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Dragon Eyes (2012)

November 9, 2012

MY CALL:  At the end of the day this is just another direct-to-DVD action movie.  But Cung Le has some hard-hitting cool fights and, fan or not, Van Damme has a pretty cool role.  However, admittedly, not nearly as much Van Damme as I expected based on the trailer…which was a bummer.  [C+]  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHAssassination Games (2011) gives you more of the Van Damme that you want and, while I really like Cung Le, Scott Adkins is an even better supporting ass-kicker.  Also, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012) features a smaller Van Damme role, but a WAY AWESOME one and loads of great Scott Adkins and Dolph Lundgren action.

Hong (Cung Le; The Man with the Iron Fists, Pandorum) is a soft-spoken bad ass who can handle himself pretty damned well.  He takes on four Latin hoodlums by himself just for the Hell of it.  He’s not superhuman and the choreography is nothing flashy.  It is, however, brutally “practical” and, because of that, impressive in its own way.  Although, it’s not without a little cinematic flash, fights rarely seem unrealistically one-sided; a rare and good thing.

There’s a move you don’t see every day.  The compound butt crusher.

We alternate between two different times: a past when Hong is in jail being mentored by Tiano, and the present when Hong is living his life as a free man.  In prison, Tiano (Jean-Claude Van Damme; The Expendables 2, Assassination Games) transforms Hong from a fighter who studies martial arts to a martial artist who studies opponents.  Disappointingly, all the scenes with Van Damme from the trailer seem to represent the entirety of his screen time in the movie.  Big Bummer.

Mr. V (Peter Weller; Of Unknown Origin, Screamers) runs the crime in the town of St. Jude.  He’s a farcically over-dressed crime lord who takes a piece of all the action of the local black and latin gangs.  He’s smooth, calm and collected most of the time.  But mess with his money and, well…there’s a cool scene where he teaches a hooker how to beat up on a sadist.  At the end of the scene, she shows us she appreciated the lesson and that she learned.

Isn’t he smooth?

Hong is a mix of vigilante and criminal but we don’t know why.  He obstructs the business of the black and latin gangs which, in turn, affect Mr. V.  He even cleans out a drug den and he never keeps any of the spoils for himself.  Then, by Mr. V’s demand, he starts to work with the local gangs and changes the way they run things…no guns, no selling drugs to kids, upping the prices.  This brings in less revenue, but makes the locals of St. Jude feel safe (and that Mr. V is the one who cleaned it up).

Hong is eventually double-crossed.  But, like in any Van Damme movie (or Dragonball), the hero must be defeated before retraining and returning victorious.  Hong’s training montage is no Van Damme homage, but he still throws a mean kick and even suplexes a guy in the end.  Typically, these martial arts action movies have endings more like videogames than reality, with men favoring fists over firearms and one-on-one at a time over gang tactic combat.  This movie is no different, the finale’s outcome doesn’t make much sense given the intended goal of the story, and I didn’t feel satisfied by it.

The victory in this movie is finding Van Damme in a different kind of role (that of the teacher, not the student) and finding Cung Le in a leading role (instead of his often effective supporting roles).  I was entertained and look forward to seeing more of both of them.

Director John Hyam (Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) has developed a fine knack for making the most out of humbly budgeted action flicks.  I’m guessing it’s just to please JCVD, but among his common actors is Kristopher Van Varenberg (Van Damme’s son; Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Assassination Games) in a tiny role.  I’ll let it pass.  If that’s what it takes to get this level of Van Damme-ity, it’s worth it.

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