**½/**** Image C Sound B+ Extras D
starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Nina Li, Teddy Robin
screenplay by Barry Wong and Tsui Hark and Cheung Tung Jo and Wong Yik
directed by Tsui Hark
by Bill Chambers The day Steven Seagal inflicts two performances on us within the same film I'll hang up my film critic's apron and call it a life. Soap opera actors and fighting stars, you see, are not so much nonimmune as prone to landing the dual role of identical twins, and one muumuu-wearin' aikido "master" is already too much to bear. But a couple of Jackie Chans, that I can and did handle: Chan's 1992 action-comedy (emphasis on comedy) Twin Dragons isn't as seedy as the similarly plotted Van Damme vehicle Double Impact. With action auteurs Tsui Hark and, purportedly, Ringo Lam at its helm, though, and choreographer Yuen Wo Ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) behind the stuntwork, one has every reason to expect more combat and spectacle than Twin Dragons actually delivers.
Separated at birth during a hospital shootout, identical brothers Ma Yau and Hok Min (Chan and Chan) don't meet again until they're grown-ups. (Incidentally, their names roughly translate as Prince and Tramp, respectively; painfully unsubtle allusion to "The Prince and the Pauper" though that may be, the American-ized monikers in Dimension Films' 1999 dub-job of this 1993 movie are ill-fitting at best: "John Ma" and "Boomer." Boomer?) Ma Yau spent a great many years abroad studying music and has returned to his homeland to conduct the Hong Kong orchestra, while mechanic Hok Min works in the garage of the hotel where his sibling is staying. (The setting is suspiciously reminiscent of the Bette Midler/Lily Tomlin twins comedy Big Business.) To quote the jacket copy of Universe's DVD release: "Fun continues as they can not be distinguished."
Or extinguished. After reuniting in a washroom, the twins decide to keep their separate identities a secret, in order to better romance the women (Nina Lin Chi, who recently married Jet Li, and Maggie Cheung) in their lives (Hok Min prefers Ma Yau's lady companion and vice versa). This social ignorance of Hok Min's double also helps him evade capture by a local crimelord (Kirk Wong) whose fragile ego he once bruised. Deftly-staged farce ensues--memorably, a scene in which the girlfriend (Chi) of Ma Yau (technically Hok Min) invites one brother into the tub and ends up bathing with both, thinking the other man is a reflection. Split-screen effects here and elsewhere are magnificent, by the by, and Jackie's physical references to the myth that twins are telepathically linked--when Ma Yau tickles the ivories, Hok Min can't stop fidgeting, that sort of thing--are funny and graceful, if, like the running gag of people fainting at the sight of Hok Min and Ma Yau together, utterly ridiculous.
Hand-to-hand combat is generally withheld until the final showdown, and even then there seems an unusual reticence on Jackie's part--not to mention Hark's and Lam's--to go fast and furious. Additionally, the climax's dim, chop-shop setting is uninspired, although the filmmakers pull out some exciting last-minute car-play. As a demonstration of Jackie's slapstick dexterity, Twin Dragons really scores, however, and despite its multitude of loose ends, the 104-minute original Chinese version hangs together better than Dimension's 90-minute truncation, which perhaps most unforgivably cuts a scene of Cheung singing. (And revoices her to sound like a chipmunk.) Both incarnations, for what it's worth, skip the Jackie Chan tradition of closing outtakes.
We were provided this disc for review by HK Flix, which stocks Universe Video's region-free NTSC DVD (meaning it's compatible with North American players) release of the longer cut. Thanks to the occasional typo, optional English subs add to the hilarity ("God split us up, but I do not balm [sic] him"). It's still preferable to the Dimension dub. Specs: non-anamorphic 2.35:1 (looks to be a LaserDisc port with lots of telltale artifacts); 5.1 Dolby Digital audio in Catonese and Mandarin (the increasingly rare Dolby 'helicopter' logo introduces the disc, a cool bonus); and talent bios for Chan and company in both English and Cantonese. You can purchase this DVD at HK Flix.
104 minutes; Unrated; 2.35:1; Cantonese DD 5.1, Mandarin DD 5.1; English, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Bahasa (Indonesia), Bahasa (Malaysia) subtitles; Region-free; DVD-5; Universe