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Stefan Says So: Dance of the Dragon Review

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I had initially rolled my eyes knowing that the title for this dance movie had to have the word “Dragon” in it, as I thought it’s about high time we move away from mystical creatures and martial arts with movies based in Singapore, coupled with a very surreal setting of what seemed to be Chinatown, since no other races in our multi-cultural society were represented, not even as a token.

fann.jpgBut that aside, this International movie with cast and crew from the US, Australia and Singapore, made for a very standard film with good production values, though it had plenty of room to inject what was lacking the most – heart.

Not that it was absent totally. There are three distinct characters here, each played by someone of different nationality, and had in their own fiefdom, crafted scenes within their own comfort zone, but when put together, seem to have awkwardness stamped all over it. I shall begin with the strongest. This is no doubt Jang Hyuk’s vehicle, as he stars as Tae, a Korean whom as a boy, thanks to his mother who took him to a dance performance, fell in love with the art, and vow to pursue this dream of his despite not knowing how to, and facing great opposition from his father, who deemed it a sissy sport and would have preferred he picked up martial arts as a hobby. So when he reached adulthood, and with savings from his factory job, he bids his parents goodbye, and off he comes to Singapore to attend a dance audition.

American Idol style no doubt, with artificial caustic remarks being thrown about by a lacklustre panel of three, but not before having a Singapore Tourism Board approved montage of the usual Singapore Skyline, Esplanade, Raffles Place et al shots that always plague every Singapore-based movie. And from here, let’s move on to Fann’s Emi Lim, whose signature is so easy to copy, I could’ve written plenty of cheques in her name. A has been dance instructor whose weak ankle meant a halt in competition, her retirement at the top of her game allowed her to sustain a school with plenty of students who can groove (much better than her of course), while she harbours the thought of one day returning to the ballroom. Taken in by the strikingly good looking Tae, coupled with the fact that he’s a virgin (of dance), she relishes the challenge of unlearning what he had learnt, without partner and teacher, and I tell you, always cock teases him so much so that he begins to fall for her.

Alas Emi has a beau who doesn’t pay her any attention, and Jason Scott Lee fills in this jealous boyfriend role with flared nostrils and wide hard-staring eyes with aplomb. As Cheng, who’s also a has-been given his injured knee (a lot of injured has beens in this movie, and this pair’s like made one for the other), his dojo, set up opposite the dance school along the same Wong Street, is running in the red, and he deals with shady characters like Lim Kay Tong’s in order to keep his school afloat. Not happy with the good vibes between teacher and student, he tends to show off a lot of his martial arts capability in a bid to scare off the newbie dancer, only to set up an inevitable showdown between the two in due course.

To the movie’s credit, the story’s quite coherent, except that it relied on a number of cliches to carry the movie through, and not necessarily for the better. There were plenty of superficial subplots and elements that could have been developed further given the running time of close to 2 hours, but instead there were a number of slow moving scenes which while nice to look at, didn’t provide depth any more than to establish some background for the characters. Amongst all, I liked Tae’s story best, well since he’s the main character and had adequate screen time dedicated, where the relationship between him and his father was one of the strongest in the movie with so much meant despite so little being said. Besides, I always enjoyed characters who can learn by observation or from books and videos, and in doing so, lack the basis of understanding which can sometimes plague their execution.

And there are a couple of really creative and unexpected development which I thought I had it nailed, but was wrong. Which of course is a plus point. But the more important question here is, can the leads dance? Scenes of dancing together were limited, and for the most parts Fann and Jang Hyuk danced solo. They were given plenty of opportunity to air the armpits, and the filmmakers were smart to have spliced little set pieces together rather than have dances in one continuous motion and scene, since this will definitely expose plenty of shortcomings especially for Fann’s Emi, supposedly being World Class and all. What was worse, was the sudden inject of the song Hero by Enrique Iglesias, which I thought was somewhat inappropriate for a ballroom dance sequence, but I suppose fitted the scene at the time.

Thankfully though, the rest of the score for the movie was beautiful and memorable, the same one in which you can hear in the trailer. If memory serves me correct, almost every scene had a score to accompany the visuals, making it a rather musical film to sit through as well, though at times you have to grit your teeth as Emi seem to have a knack of spouting hokey dance philosophy. Production wise, I would liken it to last year’s Cages where it’s a different, beautiful side of Singapore being put on celluloid, almost romantic in quality and dreamlike.

Dance of the Dragon is not all bad, just that it lacked some amount of heart and detail to truly make it excellent. There’s no doubt fans of Fann and Jang Hyuk will turn up in droves to catch this movie (like in today’s screening), though there are also those who decided that enough is enough and had to walk out. In my opinion, this movie shouldn’t have warranted that, but just don’t set your sights and expectations too high in wanting to watch a movie with superb dancing or martial arts, of which it has neither, but took effort to craft believable scenes as best as it could.

Stefan S is a Singaporean film reviewer best known for his blog, which reviews the good, the bad and the in-betweens.

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4 Comments

  1. 6 June 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Below are some reviews you may not have read…..

    Author: scotthowell8008 from Singapore

    Finally a great film comes out of Singapore, I attended the premiere and was blown away. The cinematography is stunning and the performances flawless. I have never seen Fann Wong look so beautiful, and her best performance to date. Jason Scott Lee puts in a great performance great to see him back on the big screen. And the Korean actor Jang Huyk steals the show, what an amazing talent. I am so happy to see a film that is not just another Singapore slap stick comedy, but a film with heart and beauty. My girlfriend cried three times… great work.. a must see. Usually Singapore films are drab and plain, But this film’s design is beautiful.

    Very touching Asian film, 29 April 2008
    Author: angiechan31 from Singapore

    I went to the sneak peaks screening of this film on the weekend at the cathay. I can’t believe the Korean scenes were filmed in Singapore. I have been to Korean villages just like the one in the film, very authentic, well done, also the Korean family scenes are exactly the way I experienced it, most Singaporeans may not have seen these villages in Korea, the film is spot on!.. Jang Hyuk in this film gives his best performance to date, very different from the tough rolls in his series. Fann looks beautiful and I cried in two of her scenes. Jason Scott Lee is looking great and his performance is both touching and rewarding. well worth seeing this film!!!!!

    Subtle, artistic film, 1 May 2008

    Author: Aran Teo from Sydney, Australia

    This film marries ballroom dancing and martial arts disciplines into a plot involving a love triangle set in modern-day Singapore. Korean male star Jang Hyuk plays Tae, a dancer who goes to Singapore to pursue his passion for ballroom dancing under a renowned teacher Emi (Fann Wong), but faces off against her jealous boyfriend Cheng (Jason Scott Lee). While the film is undeniably art-house in its treatment of the melodrama, it benefited from commercially-savvy marketing decisions such as the inclusion of ballroom dancing and martial arts routines and the casting of internationally-renowned stars with commanding screen presence. It’s obvious from the cinematography, soundtrack, settings and the performance of the actors that much thought went into making a film with heart and soul. This film is not so much entertaining as enlightening. It’s art-house, pulled off with stunning aplomb.

    Moving Cinema, 29 April 2008

    Author: Robert Drew from Singapore
    I attended the premiere at the Cathay cinema, it was a complete full house 8 cinemas completely sold out. From the opening frame this is eye candy for everyone. Cinematography is gorgeous, music is moving with a full orchestra, sounded very Hollywood. I love films like this, concentrating on the performances rather then just being a martial arts film. It really moved me in many scenes. Fann Wong is stunning, I have not seen her pull off a role like this in her past films, very challenging. Jason scott Lee proves he can act again and the Korean guy really impressed me. It felt very much like an Asian Magnolia, I especially was impressed with the scene inter-cut with the fight and the Korean Guy dancing.. very well done.

    Good film, 30 April 2008
    Author: tris121 from Singapore

    Dance of the Dragon is a beautifully-shot film with great performances especially from the leads, Jang Hyuk, Fann Wong and Jason Scott Lee. The story could have been more tightly edited, and more realistic locales could have been used, but generally the film is lensed well with strong characterization. Dialogue bordered on the cheesy/hokey at times though – it could be improved. The soundtrack bordered on the dramatic and could have been rendered more subtly. But generally, what blew me away was the strength of the film through the performances of the cast. They raised the film to a level unprecedented for an international cast and crew. Jang and Fann should see success if this film travels.

    Stunning emotional ride, 29 April 2008

    Author: kimwu58 from Singapore

    I love dance films, but this is not just a dance film, it is a emotional roller coaster, I loved the cast in this film, so fresh and real. Every scene was like a Hollywood big screen movie. And I loved the end song Hero by enrique. I wanted to get up and dance in the cinema. I went with a group of girl friends and we were singing the song all the way home. By the end of the film the characters had been through so much you cannot help but rejoice at the end. A real feel good ending after an extremely well made drama. Going to see it again with my parents on the weekend. Must buy the soundtrack, great composition.

    Author: cleo_ella99 from Singapore

    This movie cannot be appreciated by those of a superficial nature. It is a profound drama with tales of romance and passion. Most of the show consists of scenes with the main characters in deep thought, leaving much of these thoughts to the viewer’s imagination. In line with the typical Korean drama, this show may seem slow-moving but in actual fact is rich in emotions which one must delve deep into to understand. The three main actors have put on stunning performances, with Fann Wong still looking fabulous at her age. Her part as an ex-champion and dance instructor comes across most aptly through the pain one can notice in her eyes. Jang Hyuk does a very convincing portrayal of Tae, with his deep passion for dance able to successfully strike a chord in viewers. The soundtrack for the final scene was very appropriately selected, with fitting and moving lyrics. Beautiful cinematography. Good art-house fare.

    Nicely crafted Film, 1 May 2008

    Author: samuri626 from Singapore

    I saw this film yesterday at the cineleasure in Singapore with my whole family to a totally full cinema and my family and the whole audience loved it. This was the second time I had seen the film and I actually appreciated the story and the performances even more on second viewing. The film is beautifully shot and the actors put in a very believable performance. There are many really well crafted scenes especially the scene with Jason Scott Lee being attacked intercut with Jang Hyuk dancing very well done… The film is not an action film but a really well developed emotional drama, with dancing and a martial arts pattern duel which I had never seen before. Very well made film.

    Jang Hyuk is great, 2 May 2008

    Author: kenganderson from Singapore

    This film is probably Jang Hyuk’s best film to date, his acting is subtle and effective… and he looks hot!!. I really enjoyed the story very original idea and the shots are really nicely done. I really loved the music especially, and I love the end song Hero.. I have also loved Jason scott lee for years great to see him back on the big screen… he is a very talented actor. The Korean Scenes are also very realistic … the family scenes are very believable. The costumes are very well designed specially the final ballroom dance scene. Fann wong is a really accomplished actress in this film… I had seen her in many local films but this is the best so far….this film is both happy and sad … loved it!

    This film is a Singapore production?, 6 May 2008

    Author: darkmax from Singapore

    Warning: This film is not for the hot-blooded, short-tempered or action addicts.

    Much to my surprise! I have to congratulate the producers and the directors/writers of this movie. It is a quiet film with a slow steady pace. All the actors portrayed their characters really well.

    If this is the type of films that are coming out of Singapore production companies, I say bring them all out! The only thing I found a bit unexplained would be the relationship between Jason Scott Lee’s character and that of Fann Wong’s Emi. Are they supposed to be a married couple? Sure feels like it.

  2. 6 June 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Great to see Dance Of The Dragon is a success overseas.. It has been chosen to open the west Hollywood International Film Festival, has also been one of the few films in the early selection for competition at the prestigious Rhode Island International film festival in New York, is screening at the Shanghai International Film Festival, Plus it goes to cinemas in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, In August. Not bad for a local film… Glad we all gave it support here at home.

  3. 1 June 2008 at 12:28 am

    Dance is actually a beautifully artistic film, I really loved this film, really is worth a look if you get a chance.. Fann Wong is actually excellent in this film and the cinematography and design is an apsolute stand out.

  4. 19 May 2008 at 9:40 am

    to me, it was fann wong’s phoney english accent that keeps me from ever wanting to give this a shot. oops.

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