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THE TATTOOED DRAGON pits Jimmy Wang Yu against Thailand thugs
THE TATTOOED DRAGON (1973) is a rather lackluster Jimmy Wang Yu vehicle directed for Golden Harvest by the studio's house director, Lo Wei. Set (and shot) in modern-day Thailand, it stars Wang Yu as a character called `the Dragon' who hides out in a rural village and confronts a criminal gang which has set up a casino to bilk the villagers of their money and property. It's a far cry from Wang Yu's costume classics made for Shaw Bros. (MAGNIFICENT TRIO, ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, CHINESE BOXER) and elsewhere (ONE-ARMED BOXER, BEACH OF THE WAR GODS, BLOOD OF THE DRAGON). As a martial arts star, Wang Yu was best served by director Chang Cheh or when he worked as his own director.
TATTOOED DRAGON does offer a fairly interesting story even if the direction is uninspired. Wang Yu, wounded and on the run from a robbery gang he'd foiled, holes up with a Thai kickboxer (Samuel Hui) and his wife (Sylvia Chang) and is nursed back to health in time for him to help Hui win a local tournament. When the same gang sets up shop in the village, all of Hui's friends and neighbors quickly lose all their money and the deeds to their homes. In one horrifying scene, a woman whose husband has lost everything ties up her three children (including a teenaged girl) and herself and they jump into the river to drown themselves.
Wang Yu goes to the casino with Hui and, wearing shades, uses his acute hearing (a trick apparently picked up from Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, whom Wang Yu co-starred with in ZATOICHI MEETS HIS EQUAL) to direct Sam in making bets. The hero manages to outwit the gang which means he has to fight them again, this time limping and wearing shades (at night!), and with Hui's kickboxing help. Later, the gang's leader, James Tien, shows up from the city to try and finally put a stop to the resistance.
There are enough fights to keep kung fu fans happy, although none of them are terribly inspired. Wang Yu offered a strong, brooding presence, but as a fighter he paled next to the Shaw Bros. stars. Still, fans will enjoy a cool move during one fight when Wang Yu sets his opponent on fire and continues fighting him! The poorly written, poorly dubbed English dialogue in DRAGON never lets on that the film is set in Thailand and even refers to Thai kickboxing in one scene as `kung fu.' Co-stars Sam Hui and Sylvia Chang would both gain fame in the 1980s as co-stars of the ACES GO PLACES series.
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