon of mass destruction.
Even with the restrictions of playing a cripple, Donnie still has a few action tricks up his sleeve. A brief skirmish in Thailand and the way he wields a JCB as a weapon to destroy a classic BMW saloon, demonstrate that Ho is not a man to be crossed.
The film builds to an exciting and tense conclusion as the various criminal factions shoot it out in the dark and dirty streets of Kowloon’s Walled City, as Ho battles for supremacy and revenge.
Exclusive Chasing the Dragon Action Clip
Chasing the Dragon is first and foremost a dramatic film telling a rather sanitised version of the rise to power of the infamous gangster Ng Sek-Ho, known as Lame or Crippled Ho. It aspires to be a Chinese Goodfellas or Scarface. It even features a Martin Scorsese-like one-take tracking shot that follows Donnie Yen through the grubby buildings and streets of old Kowloon. It is epic in scale with sets and sweeping cinematography that give every scene a big budget sheen.
Although the focus is on drama, I was surprised at the amount of action set pieces that do take place in the movie. These are not sophisticated Ip Man-style choreographed fights however, but much more brutal and simple beatings or shoot-outs. As you would expect, Donnie Yen is exceptionally good in these scenes, as are his co-stars Andy Lau and Bryan Larkin. The chases and shoot-outs in the grimy alleyways and streets of Kowloon are especially tense, atmospheric and exciting.
As a gangster film, it looks fantastic and is accompanied by a great music score. But for all the “gang violence”, the story felt a little lightweight, and the characters of Ho and Rock are almost anti-heroes; men who deal in drugs and corruption, who only want the best for their families, stand up for the little guy, and fight the clichéd British bad guy.
Fans of Donnie Yen the action star may feel a little short-changed, but fans of Donnie Yen the actor will be delighted. He makes the role of Crippled Ho his own and dominates every scene he is in. Andy Lau gives a perfectly adequate performance, but his character is woefully under-served by the screenplay.
This is by no means an out-and-out action film, and it’s certainly no “The Godfather” or “Infernal Affairs”, but it is a sumptuous-looking showcase for Donnie Yen’s acting, who just seems to get better and better with each subsequent role. This film firmly establishes him as “Donnie Yen: Actor”, rather than just “Donnie Yen: Martial Artist”. If you are a fan of gangster flicks, particularly of the Hong Kong variety, take your seat and give this epic your full attention!
- The story of Ng Sek-Ho was the plot of the 1991 gangster thriller “To Be Number One”. Kent Cheng who plays Piggy in “Chasing the Dragon” also appeared in the earlier film as the corrupt cop Fat Kwan. Police Story 3: Supercop actor Kenneth Tsang also appears in both movies.
- This movie marks the first time that Donnie Yen and Andy Lau have starred together.
- Andy Lau had previously portrayed the character of Lee Rock in the 1991 movies “Lee Rock”, “Lee Rock II” and 1992’s “Lee Rock III”.
- At the Asian box office, Chasing the Dragon out-grossed the sci-fi blockbuster “Blade Runner 2049” and Jackie Chan’s well-received revenge thriller “The Foreigner”.
Film Rating: 7.5/10
“Chasing the Dragon” is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD platforms courtesy of Well Go USA.
Seen “Chasing the Dragon”, what did you think of it? What are your fave Donnie Yen or Andy Lau films or action moments? Let us know in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (don’t forget to check out our previous movie reviews)!