Dragons forever brought childhood friends Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao together for the last time before their careers took different paths. The result is one of the best displays of martial arts and comedy ever to grace the silver screen. As if that wasn´t enough, Benny "the Jet" Urquides makes an appearance as the baddies top fighter and Yuen Wah plays the evil Boss to perfection.
Jackie Chan stars as Jackie, a hot-shot womanising defence lawyer. Jackie is hired to defend Hua (Yuen Wah) against an injunction raised by Miss Yeh (Deanie Yip Tak Han), who claims that his factory is polluting her fish pond. Jackie´s friend Wang Fei Sung (Sammo Hung) moves into the flat next door to Miss Yeh and strikes up a friendship with the woman to try to encourage her to sell the pond. Meanwhile, Jackie asks Tung Te Piao (Yuen Biao) to place a bug in her flat. Unfortunately Fei Sung and Te Piao have never met and neither of them knows anything of the others plans. So, when Te Piao goes to place the bug, Fei Sung thinks he is a burglar and attacks him to curry favour with Miss Yeh. To complicate matters further, Fei Sung falls deeply in love with Miss Yeh, and Jackie falls for her niece Mei Ling (Pauline Yeung Bo Ling) who is also acting as Miss Yeh´s lawyer. Inevitably, Jackie duplicity comes out and after some soul searching Jackie drops the case and pledges to help Miss Yeh in her fight against Hua. Te Ping and Fei Sung break into the factory for a look around and discover that they are producing narcotics. Fei Sung is caught and captured (but only because about twenty baddies and Benny "the jet" attack him at the same time). Te Ping escapes to get help and the scene is set for an assault on the drug factory.
The film offers a balanced combination of spectacular martial arts, slapstick comedy and romantic comedy. In a direct contrast to many similar films, the slapstick comedy is very well executed. My favourite such scene is the introduction of Yuen Biao. Jackie enters Yuen´s darkened apartment only to be attacked. Despite protesting repeatedly that it is only him, Jackie has to fight his ways round to the fridge and open the door to get enough light to prove it is him. Yuen's surprised "Jackie?" is beautifully timed and makes me cry with laughter. I also love the scene where Jackie tries to wedge a rather large Sammo into a rather small cupboard to hide him, and all of the three-way fights between the stars are great. Jackie, Sammo and Yuen are simply wonderful to watch and the comedy often comes from their immaculate timing and amazing acrobatics. They may have taken a leaf out of the three stooges book, but the stooges were never this funny. The romantic comedy in martial arts films is always slightly more nauseating, but both Jackie and Sammo play their parts reasonably well. A couple of the scenes are really quite sweet and the rest can safely be ignored as they are reasonable short.
The main attraction of the film is, of course, the incredible talent of the three stars. Sammo directed the film and there is some beautiful photography, which is not common for a martial arts movie. Sammo is less involved in the fighting than his two friends, but still manages to squeeze in some lovely displays of skill. His expressive face really adds to the comedy and we get a glimpse of his (underrated) acting talent. It never fails to amaze me that a "cuddly" lad like Sammo could be so flexible and graceful and the scene in which he fights off numerous baddies (only to run foul of Benny) does not give you the sense that each baddie is waiting his turn. Sammo is an artist, and doesn´t need to use this lazy Hollywood device. His character is a familiar one, the criminal with a good heart, and he plays it well.
Yuen Biao gives one of his best performances in this movie as the slightly mad communications expert. Yuen is an exceptional martial artist, considered by many experts to be the equal or better of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee. In fact, Yuen was the action double for Bruce Lee in the film "Game of Death" (which was completed using left over footage of the great man following his death). His fight with Billy Chow is a joy to behold, but Yuen's true skill lies in his acrobatics. In one scene he climbs to the top of a ladder and then, balancing on one leg, swings the other leg of the ladder up to a balcony to gain access to the building - and he makes it look really easy. In another, he executes a perfect jump through a window of jagged broken glass. Yuen also has perfect comic timing, is the best actor of the three friends and choreographed most of the action in the movie. He really steals the show.
Jackie is on top form in this film, and at the peak of his skills. He usually plays the out and out goodie, but in this film his character is a little shady. This actually suits him rather well. He is not a great actor, but he doesn´t need to be. The romantic comedy demands little, and his skills as a martial artist easily make up for his cheesiness. All through the film he dazzles with his skills and the climax with Benny "the Jet" is a classic. The two met before in "Wheels on meals", and the second round does not disappoint. This is one of Jackie´s best movies, and a must see for his fans.
The supporting cast all do their jobs well. In particular the stuntmen, who perform terrifying bone-crushing falls for our amusement, deserve praise. However, Benny "the Jet" and Yuen Wah deserve a special mention. Benny is the real thing. His professional fighting record stands at over two hundred wins and no losses. He defended his World Title sixty-three times with fifty-seven knockouts, then retired unbeaten. During his career, he won every major international tournament, and remains the only fighter to have retained Six World Championships in five weight divisions for twenty-four consecutive years! He is really scary, and perfect as the Boss´s main henchman. Yuen Wah plays the Boss with great enthusiasm. He has the pencil moustache and greased hair of a cartoon baddie, and is never without a huge cigar. He throws in some beautifully off-hand skills, just to show he can. He is an accomplished martial artist who began his prolific movie career with Fist of Fury and acted as a double for Bruce Lee in the acrobatic action scenes in "Enter the Dragon".
Overall, this is a great martial arts movie and a good comedy. The romantic comedy is a bit cheesy, but the quality of the choreography and action easily make up for it. The slapstick comedy is very funny, probably party due to the close friendship and understanding between the three stars. Most importantly, the action is inventive, slick and fast. The last twenty minutes have to be watched repeatedly as there is simply too much to take in with amazing stunts and incredible action sequences piled on top of each other. It is a real shame that this was their last film together, but Dragons Forever still stands as a benchmark for martial arts action to live up to.