Dragons of the Orient (Dong Fang Ju Long), Directed by Sek Bing Chan, Hong Kong, 1988.
Accompanied by a swelling soundtrack, Dragons of the Orient is a respectful survey of martial arts set against a lush backdrop of cultural sites. The tone of this movie seems to be a mixture of corporate video and the tamer type of travelogue. As well as staged dialogues between Yeung Jing Jing (who was also the action director of this film) and Wang Qun, cheesy dubbed American voices talk us through a rudimentary history of Chinese martial arts, and provide a loose narrative context for the dazzling displays provided by martial artists that constitute most of the material of this film. The martial artists include Shaolin monks (who all seem to have unbelievably skinny ankles), silk pyjama clad elite Chinese wu shu athletes, and amazingly nimble geriatric martial artists (one is 100 years old and there are also a few in their 90s). Fans of kung fu movies should keep their eyes peeled for appearances from Fan Siu Wong, Dick Wei, and Woo Gin Keung. Viewers of Jet Li’s Shaolin Temple films will recognize the marvelous Yu Hai, who, for some reason, has been made up so heavily that he resembles a drag queen but whom, nevertheless, does a great display of Mantis style.
And speaking of Jet Li, there is lots of footage of him accompanied by a gushing commentary that suggests that whichever member of the People’s Scriptwriting Collective who was assigned the task of writing for this film had a serious crush on the young Jet. Fans of Jet will enjoy this footage as it shows him as a child and chubby faced teen earnestly performing wu shu routines and demonstrating the skill that made him a national champion of this sport and lead many to proclaim him a prodigy. My turn to gush now – my favourite footage at the end of the movie shows his demonstration of drunken sword. Jet Li went on to perform drunken pole in Shaolin Temple and drunken boxing in The Last Hero in China. It is an incredibly graceful style and I could watch it forever.