The White Dragon (2004)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-10-05
“White Dragon” is a period romantic comedy that is full of deliberate anachronisms, has more loose ends than a string factory and which satirizes and comments upon a number of Hong Kong movie genres. Its two stars, Cecilia Cheung and Francis Ng, are well cast and deliver terrific performances in decently written main parts.

It begins as a Wuxia film—a fight in a bamboo forest between Black Phoenix and Chicken Feathers—and it quickly becomes obvious that flying and swordplay won’t be the centerpiece here. For example, Chicken Feathers trips a springy sapling so that Black Phoenix flies into it, a scene that could have been done just as appropriately by Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Each of the wuxia scenes, other than the final, climatic one, are carried on a bit too long or involve just too much acrobatic swashbuckling to be taken seriously. To top it off, when Black Phoenix first uses her new found powers she accidentally flies to the top of a roof and doesn’t know how to get down—her schoolmates have to fetch a ladder for her.

Some of the obvious gags work well. An example is when Auntie gives her powers to Black Phoenix—it is done with the familiar Windows file transfer logo complete with the meter on the bottom of the screen to show how much time is remaining. Just before this the seemingly dying auntie—having been bested for the last time by Chicken Feathers—tells Black Phoenix that she will be the next White Dragon. When Black Phoenix tells her that she doesn’t understand she says “OK I will say it again”, the film rewinds to the point the scene began with the soundtrack rewinding faster with a screech to make sure the audience gets the joke, and her part of that scene is replayed. The scene in which she gives a recital as a one woman band which ends with a Peter Townsend guitar smash begins promisingly but runs out of steam almost immediately.

Only slightly less subtle are scenes that parody some of the hoary conventions of Hong Kong action movies. Black Phoenix and the audience think that Auntie has died after her last encounter with Chicken Feathers. When she appears as healthy as ever and looking like she will live a lot longer (and White Phoenix marvels at her recovery) it recalls kung fu movies in which the hero has absorbed enough punishment to kill a platoon of fighters only to continue to come back tougher and stronger than before.

Chicken Feathers and Black Phoenix are the type of roles that actors love. Cecelia Cheung has plenty of star turns in which she is able to show her chops and occasionally really let things rip. She is called upon to be cute, petulant, funny, grieving and heroic and has a few memorable scenes, including the one already commented upon in which she isn’t able to get the only copy of the furry polka-dotted Gucci bag. Francis Ng has an easy time of it—which doesn’t detract in the least from his excellent performance. A heroic character with a handicap means that the audience is on your side from the beginning. Even so, he inhabits and develops his character so that we soon feel empathy with him and not just sympathy for a blind man.

“White Dragon” tries too hard—no movie can be funny, pathetic and heroic by turns and have all of them work effectively. Some of the gags fall flat and some of the touching scenes (especially the flute playing) go on for too long but generally it is a movie worth seeing, especially for the undiluted star power and exhibited talent of the leads.

Reviewer Score: 7