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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Legend of the Red Dragon (1994)

(aka: The New Legend of Shaolin)



Reviews and Comments

Early on in The Legend of the Red Dragon, Jet Li defends against a man with a flaming tree trunk for a weapon by impaling his spear into one end and spinning it so fast it drills a hole straight through the center and out the other end. It's common for Hong Kong martial arts films to portray impossible action sequences, and it's surprising how many films get away with it in one way or another. But The Legend of the Red Dragon does not. Here impossible physical stunts are used neither for comedy or fantasy but for serious action thrills. It doesn't work. It can't. For there to be any reason to care about what's going on on the screen, there must be rules. If the rules aren't the physical laws of the universe, they'd better be something equally consistent and confining. There's never a sense that The Legend of the Red Dragon is playing by any rules at all. Sometimes people can leap over buildings and launch themselves into the air by springing off swords in mid-throw, while at others they dangle perilously over an acid pool, helpless to save themselves.

On top of that, the story is choppy and unbelievable. It wants to be Once Upon a Time In China or The Legend, but it's a shoddy mess. Two characters fall in love for no better reason than the movie needs them to. Characters change natures for no discernible reason. Throw in what's apparently the Chinese version of Freddy Kruger and his futuristic metal car, a horrific clash of tones for a period piece, and it's utterly baffling what the filmmakers were going for.