Friday, September 08, 2017

Jade Dragon (short): It’s Not Just About Fighting

Anyone who seriously studies martial arts learns more than just fighting. Students are trained to resort to physical fighting only as a last resort, but they build the sort of confidence and poise that should make the belligerent party equally reluctant to make good on their threats. Unfortunately, one expatriate student has difficulty learning those lessons in Vimal Vaz’s martial arts short film, Jade Dragon (trailer here), which releases today on digital VOD.

Rufus is a talented student, but his competitiveness becomes so disruptive, his sifu Ming Yu has no choice but to expel him. Inevitably, this pushes him further towards the dark side of the Force. While on a drunken bender, Rufus accosts Polly, stealing her heirloom Jade Dragon pendant. Feeling victimized, she initially withdraws into herself, but one of her Cantonese tutoring students also happens to train with Ming Yu.

She recommends Kung Fu lessons, not just for self-defense purposes, but as a way to balance her energies and restore her confidence. Ming Yu agrees to take her on, even though she is also facing a crisis of confidence, having never completed her training with her master father. Of course, Rufus is still out there and the Hong Kong martial arts world is quite small.

Although there is a good deal of sparring and fighting in Jade Dragon, it is more about the restraint and spiritual learning that is supposed to come with martial arts training, which makes for a refreshing change. It also gives viewers a gritty street level feel for old school Hong Kong. At one point, the film takes us into the school of real life Wing Chun Grandmaster Wan Kam Leung, which feels like a time-warp back to the glory days of Bruce Lee and Ip Man (or so we’d like to imagine).

Aside from Vaz himself, who plays the fierce-looking Rufus, the ensemble is made up entirely of newcomers. They might be a little rough around the edges, but there is something compellingly real about them. When Minna Cheung’s Polly starts to become empowered by her training, we really believe it is happening. As a result, we’d like to see them settle in and explore these characters in a feature or web series—which is probably the hope, given the rather open-ended conclusion.

In any event, any Kung Fu film that advocates responsibility and discipline in a spirit fanboys can appreciate is worth checking out. Jade Dragon also has some nice moves and a great sense of place. Recommended for genre connoisseurs who value the tradition and philosophy of Wing Chun and other disciplines, Jade Dragon is now available on VOD platforms, including iTunes.