Having missed most of the Donnie Yen craze (Ip Man and all that), I went into Dragon expecting something conventional, a typical martial-arts flick with a straight-forward plot and loads of floating and kicking.
Dragon is most definitely not something conventional.
It's also not about dragons.
Instead, here we have Donnie Yen playing a rather dodgy character who is being investigated by Takeshi Kaneshiro, who's basically Sherlock Holmes in this. The story kicks off with Donnie Yen defending an old man from two machete-wielding robbers, he kicks their ass but without really doing anything and in the end, one of them is killed. Self-defence or not, Kaneshiro's sleuth doesn't buy Yen as a simple fisherman and starts to dig deeper and deeper into what actually happened, focusing on details, Yen's past etc. It's gripping stuff and it works as a Holmes mystery because you're really not sure where the movie is going for most of it, what's truth, what's fiction. What Kaneshiro finds is much darker than you'd anticipate and this revelation adds a welcome edge to the film, giving Yen a rather different type of role to sink his teeth into.
It's a serious "whydunit" flick but it isn't without its fun moments.
The fight at the beginning is really cleverly choreographed and remains playful throughout, there's intimidating villains, suspense, blood, messed-up shit... it's an entertaining movie and you're not bored one second despite it being much more of a murder mystery than it is a full-blown action kung fu film. It doesn't go all-out though its gets pretty insane in its third act, instead remaining sinister without falling into something a bit too cartoony which would have probably killed the film's entire tone and build-up. Donnie Yen gives a subtle performance and does really well in a darker role, Takeshi Kaneshiro makes a terrific detective and the rest of the cast is pretty memorable. The film does feel somewhat anti-climactic in that its ending happens a little fast but it altogether works.
Overall, while Dragon isn't quite the ass-kicking martial arts flick you're probably expecting, it's a fun yet darker effort: a murder mystery that morphs into a kind of mini revenge movie. The two central performances are spot-on and the film itself is solidly made.
Worth checking out.