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Twin Dragons

Review by Joe Barlow
Posted 9 April 1999

  Directed by Ringo Lam and Hark Tsui

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung,
Teddy Robin Kwan

Written by Barry Wong and Hark Tsui

To review a Jackie Chan film is to announce that one has too much time on one's hands. A more futile gesture is hard to imagine: I doubt anyone has ever decided whether or not to see a Chan movie based on anything so trivial as a review or critique, and with good reason: such items are not needed, for Chan's track record speaks for itself. Over the course of the past three decades, he's churned out dozens of martial arts extravaganzas which have delighted audiences all over the world, making him one of Asia's biggest (and richest) stars. Chan fans, a group I count myself part of, go to see his films not because of their breathtaking intellect, but because we enjoy seeing the master kick a little ass, and make us laugh while he does so. Who cares what the critics think?

Chan is a rare breed: a hybrid who possesses not only stunning physical grace but also a sly streak of self-depreciating humor -- he's not one of those buff Ah-nold clones, and that's part of his appeal: he looks like "everyman," and uses his wits (and a dash of good ol' dumb luck) to pull himself out of the dire situations he continuously finds himself confronted with. In that regard, his performances parallel the great silent comedians of cinema's earliest days: both Chaplin and Buster Keaton are acknowledged by Chan as major influences.

The plot of Twin Dragons, made in 1992 but just released in America, consists of the usual silliness: some bad guys are running around Hong Kong, and only some tightly-edited kung-fu and astonishing stunt work by Chan can make the streets safe again. The twist this time is that Jackie plays two roles, a pair of identical twin brothers separated at birth. One grows up to be a master martial artist named Boomer, a tough guy raised in the hard streets of Hong Kong. His twin, John Ma, is a revered classical pianist and conductor, educated in the finest schools and possessing no martial arts ability. Having no prior knowledge of each other's existence, both men are soon mistaken for their twin, leading to some predictable but amusing fish-out-of-water comedy (Boomer being forced to conduct a symphony orchestra (one of Chan's all-time great comedic scenes), the wimpy Ma being forced to duke it out with the bad guys, etc.)

The final showdown, in which Boomer and Ma bust some heads in a deserted car factory, is the film's shining moment, containing some of Chan's most impressive (and dangerous!) stunts. Watching the action, we realize that the action is closer to the Three Stooges than Bruce Lee. (One room in the automotive factory is an environmental testing lab, surrounded on all sides by glowing red walls. The room beside it contains numerous showers, designed to simulate rainfall. Some of the biggest laughs occur as Jackie and the villains fight in the hot room until one of them can't take the heat any more.... then they dash into the showers, cool off for a few moments, then return to the hot room to fight some more!) But Chan never sacrifices intensity for humor. Twin Dragons contains some of his best and most exciting stunts to date: I still cringe when I think of the numerous times he was almost converted into a Jackie pancake.

It's silly to even consider commenting on the story itself; the dialogue and obligatory love tangents (one of which features Maggie Cheung, Chan's co-star in Supercop) are here only to give the action sequences something to alternate with. Suffice it to say that this isn't Casablanca, nor is it intended to be. It succeeds at what it attempts to do: take the audience on a wild ride through some hilarious and tense moments, with barely a moment to catch one's breath. It's a winner on two levels: this is not only the tightest Chan movie I've yet seen... it's also the funniest.

The only major disappointment with Twin Dragons is the fact that there are no bloopers or outtakes attached to the final reel. (For those of you not in the know, Chan makes it a policy to include a number of humorous outtakes intermixed with the end credits of each of his movies, showing flubbed lines and stunts.) It's a long-standing tradition, and I'm perplexed as to why these were not included with this American release of the film. With such impressive stunts, I'm sure the outtakes would've been fascinating.

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