Dragons Forever (Hong Kong, 1988, 88 Films, 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray, NR, 94, 94 + 98 min.). This new deluxe edition contains three versions of the film, which was the last made together by the triumvirate of longtime friends Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, who also directs here with Corey Yuen, and Yuen Biao. The three met when training at the Peking Opera School as part of the Seven Little Fortunes. They also appear together in “Project A,” “Wheels on Meals” and Hung’s original “Lucky Stars” trilogy. Here, Chan is lawyer Jackie Lung, who hires Fong Fei-Hung (Hung) and Dung Dak-Biu (Biao) to do some nefarious investigation work. Fong sells weapons illegally to gangsters. Dung seems to be an all-around bungler.

Jackie’s new case is to defend Boss Wah (Wah Yuen) against neighboring fishery owner Miss Ip (Deannie Yip) who claims that his chemical factory is discharging polluted water that is killing her fish. Ip’s lead witness is water expert Miss Wen (Pauline Yeung). What Jackie does not know is Wah’s factory is actually processing drugs.

Chan is miscast as a philandering lawyer who hits on every pretty woman he sees. This leads to the film’s weak narrative of Jackie falling for Miss Wen and Fong falling for Miss Ip, when he becomes her neighbor so he can spy on her. Hung even gets to do a song and dance at one point. Luckily, the action sequences, including several fights among the “Three Brothers” are both funny — Fong and Dung initially do not know they are both working for Jackie — and exceptional. Biao’s acrobatic leaps and moves in particular excel, and Chan and Hung are in top action form. There is skill, innovation and near-danger in the fight movements, some of which resemble a more physical Three Stooges or Marx Brothers tussle.

Among the many standout action sequences is when Jackie takes Miss Wen out to a yacht for a private dinner and then is attacked by the whole crew. Later, Fong takes on a couple of dozen men inside the chemical factory.

This edition is loaded with extras. There is the Hong Kong cut, with audio commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, and the longer Japanese cut, with commentary by Frank Djeng and FJ DeSanto. The International Cut comes with an English dub. The Japanese version includes two extra scenes (Dung with his psychiatrist) and outtakes during the closing credits. Those outtakes are included and expanded, along with behind-the-scenes looks (12:58) in an extra. There also are 10 interviews, with some people directly involved with the film and others who worked elsewhere with Chan. They include stuntman Chin Kar-Lok (39:17), screenwriter Szeto Cheuk-Hon (47:48), actor Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Boss Wah’s strongman (24:36), professor David Dresser (6:99), Leeder (6:09), stunt coordinator-performer Jude Poyer (6:15), Brad Allen (26:36), gymnast Joe Eigo (13:02), kick fighter Andy Cheng (38:46) and Thai boxer Billy Chow (34:11).

Another extra looks at the film’s legacy (2:33) and a music video is in two languages (2:55). Additionally, there is a photo-filled 88-page booklet with new writing by CJ Lines and Matthew Edwards, and a two-sided, foldout poster. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 4 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Sarah Polley and John Neville star in “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

 

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988, Criterion Collection, 2 Blu-rays, PG, 126 min.). Made after his run-in with Universal Studios over the editing of “Brazil,” director Terry Gilliam’s next film ran into spending problems, as it was almost overbudget from the start. However, nearly every dollar shows on the screen in this wonderfully entertaining story of Baron von Munchausen (John Neville playing four ages), a once true-life figure whose legend grew dramatically beyond possibility. A balloon trip in a ship to the moon, anybody?

The story takes place in the late 18th Century as a town is being attacked by the Ottoman Turks. After scenes of the bombardment, the camera goes inside a theater, where a production of “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is being performed. The play comes with a couple of songs, before the performance is interrupted by a man claiming to be the real Baron, who then goes on to tell the “true” story of his life and how he is responsible for the Turks’ attack due to a wager he had with the Sultan (Peter Jeffrey). This amusing tale involves his servants Berthold (Eric Idle, formerly of Monty Python as was director Gilliam), who has super speed, and strongman Aldolphus (Charles McKeown, co-writer with Gilliam), as well as Gustavus (Jack Purvis), who can blow massive wind. The Sultan performs one of his songs from “The Torturer’s Apprentice” opera he is composing.

After more bombing clears the theater, young Sally Salt (Sarah Polley, 8) entreats Munchausen to continue his story, which he does. Munchausen rides a mortar shell and then a cannonball over the Turkish forces and builds a hot-air balloon out of petticoats, which Sally stows away on, and sails to the moon, before falling back to Earth and into Mount Etna, where they meet the god Vulcan (Oliver Reed) and his wife Venus (Uma Thurman, 17), before being swallowed by a sea monster. He then defeats the Turks, partially by using shipwrecks as flying weapons.

The moon segment is particularly fanciful, as its inhabitants can detach their heads from their bodies. The King of the Moon is played by an uncredited, over-the-top Robin Williams, basically doing his usual crazy ad-libbing, with Valentina Cortese as Queen Ariadne. (Much like “The Wizard of Oz,” which also had use of a hot-air balloon, many of the actors play dual roles, the others being residents of the besieged town.) With not enough funds to film the moon sequence as he wished, Gilliam used cutout backdrops being pulled on ropes to portray the city, much in Monty Python style. The complete intended moon sequence, which had dozens of denizens at a banquet instead of just two, is presented in storyboards as an extra (21:14).

The film comes with audio commentary by Gilliam and McKeown from 2008. The rest of the extras are on the second disc and include a three-part making-of documentary (72:18), covering the troubled shooting in Italy and Spain. New is Gilliam narrating a look at the special effects (16:10), while there are four brief deleted scenes with audio commentary. Four other non-filmed scenes are presented as storyboards, while David Cairns talks about Munchausen’s true history (21:14). There are marketing materials; a 1991 South Bank Show episode on Gilliam’s life (47:09); and Gilliam’s 1974 animated “Miracle of Flight” (5:24). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 4 stars

Blonde: The Marilyn Stories (1953-2001, Film Chest, 3 DVDs, NR + R, 474 min.). This unusual set contains three films and two documentaries about Marilyn Monroe, as well as her first TV appearance on “The Jack Benny Show” in 1953. The best of the films is “Blonde” (2001 mini-series, TV-14, 165 min.), a fictionalized biography based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 book that was a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize and a nominee for the National Book Award. Joyce Chopra directed. Poppy Montgomery plays Monroe. “Blonde” covers Norma Jean’s childhood, being raised by her grandmother as her mother was unfit and then sent to an orphanage after her grandmother’s death. She never knew her father and, as her adult life progressed, she constantly sought a daddy replacement in the men she dated and even married. Among the notable names in the cast are Kristie Alley as her jealous foster mom, Eric Bogosian as photographer Otto Ose, Titus Welliver as Joe DiMaggio, Ann-Margret and Jensen Ackles.

“Marilyn and Me” (1991, NR, 100 min.) tells of the supposed romance/lengthy friendship between Monroe and western screenwriter Robert “Bobbie” Slatzer, whose book the film is based on. According to the film, their friendship resulted in a marriage that lasted five days, before she married DiMaggio several months later. Monroe is played by Susan Griffiths, who would go on to play Monroe 12 more times, including in “Pulp Fiction.” Jesse Dabson plays Slatzer and Joel Grey plays her agent Johnny Hyde. Griffiths is terrific, but the film is not very exciting.

The third film is the exploitative, kind of sleazy “Goodbye, Norma Jean” (1976, R, 95 min.) that has some quick nudity and Norma Jean flirting with a traffic cop. Misty Rowe plays Monroe and the director was Larry Buchanan.

The documentaries are one narrated by Mike Wallace (1986, NR, 24 min.) and “The Legend of Marilyn Monroe” (1967, NR, 52:19), narrated by John Huston, who directed Monroe in her first major film, “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), and her last, “The Misfits” (1961). Grade: overall 3 stars

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwest-ern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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