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Twin Dragons

One Chan Too Many

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

Directed by Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam

With Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Nina Li Chi, Teddy Robin Kwan

There’s nothing quite as dangerous as success, especially in Hollywood, where every inspired work is followed with insipid imitations (Die Hard fill-in-the-blank). The studios won’t stop at anything to make a quick buck; and this probably explains the theatrical release of Twin Dragons. After the phenomenal success of Rush Hour, Jackie Chan suddenly became a hot property -- strangely enough, since his earlier USA-released films (Supercop, Operation Condor) are vastly superior. So what we have now is a 1992 Hong-Kong action comedy, dubbed and dusted up. The picture is, unfortunately, a mess. Twin Dragons is perhaps the weakest Jackie Chan film released stateside, largely unexciting and uninvolving, and the feeling is that we’re scraping very close to the bottom of the proverbial barrel.

One of the reasons for this is that Twin Dragons is not an action comedy. Chan is entirely in his element when he unleashes spectacular stunts and martial arts sequences, performing feats seemingly impossible for the human body. In this, Chan demonstrates himself to be a true heir of silent screen comedians, and his self-effacing persona is not very far from that of Buster Keaton. In a word, Chan doesn’t need to be funny to be funny -- he already is, and at his best it’s impossible not to laugh out loud at the sheer joy and exuberance at which he dazzles the audience.

Very little of this is to be found in Twin Dragons, because this film is primarily a comedy -- a silly slapstick comedy of mistaken identity. You see, there are these two twins, who get accidentally separated at birth. One of them grows up to become a car mechanic and a kung-fu aficionado. Another becomes a famous classical musician. Of course, soon they cross paths, and keep crossing, and crossing, and crossing. Their girlfriends mix them up! The gangsters mix them up! The musician has to participate in a car chase, and the car mechanic has to conduct the orchestra!

Throughout all this, the audience has to suffer through a particularly laborious series of gags, each thrown at the screen not because it rightfully belongs there because of the plot or the characters; no, all of it is done only to elicit a chuckle. More often than not, this fails, causing more embarrassment than enjoyment.

Most of it simply makes no sense, from the ultra-artificial screenplay to the impossible coincidences to the weird telepathic link between the twins to the extremely annoying antics of supporting players to the fact that very little we see makes any sense whatsoever. Only the radiant Maggie Cheung, playing a largely thankless part of one of the girlfriends, manages not only to escape with her dignity intact, but also to invest the rest of Twin Dragons with some authenticity.

All of this is exacerbated by the usually atrocious dubbing to the spotty editing to the sad fact that the film is seven years old and the images start to look a bit worn-out and dirty.

A few things in Twin Dragons work, so it’s not a total loss. The way the film puts two Jackies into a frame is usually highly accomplished and inventive; in some shots, it’s clear we’re witnessing a special effect, but mostly it’s seamless and the interactions feel very natural. The art direction is aces, with every setting having its own feel, from the glass-decorated club to the rusty mise-en-scene of a shipyard to the car factory.

It’s during the car factory finale -- or, to be more precise, the second half of it -- that the things finally go right: the last battle is classic Chan, with superb physical timing and grace. But by this time this is not quite enough to save the movie. Jackie Chan is funnier when he doesn’t try to be funny, and in Twin Dragons he tries a bit too hard.