Comic book Hong Kong martial arts action film directed by Clarence Fok, based on the popular Japanese manga Crying Freeman. Starring Sam Hui, Maggie Cheung, Nina Li Chi and Carrie Ng.
A Cantopop star and actor more associated with comedy roles, Sam Hui plays “Yao Lung/Crying Freeman”. Best known for co-starring alongside Karl Maka in the hit “Aces Go Places” series of comedies, he also appeared in the wuxia movie “The Swordsman”. Following a near fatal accident he decided to go into semi-retirement from the entertainment industry in 1992.
The extremely popular Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung stars as “May Yip” Best remembered for playing Jackie Chan’s long-suffering girlfriend in the “Police Story” movies, she has also appeared to great acclaim in the films “The Iceman Cometh”, “As Tears Go By”, “Moon Warriors”, “New Dragon Gate Inn”, “In the Mood for Love”, “The Heroic Trio”, “Hero” and many, many more.
Mrs Jet Li, Nina Li Chi stars as “Hoodlum/Fu Fung Ling/Chimer”. Known as the “Marilyn of the East”, Li is a former Miss Asia winner. During a long film career she has appeared alongside Sammo Hung in “Pedicab Driver”, Jackie Chan in “Twin Dragons”, and of course with her husband Jet Li in “Dragon Fight”.
Carrie Ng, most famous for her roles in Chow Yun Fat’s “City on Fire” and the Category III films “Naked Killer” and “Sex and Zen”, plays “Huntress/Fu Gong Gwan”. Loletta Lee, later known as Rachel Lee, appears as “Moonbeam/Ji Yim Ju/Pearl”. Former member of the famous Seven Little Fortunes, action choreographer and stunt performer Yuen Tak is “Teddy Wong/ Master of Death/Lui Chat Lung”. Anthony Mark Houn plays “Hector/Heido” and regular Jackie Chan Stunt Team member Sam Wong Ming-Sing plays “Joker/Juk Seung Chyun”. There are cameos from popular Hong Kong stars Dean Shek (who also produced this movie) and Anita Mui.
Orphans Yao Lung and May Yip live in Russia with their adoptive family. As the years pass, the two fall in love and promise that they will be together forever.
Yao witnesses a trained killer carrying out a hit, and is captured and brainwashed by a mysterious cult of assassins who call themselves “800 Dragons”. With the memory of his past erased, he is forced into a tough regime of martial arts training to become the perfect assassin for the 800 Dragons.
His former love May, spots Yao on one of his missions and recognises him. The code of the 800 Dragons is that anyone who sees an assassin during their mission must be eliminated. May brings back Yao’s memories of their past together, and he decides to follow his heart instead of the strict code of the cult.
With the full might of the 800 Dragons out to kill both of them, Yao must use all of his training to stay alive and save the love of his life.
The movie opens with a beautifully choreographed sword duel. The fighters move swiftly and rhythmically as if they are performing a bladed tango dance.
A fight between Anthony Mark Houn and Sam Wong Ming-Sing in the subway is mostly wire-free but still features plenty of flying about as they leap to superhuman heights. It’s filmed and paced very well with some great combinations of moves. I especially liked an overhead shot of a jumping spinning kick to back sweep.
Yuen Wah steps into play Master of Death and face off with Anthony Mark Houn on a train. Even in the confines of the railway carriages the fighting remains expansive, high kicking and acrobatic.
The middle section of the film is taken up by a series of bizarre training scenes, which hark back to the kung fu comedies of old. Mostly played for laughs, they include a Bruce Lee inspired nunchaku duel!
A night time attack on the master’s residence leads to an acrobatic duel with plenty of impressively high gymnastic tumbling over the swinging swords and kicks. A similar style of fighting takes place on the elevated footbridges of Hong Kong. It’s like watching full contact Beijing opera.
When Yao qualifies as the white mask-wearing “Free Man”, there are several short bursts of action between the exposition as he carries out various assassinations. Not just in it for the eye-candy, actress Nina Li gets to demonstrate her flexibility and impressive timing in a fight in a shower. After an explosive rescue from a military base, the film again harks back to the fighting finales of old school kung fu movies, as the Crying Freeman faces the Master of Death in a countryside setting. The choreography features some incredible acrobatics, some of it on wires and some, rather impressively, not.
This is a bizarre film. Based on a popular Manga comic book you would think the filmmakers could string together a decent narrative. Even the subtitles and the dubbing seem to be from two completely different scripts! The plot meanders from romance to a “La Femme Nikita” style assassin story, with strange interjections of comedy that mostly fall flat. As the lead, Sam Hui inexplicably keeps breaking into a Bruce Lee impression and never totally convinces as a cold and deadly trained killer. He does acquit himself quite well in most of his fighting scenes however.
Despite its shortcomings, this film does feature some Hong Kong action choreography out of the top drawer. A lot of the fight scenes feel “old school”, but in the Sammo Hung or Yuen Woo-ping of the late 1970’s sense, rather than the Shaw Brothers staccato shape-throwing of old. Although it occasionally features some fantasy elements, on the whole, it’s some of the most acrobatic and inventive fighting from the end of the eighties’ “Golden Era” and start of the nineties “New Wave”.
“Dragon From Russia” is best enjoyed for its many entertaining and well-shot fight scenes, and is worth a watch on a rainy day.
- Legendary stunt performer Yuen Wah played the Master of Death in some of the Russian scenes.
- As well as playing the Master of Death, Yuen Tak also choreographed the fight scenes.
- “Those I’ve trained die only by my hand” – Master of Death
- “Your level of kung fu is nothing compared to mine!” – Joker
Film Rating: 6.5/10
Do you remember this title from 28 years ago? What was your fave action scene, should this get a reboot? Let us know your top fight-action films from the 90’s in the comments below. Help keep kung fu alive and kicking: hi-5 us with a LIKE and by sharing this with your friends and joining in the conversation on Facebook. You can also follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Feed your Inner Dragon with our lively kick-flix and other exclusives!)