It’s been a while since I’ve delved into the world of low-budget filmmaking, and I have to admit, a lot has changed over the years. I recall getting VHS tapes of shot-on-video horror films in the mail just over a decade ago. (Showing my age a bit.)
Then the VHS tapes were replaced by DVDs (and DVD-Rs) and Blu-ray discs. But now it seems digital streaming and downloading is beginning to reign supreme. And it’s just not the format that’s changing; it’s the quality of the productions too!
With film going digital and the equipment to make films being super affordable these days, the kids of yesteryear that shot homemade kung-fu flicks in their backyard with a bulky VHS camcorder, have been replaced with young aspiring filmmakers armed with handycams and digital editing equipment! It’s a startling change and definitely one for the better in my opinion.
Which leads me to SINS OF THE DRAGON, a cool kung-fu throwback that pays homage to classic Shaw Bros. fare. Filmed entirely in the woods with a small cast, (much like Ryuhei Kitamura’s breakout film VERSUS), SINS OF THE DRAGON is an obvious labor of love, that often belies it’s miniscule budget.
SINS OF THE DRAGON begins when Caligo, the film’s antagonist, kills one of the “Four Dragons:” Aging martial arts masters that were blessed with supernatural powers. By killing them, Caligo gains their powers and becomes an even more potent assassin. However, Caligo’s thirst for power has gained him a stalwart foe, namely young Cunri. (Who kind of resembles Ken from Capcom’s Street Fighter games now that I think of it.)
Cunri was a child when Caligo wiped out his village and murdered his family, causing the orphaned child to take up martial arts training in his quest for revenge. Joining Cunri on his journey is his war-fan wielding pal Kaia, who is far less bloodthirsty, but more than capable of taking care of herself.
Along the way they battle Caligo’s numerous, yet mainly useless ninjas, and an odd trio of idiotic comic-relief bandits that enjoy eating piss and beans. (Yeah, I’m still scratching my head over that one.) The film eventually boils down to a ninja massacre that leads to the final showdown between Cunri and Caligo, where truths are revealed, old wounds are healed, and new ones are opened.
The bulk of the fight choreography in SINS OF THE DRAGON is very well done, with the stars pulling off some crazy moves and stunts. Though there are a few moments where the actors hesitate a bit before delivering a blow, the majority of the fight choreography is fast-paced and almost seamless. (A lot of this is due in part to the editing, which is top notch.)
There is a lot to like in SINS OF THE DRAGON, but there’s one glaring thing that didn’t quite work for me: The three bandits that capture Kaia. Honestly, I’m kind of surprised that they survived the final cut; their presence here is totally unnecessary. They stall the movie as soon as they show up on the screen.
I didn’t find them particularly funny, and though they manage to capture Kaia, I could see her easily escaping from them without Cunri’s aid. Truthfully I think it would have made more sense for her to be captured by Caligo and his minions, which would have given our hero even more reason to seek out and destroy his arch-nemesis.
Despite my misgivings about the bandits, I have to say that this is a solid little action flick that rises above its meager budget. At times it feels like you’re watching a demo reel for some up and coming martial artists, but that is no way a bad thing. I mean heck, take a look at Tony Jaa in ONG-BAK. That movie kicks some serious ass but is essentially a glorified sizzle reel!
SINS OF THE DRAGON runs at a brisk pace, showcases some awesome kung-fu action, and pays tribute to the Shaw Bros.’ films of yore with awesomely cheesy sound effects and watery arterial spray! It’s an impressive start for first-time director Joey Corpora, and I very much look forward to seeing what else he and his companions pull off in the future, especially if they scrape together a much larger budget. I enjoyed SINS OF THE DRAGON and gladly give it: