Once Upon a Time in St. Jude

Cung Le in Dragon Eyes (2012)

The city of St. Jude is a mess, drug dealers work the streets whilst the corrupt police force of Mister V (Peter Weller) do little other than to aid in the slow destruction of a city where the innocent feel like they have no one. That is until the mysterious Hong (Cung Le) arrives and starts making his presence felt by taking on some punks dealing drugs outside of the motel he moves in to. Soon Hong's campaign to clear up St. Jude comes to the attention of Mister V as other residents do what they can to help make the area look better. And Mister V is unhappy that the crime which he bosses is being wiped out by this quiet little man who packs a big punch.

I reckon the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood must be the most frequently drawn on movies for inspiration especially when it comes to action movies. And "Dragon Eyes" is another movie which seems to draw on Leone's iconic westerns with this story of the mysterious Hong arriving in the troubled St. Jude and setting about cleaning the place up, both in how it looks as well as the criminal aspect. First he takes on some street punks, and then he plays one lot of bad guys against another and so on till eventually he is up against the big boss. It is all incredibly familiar and aims to entertain on three fronts.

Peter Weller in Dragon Eyes (2012)

The first of those fronts is the most obvious, the action and the action scenes are sharp and stylish but nothing which you won't have seen in a dozen other action movies. The second is the mystery of why Hong is trying to clear up the city whilst showing us his back story as in we discover he has done time and it was in prison that he was trained to fight by the equally mysterious Tiano, a part played by Van Damme which doesn't require much other than several scenes of him demonstrating how to fight and how to be prepared all of which takes place in a surprisingly large prison cell. Unfortunately it doesn't do the greatest job of making the mystery work because it makes Hong too much of an anonymous character.

But then there is the styling and John Hyams goes down the sepia tinted root with many a scene looking under lit and with a style which almost seems to try for futurist yet pastiche noir. It is certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea especially when Hong is a man of few words, Tiano even less and Mr. V is dressed like a 1930's gangster.

What this all boils down to is that "Dragon Eyes" is an attempt to take an old story and give it a modern update layered with a distinct visual style. The trouble is that for some the style will be a huge road block to their enjoyment, the anonymity of the main character won't work and the familiarity of the idea will make it hard to stay interested in.

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