AKA: The Defector, Dragon Kickboxer
Even though he is one of the world's biggest action stars and pulls down millions of dollars per movie, there was a time in his career when Jet Li wasn't an international household name. And that time was around 1989, when Dragon Fight was released. Jet had established himself as a star in China with projects like Martial Arts of Shaolin. However, even though he was bankable in films, the paychecks weren't matching his success, and so Jet headed to America to attempt to crack the international market with this production, which also stars future Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow in one of his first film roles.
The plot has Jet as part of a touring wushu troupe who are preparing to leave America after a successful tour. However, one of the members (longtime Hong Kong movie heavy Dick Wei) is tired of getting small paychecks and decides to defect, killing a policeman in the process. Jet is mistakenly arrested for the crime, but manages to escape and meets up with a wise-cracking delivery driver (Stephen Chow) and sets about to try and get back to China. Things get more complicated as Dick becomes a heavy hitter in the local crime world and tries to get Jet to join his new "family".
Story-wise, Dragon Fight isn't going to win any awards, and the acting doesn't help matters any. It's a given that any western actors in a Hong Kong movie are going to suck, but it seems strange that given that this production was actually shot in America, the film-makers could have actually found some actors who could actually speak English. The Chinese actors don't fare much better, since the Cantonese parts of the soundtrack are dubbed over fairly poorly -- though it was pretty funny hearing Stephen Chow curse and try to pick up women in English.
However, things are redeemed by the action. Though I would have liked more of it, the stuff here is hard-hitting and wire-free (this was filmed before Jet hurt his back during the filming of Once Upon a Time in China and became more wire-dependent). As might be expected from a movie directed by "bloody" Billy Tang, there's a nice dose of violence as well, which makes the fight scenes all that much more brutal. Of particular note is the finale, where Jet takes on a group of fighters using various weapons, which puts him in a great position to show off his various skills.
This little-known entry in the Jet Li canon hasn't been seen by too many people, but it has been recently issued on DVD, allowing Jet's fans to check out his first attempt at creating a movie on US soil. The results are definitely a mixed bag, especially if you are getting this movie to check out Stephen Chow, whose role doesn't allow him to do any of his trademark "moy len tau" (nonsense comedy) antics. However, the good outweighs the bad, and Dragon Fight should be a part of any Jet Li fan's collection.