Dragon Eyes, 2012.
Directed by John Hyams.
Starring Cung Le, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Peter Weller.
In New Orleans, a mysterious man looks to unite warring gangs against the lawmen who have been using them to advance their corrupt agenda.
John Hyams, son of Peter (Timecop), announced himself to the action world in 2009 with Universal Soldier: Regeneration. It was a film that cinema (or in this case, home video) didn’t particularly need or ask for. The cult hit original which it followed had already spawned one awful sequel, and two (unofficial) TV movie sequels. A third coming 10 years after the last seemed a pointless exercise. However what was delivered surprised many action aficionados. John Hyams unleashed a film that entertained and kicked ass. It may not have been brilliantly scripted but in terms of action, it bested a lot that the multiplexes were offering, including a standout car chase and a brilliantly brutal smackdown between Mr Van Damme and Mr Lundgren. Since that time, myself and many fellow action fans have waited with baited breath for Hyams follow up film, Dragon Eyes, hoping his debut wasn’t a flash in the pan.
It wasn’t! Dragon Eyes is a straight up, meat and potatoes, fight fest! The story centres on Hung (Cung Le) who heads to the town of St Jude following his release from prison. His motives seem unclear at first, but he makes a name for himself as he makes life difficult for the local gangs, and corrupt police chief / drug baron Mr V (Peter Weller). Mr V then decides to employ Hung, and as the story progresses we soon discover Hung’s motives and intentions. In terms of action this delivers. Sadly, as with Universal Soldier: Regeneration, the script lets this down. Hyams wasn’t on writing duties here so it will be interesting to see his first scripting job on his next film, a FOURTH Universal Soldier. The narrative structure of Dragon Eyes doesn’t make a lot of sense, whilst the film has far too many illogical moments and is too convoluted. That said, the film does have an interesting twist regarding Hung’s motives.
Still, in a film that features a UFC fighter in the lead role, with Van Damme in support and frickin' RoboCop playing a bad guy, this is about action. The fight scenes are excellent. They’re down, dirty and violent. Bones break, limbs are twist in impossible angles and heads are smashed through glass, wood, brick, and anything that gets in the way! As with his previous directorial gig, Hyams opts to shoot this the old fashioned way, and allows the audience to see the choreographed carnage clearly, with the camera pulled back, and without resorting to lightning fast blurs from cut to cut. The choreography is grounded but stylistic too. It’s impressive. It’s no game changer, but compared to recent direct-to-video fight offerings, this ranks with the better ones such as the Undisputed sequels and Blood and Bone. There is however an overuse of slow-motion that, by the final smackdown, becomes tiresome. It works in an early, very Western-inspired scene, but after that becomes ever mooted.
The cast are good. Cung Le introduces himself to the action world. He’s previously had bit parts in a few flicks, including the awful Tekken, but this is his first lead role. He’s not bad, but lacks the charisma and presence to become one of the majors. He’s more Don “The Dragon” than Muscles from Brussels. More Lamas than Seagal. His on screen fighting skills are impressive. It’s one thing to be a genuine real-life fighting monster as Le is, but it doesn’t always translate to being a good on-screen fighter / performer. Van Damme’s role is brief but he does a fine job playing Hung's mentor. It’s an interesting change of pace for JC having been so synonymous with the fighter (Kickboxer / Bloodsport) who has to learn from the wise master and get coconuts chucked on him or his legs pulled apart till a bollock pops. Peter Weller steals the movie though, having great fun as Mr V.
In all, Dragon Eyes is a decent diversion and despite a lack of a strong (and realistic) story, it delivers in the action department. John Hyams proves himself worthy of notice in the genre. The next Universal Soldier instalment promises to be a real surprise package with plenty of punch. The film also looks good and belies its small budget. Perhaps when Sly’s searching for a director for The Expendables 3, Dolph and Van Damme should have a word in his ear on John’s behalf.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★