cung Le’s Dragon Eyes
In New Orleans, Hong (Cung Le) a mysterious man with a shady past looks to unite to warring gangs against the lawmen who have been using them to advance their corrupt agenda. Drawing on the morals, skills and fighting talent taught to him in prison by his old cellmate and mentor, Tiano (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Hong sets out to clean up the ravaged community of St. Jude and find his own redemption.
From the director of the hugely impressive Universal Soldier: Regeneration, John Hyams has proven he can do a lot with relatively little budget - bringing the genre back to it's old-school roots and using the talent of the players to deliver a concise, honed-in action piece. In many ways Dragon Eyes hits the mark but also suffers from weaknesses which ultimately detract from the overall experience.
This is very much a Cung Le vehicle and having featured in smaller roles in the likes of Tekken, Fighting and Bodyguards and Assassins, here he is given an opportunity to take centre stage. Playing up the quiet loner role, he looks serious business and says very little, instead expressing his inner rage and torment with his hands and feet. This is definitely the film's most enjoyable element as the fight action is frequent and brutal, bridging the gap between MMA and street fighting and still pulling off something believable. The fights have huge pay-off and are suitably violent for a film of this type. They don't hold anything back! Big credit should go to both Cung Le and Larnell Stovall from the choreography side, who delivered something very appealing here for fight fans and showcase some great stunt work from their team.
As many will be aware, Van Damme (while featured on the cover) actually plays a supporting role, shown through flashbacks. Nonetheless it's a good role for him and he has the opportunity to show some moves - training Hong in prison and dropping a few bad guys at other points in the story. Despite being a supporting role, it's nice to have Van Damme's genre credibility and experience in a film like this and possibly plays to the metaphor of the mentor and the student, paralleled to an action veteran like Van Damme and Cung Le as the new star.
The film's biggest letdown comes from some unfortunate script problems and pretty big plot holes and unexplained elements which just make little sense. A film as simple as this doesn't need to break boundaries of storytelling but just tell a cohesive, refined narrative. The last scene is also a little anti-climactic and ends rather abruptly for some reason - never quite wrapping up. The strengths, on the other hand, come from a slick and ambitious visual style, solid badass lead from Cung Le and of course the excellent fight action. While you'll be well aware of it's shortcomings, Dragon Eyes is still worth seeking out and will very likely have you pressing rewind on the wince-inducing physical carnage again and again.