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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Dragon Missile (1976) review


Lo Lieh (Si Ma Jun), Liu Yung (Er Long), Yen Nan Hsi (Tan Hsiao Li), Ku Feng (His Lordship), Terry Liu (Miss Sha), Chiang Yang (Chen), Fan Mei Sheng (Miu Fei)

Directed by Ho Meng Hua

The Short Version: Inferior and quickly made FLYING GUILLOTINE clone, Shaws own cash in made to compete with another similar movie made by Jimmy Wang Yu for First Films, an independent company. With zero plot, it's essentially a chase movie with bland fights and unlikable characters. The title weapon is the one saving grace as is the astounding Shaw sets, the best and biggest of which get showcased here.

Si Ma Jun, master of the deadly dragon missile, is the trusted bodyguard to an oppressive and cruel lord. Falling ill due to a life threatening boil, Si Ma Jun is sent on a mission to recover the thousand year Longevity Rattan as it's the only medicine that can cure this rare, but deadly tumor. An old herbalist named Dr. Tan is the only person to possess it. The one drawback to this rare herb is that it cannot get wet lest its medicinal properties be nullified. One of the lords advisors says additional hands should be sent along to monitor the mission so a group of greedy fighters join Si Ma Jun. Through a series of double crosses and dead bodies, Si Ma Jun ends up a hunted man as he's pursued by the lords men as well as two warriors hellbent on revenge.

HK Movie News February 1976

There's virtually zero plot in this Shaw Wuxia quickie lazily directed by Ho Meng Hua. A rip off of Ho's own Shaw hit, THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974), he was likely pressured into this production when former Shaw star, Jimmy Wang Yu began work on his own FLYING GUILLOTINE clone, the poverty row MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976). Ever since he abandoned the Shaw ship in 1971 on the worst of terms, whenever his former employer had a big movie in preparation, Wang Yu was quick to whip up a clone of his own. At the time DRAGON MISSILE was being prepped in late 1975, Shaw's would soon be working on their own sequel to Ho's earlier guillotine picture starting at the first of the year in 1976.

Already saddled with a full slate of movies he was working on, Ho Meng Hua managed to crank this one out within a few months followed by Shaws hasty release at the same time as Wang Yu's ridiculous, but popular guillotine clone, a sequel to his earlier THE ONE ARM BOXER (1971), itself his own 'slap in the face' to his former boss. Sadly, DRAGON MISSILE suffers terribly from what was undoubtedly a rushed schedule and also an apparent lack of interest from those involved. The Shaw production facility had certain films that took precedence over other, lesser quality pictures which were mainly designed to make a quick buck. DRAGON MISSILE is one of those quickies. Curiously, the film was heavily ballyhooed in Shaw's promotional magazines whereas their typical lower tiered movies seldom received as much space within the pages of Southern Screen and HK Movie News.

Definitely a 'B' movie with 'A' movie production values, DRAGON MISSILE has very little plot whatsoever, borrowing heavily from Ho's earlier head slicing success. I Kuang's script is slapdash with the bare minimum of background regarding the flurry of characters on display. Ku Feng's despotic lord isn't even given a name, we learn next to nothing about Lo Lieh, or even the two characters played by Liu Yung and the bland beyond words, Nancy Yen. The latter two are the protagonists of this quickie and they get less screen time than the high number of cutthroats populating the cast. That Tang Chia and Yuen Chuen Yan were the choreographers, you'd expect at least the fights to be engaging, but these, too, are barely average. Tang Chia was a master at weapons fights, yet those seen here are below average with only the most basic punch, kick, block maneuvers. There's some interesting weapons seen here, but outside of the Dragon Missile itself, the choreography built around them is terribly static.

The most interesting aspect of the script is that there is some attempt to make Si Ma Jun a pitiable character, despite him maliciously killing a few innocent civilians including a blind woman, the mother of his former martial arts brother. Fiercely loyal to his lord, when he finally returns an hour into the movie, he finds the rare herb he went through so much trouble to obtain has dissolved(!!!), the result of him having to swim to get away from his pursuers. Enraged, the tyrannical lord orders Si Ma Jun's death. Fighting his way out of the castle, the once trusted guard now must go on the run. The last twenty minutes is the same as the previous 60 only now Si Ma Jun has been stripped of his rank and now a fugitive. The final fight is over with fairly quickly (it's around 5 minutes long) and consists mainly of Si Ma slinging his bloodthirsty boomerangs at his dwindled posse of pursuers who utilize their ingenious idea with which to counter the Dragon Missiles. Once Lo Lieh's character is dead, he's barely hit the ground before 'The End' and 'Another Shaw Production' zooms into view.

Southern Screen February, 1976; if you double click the photo, you can read the English text where you'll notice mention of certain exotic weapons to be used by characters played by Fan Mei Sheng and Chiang Yang, but these don't turn up in the film.

Which brings us to the Dragon Missiles themselves. To see them, it would appear more time was spent creating them then actual production time. This pair of cruel cutlery is one of the most beautifully designed weapons of the Shaw Brothers impressive line of death devices. There's no hidden features, just what is essentially a razor sharp boomerang that literally destroys any object it comes into contact with. The effects are surprisingly good, too. These weapons and their usage are really the only reason to tune into this movie. Oddly enough, Ho Meng Hua was able to fill out his film with many of the Shaw Brothers most impressive sets, particularly most of the massive outdoor town and castle replicas.

Hong Kong Movie News February 1976

Tony Liu Yung, well known for his association with the late Bruce Lee, made his Shaw Brothers debut here in this gimmick movie misfire. A fine actor whose limited on screen martial arts skill was better suited in Wuxia type surroundings. He would quickly gain notice the same year of DRAGON MISSILE's release by his star turn in the popular EMPEROR CHIEN LUNG, a successful film that garnered several sequels. Liu Yung was acting in that production as well as Hua Shan's incredibly violent crime-martial arts gangster film, BROTHERHOOD in addition to his work on THE DRAGON MISSILE, all three in production at the same time. From here on out, Liu Yung became one of the most popular actors in Shaws stable of stars. Liu also fluctuated from playing both heroes and villains. Attached to various Shaw starlets throughout his acting tenure, Liu had some serious relationship issues over the course of his career.

Nancy Yen, one of the least interesting female screen fighters in HK cinema, does little here to stand out aside from being one more character taking up screen time. It's unfair to pick on Yen Nan Hsi as there's really no script here that gives anyone anything to do aside from spout basic dialog then chase another character from one set to the other. In her defense, Nancy Yen did have a decade long stint in HK action movies from the early 70s to the early 80s. She did look good in her fight scenes in her films, she just lacked screen presence. Her Shaw career was short lived, ending after just a few films. After that, it was back to the indy scene till she retired in 1982. Some of her credits include MA SU CHEN (1972; aka REBEL BOXER), DEATH DUEL (1977), THE SEVEN GRANDMASTERS (1979) and MY BLADE, MY LIFE (1982).

Southern Screen February 1976

THE DRAGON MISSILE (1976) had several alternate translated titles during its filming including 'The Guillotine' and also its literal translation, 'Flying Dragon Cut'. Finally settling on the DM moniker, the picture came and went within a week barely breaching HK400,000 in April of 1976, losing out to the Wang Yu film, one of the few post Shaw hits he had. A weak link on Ho's resume, it's unlikely there was much interest in making a quality picture here as opposed to a fast bit of competition to counter what Wang Yu had been doing to the Shaws since the early part of the decade. Looking far more like a slightly more expensive indy martial arts movie, it was indicative of where Shaw Brothers was headed in the next few years when those cheap-jack kung fu movies became furiously popular at the HK box office, especially those whose plots contained far more comedy than serious heroics.

Without doubt a lower tier Shaw Brothers exploitation actioner, completists will be the most interested parties here. It does have some stunning sets, an amazing weapon, some good effects and a bit of gore, which to some, will be enough. THE DRAGON MISSILE (1976) is pure martial arts exploitation that has some minor points of interest, but the film will never be mistaken for anything more than 'B' level entertainment. The more dedicated martial arts fans looking for lots of fights will find them, but will be disappointed by their rudimentary level of execution, especially for 1976. Trash fans with a casual interest in the genre may take to the picture as a mild diversion, but little else. For additional photos including this films original poster, click HERE.

This review is representative of the Hong Kong R3 IVL DVD (OOP)


Skeme Richards said...

have to be honest with you, I've owned this for years and have never watched it. Owned the poster as well but never really felt the need to watch. Thanks for the review on it, always a good read!

venoms5 said...

I LOVE that poster, Skeme. It's one I don't have, but I do have it as the back cover of a Southern Screen magazine.

You might like it much better than I did. I watched it again before writing the review to get reacquainted with it again and I didn't like it much more than I did when I bought it when it finally hit DVD.

I just posted a new review for VENGEFUL BEAUTY and it's a much, much better movie. I like it better now than I did a few years ago. If you don't have that one, you gotta see it, Skeme.

I still got a hefty stack of Shaws I haven't watched yet, either. Mostly all erotics and comedies, though.

Thanks for stopping by, Skeme, I know you been busy lately.

Skeme Richards said...

Just looked through my stack and realized that I dont own Vengeful Beauty. Guess I've got to place an order for it. Thanks for the recommendation.

Skeme Richards said...

Watched The Dragon Missile again last night. Nope, still not a good movie.

venoms5 said...

I like certain parts of it, but yeah, it's definitely not in the same class as FG, or even the expoloitation B style of VENGEFUL BEAUTY.

Btw, Skeme, I know you stay busy most of the time, but if you're interested in participating in this Japanese monster theme I'm doing, you're more than welcome to do so.

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