The Iron Dragon Strikes Back
"Unlike most Bruce Li films, this one is dark, suspenseful and the bad guys have no cartoon element in them."
- Mighty Peking Man
The Iron Dragon Strikes Back (1979)
AKA: Gold Connection, The
Director: Siu Kwai
Producer: Alex Gouw
Cast: Ho Chung Tao (aka Bruce Li), Han Kwok Choi, Phillip Ku, Wei Liet
Action Director: Luk Chuen
Running Time: 87 min.
Plot: Bruce Li and his friends discover boxes of Vietnamese gold while on a diving trip. Little do they know, the gold belongs to a powerful Hong Kong syndicate which gets them into a shit-load of trouble.
MISTER FLOYD'S REVIEW: The Gold Connection - also known as Iron Dragon Strikes Back is a newcomer to my collection of Hong Kong film and i have to say, i enjoyed it immensely. In recent years there has been a plethora of 70s martial arts movies available in the UK dvd stores. Most of these you buy at your peril and are for the hardcore martial arts movie fan. What made me take the plunge and buy this movie was the fact that it had a Mandarin language option unlike so many you find nowadays - i can't bare dubbed foreign movies of any kind especially low budget martial arts movies with that dreadfully banal British and/or American accent.
MISTER FLOYD'S RATING: 8.5/10
ALVIN GEORGE'S REVIEW: This is perhaps the most polished Bruce Li film I've seen yet. I didn't care much for the voice acting, but the movie actually has substance to it, complete with a nontraditional ending. Heck, the script probably would've been good enough for a Hollywood film. And where else can you see Bruce Li in a wet suit? (Don't get me wrong, now. I don't have a fetish for the MALE form in a wet suit. It's just that too many of these old-school flicks have the hero clad in bell-bottoms, pajama-like clothes, etc.)
ALVIN GEORGE'S RATING: 7/10
JOE909'S REVIEW: Iron Dragon Strikes Back (aka The Gold Connection) kicks its way out of the typical tedium of Bruceploitation and becomes a shining example of how great old-school kung-fu movies could be. Everything from the direction to the non-mainstream ending seems to scream out for recognition. It is as if the filmmakers fully tried to escape the bonds of exploitation chop-sockery, and, watching this movie twenty-four years after its release, I can only say they succeeded. Iron Dragon Strikes Back is a classic that stands equal alongside better-known kung-fu films of the time. It also cements my theory that Bruce Li (aka Ho Chung Tao) could have become just as famous as Jackie Chan, had he continued making movies into Hong Kong's "new wave" era of cinema, in the early Ô80s.
Li plays a kung-fu teacher who, while scuba diving with some students, discovers a cache of gold bars. The fact that these gold bars are emblazoned with "666" could probably be seen as foreshadowing, but I don't want to read too much into it. Li advises his buddies to drop the gold back into the lake, as it could mean trouble; perhaps this gold was dropped here for someone else to pick up. Of course, Li's right, but feisty student Ah Kune (who later appeared in a few Alexander Liu films) goes back on his own and gets the bars. The crooked businessman whom was the gold's original recipient sends waves of henchmen out to find who's taken the gold, and so begins one of the most noirish and brutal kung-fu films of the 1970s.
The fights presented in the film are claustrophobically manic, as combatants take on each other in the grungy confines of Hong Kong's slums. Bruce Li's martial skills by this point in his career were exceptional, and in the final fight in particular he shows off some great foot work, as well as some fancy moves with a katana. As a matter of fact, every fighter in the film is quick-footed, and there's none of the ham-fistedness that plagued earlier Li films.
In many ways, Iron Dragon can be looked at as a horror movie. There's undeniable suspense and terror in the film. Early in the story, a group of thugs chase one of Li's students, Ah Chow, through a cluttered, narrow alley, and your heart pounds with anticipation. Shots are framed in unusual and unique angles, and director Kwai maintains a level of tension from beginning to end. When the faceless assassin (employed by the crooked businessman to track down Li and pals) kills his prey, he does so in the most horrific ways possible. Even the "regular" thugs under the businessman's employ are brutally effective. In one grisly scene, they beat a victim to death, then hang his corpse from a ceiling fan. The camera gazes up at the rotating corpse, burning one of many memorable images into the viewer's memory.
The film is not without comedy, though it is comedy of a very dark nature. Li, Ah Kune, and another pal (played by Philip Ko) attempt to rescue a kidnapped Ah Chow from the thugs. Chow, beaten and immobile from the waist down, tries to board Kune's mini-bus. However, the thugs wrestle with Kune for control of the bus, and all the while Chow helplessly clings to the door. Every time he makes the slightest bit of progress into the bus, one of the thugs gets hold of the wheel, and Chow gets dragged along the ground at top speed.
Those looking for romance will be left underwhelmed. Li has a girlfriend, whom he wishes to marry, but this plot strand is left dangling in the ensuing chaos. Not that it matters, anyway, as Li's girl is dealt with in a very horrific way by the faceless assassin. Character development is good enough to be desired; you learn enough about Li and his pals to like them, and regret their fate.
Special mention must be made of the final fight. Starting off with a terrifying murder in the bathroom, it moves on to a close-quarters battle in the living room between Li and the assassin. As mentioned above, Li shows his stuff here, from take-downs to high kicks. The final move, in which he kicks off the assassin's head, is incredibly effective and unsuspected, and is much more realistic than you'd expect from a movie from Iron Dragon's genre and era.
Not everything is perfect, though. The DVD release, while inexpensive, is made from a scratched and faded film print. The audio's fairly good, but the release is in fact not widescreen. This is clear in scenes in which more than two characters are on screen; heads will be cut off, and you can't see who's talking. There are black lines at the top and bottom of the screen, which gives the impression that it's letterboxed, but I think this is more of a technical gaffe on the part of the DVD manufacturers. Perhaps they were just trying to fool the viewer, but the DVD case does state that the film is full-print.
JOE909'S RATING: 9/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: While on a deep sea diving trip, Bruce Li and three of his buddies discover boxes of gold. Just when they think they're rich and got it made, the wise Bruce Li ruins the excitment by pointing out a slight problem: the gold bricks have Vietnamese markings embedded on them, which means the they belong to someone and were obviously smuggled and intentionally hidden. Bruce Li and his friends decide to put the gold back and decide that they'll "come back in three days, and if the owners still haven't come for it, then we'll keep it for ourselves...".
Of course, like every group of friends, there's always one clown, and the clown here is Ah Kun. He returns the following day and takes the gold for himself, not telling the others. From this point on, the action begins...
Surprisingly, "Iron Dragon Strikes Back" is very good and Bruce Li movies are NOT supposed to be this good. I'm not talking good in a "bad" way either. I'm talking about solid entertainment with a well-written plot, strong characters, fair acting, and acceptable martial arts choreography - and if you've seen your share of Bruce Li films, you'll know that all of these qualities are extremely rare (even the dubbing is done well). Matter in fact, if you're a fan of the usual corny Bruce Li catalogue, you'll be very disappointed.
Unlike most Bruce Li films, this one is dark, suspenseful and the bad guys have no cartoon element in them. They mean business and their way of taking care of the job is brutal. In most of his movies, Bruce Li usually takes on the enemy and disposes them with no problem at all. In this film, Bruce Li is tough, but barely escapes brawls, even with the help of his friends. When danger surrounds our heroes, it can definitely be felt. Siu Kwai (the director), seems to have a good eye for suspense, because he nails it well. Even the main hitman hired to kill the good guys is kept a secret and we don't get to see his face until the climax.
One of the highlights in "Iron Dragon Strikes Back" is a witty scene involving a camera. At the beginning of the film, Bruce Li is teasing his girlfriend by taking pictures of her with his newly purchased camera, an object that practically saves his life during the final fight sequence. You'll find that this was a creative and smooth move for whoever came up with the idea.
"The Gold Connection" is the film's original Hong Kong title, and it makes more sense than the Bruce Lee-favored "Dragon" title. It's also apparent that Bruce Li is his "own" character and not trying to be "Bruce Lee" and it's too bad, because his performance here is truly prolific and he would have made a great leading man in a world without "Bruce Lee Clones".
To sum it up, "Iron Dragon Strikes Back" is a must-see film for 70's kung-fu fans.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 8/10