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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Fist of the Red Dragon (1993)

So Chai: Master Wong, what are you doing? A Chinese sauna?
Wong: You're wrong. That steambath will help them to clear their poison systems of the toxins.
So Chai: Have you smoked it? Well, I have. You know, a strong man will not get hooked.

- Donnie Yen, Yuk Wong

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: February 04, 2004

Stars: Donnie Yen, Yuk Wong, Yuen Kit, Ying Mg
Other Stars: Mong Tat, Xin Xin Xiong, Sheila Chan
Director: Yuen Woo Ping, Chan Chin Chung

MPAA Rating: R for violence and drug content
Run Time: 01h:30m:59s
Release Date: January 20, 2004
UPC: 043396030718
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D-C+C- D-

DVD Review

The only reason I can see for Columbia TriStar to trot out this relatively dull 1993 martial arts flick is that it was directed by Yuen Woo Ping, who is currently riding something of a popularity wave in the States (at least amongst movie nerds) after staging the fight choreography for such multiplex winners like The Matrix films, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill, among others. Without a doubt, he is a huge name overseas, and as his success in Hollywood expands, it seems likely that we will continue to be hit with a back catalog of Yuen Woo Ping's earlier work, which brings us to the resurrection of Fist of the Red Dragon, which was originally known as Heroes Among Heroes.

Nancy Reagan would be proud of this chopsocky "just say no" film which stars Donnie Yen and Yuk Wong as a couple of high-kicking fighters who, at first anyways, take opposite sides on a battle to outlaw opium in what appears to be turn-of-the-century Southern China. In favor, or perhaps just indifferent, to opium is Yen as So Chai, also known as Beggar So, who butts heads (and feet) with Yuk Wong's anti-opium crusader Master Wong Fei Hun, who at one point tries to sweat the drug-induced toxins out of users via steam boxes. There is, naturally, a political conspiracy involving a villainous prince (Xin Xin Xiong) who wants to keep the opium flowing, and the adorably sweet Yi (the adorably sweet Yuen Kit) serving no other real narrative purpose than to put forth the requisite romantic sparks in between the fight scenes.

Momentum is the problem here, and the story of the opium war itself stalls out midway as Yuen Woo Ping works to inject a bit too much comedy, or rather failed comedy, into a subplot involving So Chai's buck-toothed aunt (ridiculously overplayed with dinner theater hamminess by Sheila Chan). Silly comedic moments were certainly common in the genre, but too often the film meanders into painfully unfunny bits, like those involving Master Wong's wacky sidekick, and these scenes seem like simple filler thrust in-between the fighting sequences.

The worth of a film like this essentially boils down to the merit of its fight scenes, and throughout his career Yuen Woo Ping has shown himself to be something of a master in that department. In Fist of the Red Dragon, there are a number of fight sequences, a few of which are staged with the kind of imaginative flair that has come to be his trademark. Unfortunately, too many of them are the usual tightly choreographed twirling and wired-leaping that seem like things we've seen before, and here are played with far less eye-popping wow than we have become accustomed to. But here and there, such as So Chai's brilliant hand-to-hand with an unstoppabale female assassin, who twirls a six-foot topknot like a bullwhip, shows the kind of wild Yuen Woo Ping fighting fans have come to slobber over, and the energy in that scene is particularly exhilirating. So much so, in fact, that it almost seems out of place here. If Yuen Woo Ping had filled this one with more inventive moments like that, and less fail stabs at slap-stick comedy, Fist of The Red Dragon might have been able to pull itself above the din of a typical martial arts film.

It should be noted that Columbia TriStar has issued Fist of the Red Dragon without its original language track, and has only provided distractingly bad dubs (English and French) as audio choices. I don't know who made that decision, but it seems like a bad one. The dull sameness and harsh shrillness of the dubbed character voices is quite simply an unacceptable annoyance in this era of multi-language audio options, and Columbia TriStar has not given viewers the choice to make a decision on their own.

Shame on you, Columbia TriStar.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Issued here in a tepid 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Fist of the Red Dragon certainly won't be winning any "best looking" DVD kudos anytime soon. The print is plagued by an excessive amount of grain, dirt, nicks, and white specks, which when countered with the inconsistent color palette, reveal an often lackluster looking image; detail is a bit muted, as well. Moments of noticeably bright colors are offset by far too many washed out sequences.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The absence of an original language track is kind of unfortunate, especially considering how annoying the two English language dubs provided are. Available in either an awkwardly forced 5.1 Dolby Digital or 2.0 Stereo, the dub tracks sound painfully shrill much of the time, though the 5.1 track does manage to expand the score elements, and give a bit of punch to the music. It's not enough to make it good, but rather a bit more tolerable; rear channels are largely ignored, and don't have any noticeable purpose for either of the two primary mixes.

A French 2.0 track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Returner, So Close, Legend of the Red Dragon
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extras are a quartet of trailers, which in my mind don't really count so much as "extras" as they do advertising.

The disc itself is cut into 20 chapters, and includes optional subtitles (English, Spanish).

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

If you're a Yuen Woo Ping completist, you likely will need this for your collection, whether it is good or not. Otherwise, this martial arts outing is a tough watch for the casual foot-to-face fan, a fact made all the worse by the painfully grating English dub, and the absence of an original language track.


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