Twin Dragons ★★★★

More interesting at the margins than the center, with a who's who series of cameos ingeniously painting a portrait of Hong Kong cinema as it was in the early 1990s. An example: Lau Kar-leung plays a calm and rational doctor, trying to save a man's life, when Wong Jing bursts in as a "Supernatural Doctor", shouts a bunch of nonsense and trashes the guy's room. Lau dispatches him with a powerful punch to the stomach, demonstrating the power and authority of Lau's rational, focused cinema over the inane chaos of Wong. (By the way: this scene is cut out of the American release of the film, because Weinsteins.) Another: the final fight scene is set in a Mitsubishi factory, the only occupants of which are the film's directors (Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam) and Ng See-yuen, the film's producer. The three of them are playing cards and take every opportunity they get to cheat and look at each other's hands, even as the scene around them descends into violence, their primary concern is with topping each other. A third, the love interests of the two Chans are played by Maggie Cheung and Nina Li Chi. Cheung at this point was well on her way to the international art house, having abandoned the girlfriend roles she perfected in Chan's Police Story movies and here she falls for the intellectual Chan. Li, playing the daughter of wealthy businessman (veteran director Chor Yuen) falls for the other Chan, the kung fu expert, while in reality she was about to quit the film industry to become an investor and was dating and later married Jet Li.

It's tempting to read the story in more general terms as well, with Jackie Chan's twins (one a concert pianist and conductor - he does not play the violin, despite the Miramax DVD cover, the image letterboxd is using as the poster image, which also has the wrong version of Chan as the musician) representing the disparate yearnings of the Hong Kong cinema, between populist entertainment and intellectual meaning. Problem is: Chan doesn't appear to have ever had any highbrow desires (indeed his performance as the aesthete is wholly unconvincing, "Jackie Chan's Stardust Memories" this is not) and Tsui Hark never once in his career has recognized a dichotomy between art and entertainment, he's spent his professional life fusing the two.

Chan reportedly hired Tsui because he expected him to be good at special effects (Lam handled the fight scenes) and wasn't happy with the end-product (I thought they were fine, but I have pretty low standards for such things). Between that and Chan's famous disputes with Lau Kar-leung on the set of Drunken Master II, I have to question Chan's state of mind and sense of his own artistic limitations in the early 1990s. Also an indicator of hubristic egotism: thinking he can get away with that ponytail.

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