It is the highlight of the Bun Festival when four teams from four villages take part in a sport where they have to grab hold of a large bun from the top of a bamboo tower and run with it back to their table where a bag is waiting for it. This takes some degree of skill, but mostly grit and determination is what determines the victors, and the team lead by Dragon (Jackie Chan) have their work cut out if they believe they can win. One impediment is that the tower itself, once the competitors have clambered up and it are trying to knock each other off, collapses and leaves them winded at best, but it does get the bun free for the less injured contestants to make a run for, and eventually, after a lot of pushing and brawling, Dragon's team emerges triumphant!
What did that have to do with the rest of the film? Not a tremendous amount, it had to be said, it was more an action-packed method of setting the ball rolling and introducing us to Chan's character, which might have been redundant if you had seen The Young Master, his previous movie, for he was ostensibly playing the same man. That said, for a supposed sequel there was merely the basics in the establishing of the plot that the two efforts had in common, Chan was playing the sort of apprentice who he had been concentrating on ever since he had become a star, and this did feature a grand finale that saw his Dragon endure the similar kind of fighting punishment he had in the final act of the last blockbuster.
Except Dragon Lord was not a blockbuster, it was actually a disappointment for a leading man who it appeared was going to be the face of Hong Kong cinema for the nineteen-eighties, for reasons that are a little questionable since he was sticking to what you would have thought was a winning formula, only audiences decided they had had enough of it. It was that setback that spurred Chan on to reinvent himself as an acting stuntman in ever more elaborate stagings, and his Project A was a hit around the world as a result: finally he had found his metier and did not need to follow so much in the footsteps of Hong Kong movies that had gone before, his endeavours felt considerably fresher and vital for the new decade.
Back with Dragon Lord, it has become something of a forgotten, or at least neglected entry in Chan's filmography, and you can see why as while there was the star's tireless dedication to delivering entertainment, there was a stop-start lack of flow to the proceedings that offered a more episodic appearance than was presumably intended. No sooner was Dragon winning the opening contest than he was getting up to no good to beat his best friend Bull (Mars, a familiar supporting player in Chan's work, if only thanks to his huge mouth) to the affections of a girl - which was a subplot that did not exactly endear his character to the viewer - and then he was indulging in another bout of sporting prowess with a demonstration of a Chinese-specific form of football, played with a large shuttlecock.
All very well, but not much to do with the storyline we were belatedly meant to be focused on which had a deputy official trying to preserve precious artefacts when the bad guys want to seize them for themselves. Said deputy is injured in a fight and Bull and his father (Paul Chang), whose good books he and Dragon have been trying to get into, along with Dragon's stern father (Tien Feng) who is training him in poetry (see what I mean about how easily distracted this was?), try to save him by keeping him hidden in a barn. All very well but the bad guys find out which brought us to the real motive we were here, the sort of combat, almost to the death, that had capped The Young Master; it was undeniably impressive to see Chan throw himself around the set, but there was a strong whiff of the masochistic about it that made it hard to lose yourself in. He would channel this into better vehicles and leaven it with his brand of humour later on, but there was a blatant quality to his suffering for our pleasure where you could understand why audiences were reluctant to embrace it, if indeed that was why.