Director: David Heavener
Writer: David Heavener
Cast: Robert Chapin, TJ Storm, Richard Lynch, Chona Jason, Rick Tain, Chuck Loch, Sean P. Donahue
Cinematically speaking, time travel is a tough subject to pull off. There are almost always plot holes or flimsy layers of scientific logic that beg explanation but can’t be adequately articulated on screen without coming off as ham-handed or expository. The universe of Back to the Future handled it well enough, and 2004’s Primer was an interesting exercise in how the fabric of the universe could be bent on a micro-budget. David Heavener’s 1995 film, Dragon Fury takes a slightly different approach by skirting any question you could have about the logic underpinning its science fiction elements. When you ask how the time machine works, someone gets topless. When you ask why characters are behaving in a particular way, someone gets decapitated. When you ask how time travel will affect people and events, this film hands you an aspirin for the future headache that will occur from going into the past. Of course.
Mason (Chapin) is a rogue warrior in a near-future dystopia who trusts no one but his girlfriend, Regina (Jason), and his close friend, the eccentric doctor, Milton (Loch). The latter has recently uncovered an evil plot from the past that explains the dire state of the present. And he has the brittle newspaper clippings to prove it! Apparently, an organization called the AAMA manufactured some disease in some lab some time in the late 1990s and killed a whistleblowing doctor before the truth got out. Since that time, they’ve been making serious dough by distributing a placebo serum that does nothing to curb the spread of the disease. These big-pharma buttholes are led by “chief medical dictator” Vestor (Lynch) and his band of merry men called the Dragons. Mason was trained as a Dragon and managed to escape before being completely brainwashed, but their treachery haunts him on the regular.
After some intense discussion (<5 minutes) Mason wants Milton to send him to the past to fetch the real cure to save humanity. Milton obliges, gives Mason an aspirin for the post-trip headache, straps his homeboy to some tubing, and sends him through space and time to late-90s Los Angeles. We know this because there are strobe lights, smoke, and occasional screaming, then a jump cut. Regina follows suit, but unfortunately, Vestor shows up shortly thereafter with his head goons. He forces Milton to send Fullock (Storm) and Henchman #2 back through time as well, and the chase is on. Will Mason locate the cure by the time the time portal re-opens? Will he be confused by the past's untorn shirts? The large cell phones? The startling lack of hoverboards?
For a quick and dirty list, here is what the post-apocalypse of Dragon Fury has to offer: fog, disease, torn t-shirts, sword fights, dirty robes, motorcycles, chokers with cock-rings, expensive bread, undercuts, and homing devices that turn into swords but look like vibrators. Here’s what it doesn’t have: adequate lighting, readily available firearms, oil drum fires, endangered water supplies, studded leather, lasers, or decent healthcare.
Beyond his brief cameo as a nerdy newlywed, David Heavener also contributes as the film’s director and writer. This is his sixth film, and I would shudder at any insinuation that this is his best effort. The post-apocalyptic costumes are lame even by b-movie standards, the villains are undercooked, the plot is meandering and silly, and the fights lack any sense of drama or danger for the most part. Some of the stunt set pieces, both large and small, are fairly competent though. Take a look through the credits and you’ll see the name of Parole Violators star, Sean Donahue, who served as the film’s stunt coordinator. He dons silly wigs, falls down flights of stairs, and does all of the little things that great stunt work ethic encompasses. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him the MVP of the film, but you could argue that he served the cinematic equivalent of James Posey on the 2008 Boston Celtics: a valuable role player without whom a championship would not be possible. In this case, that championship is The Best 1995 Film Bearing the Name “Dragon Fury.” (This film went undefeated).
Frankly, I was a little surprised to find that T.J. Storm had made so few appearances in films we’ve reviewed thus far. It *seems* like the dude is in everything. That said, the man best remembered around these parts for getting tricked into painting a garage and getting punched by Bolo Yeung during a solo dance sequence, is featured here as the main heavy, Fullock. Heavener seemed to have a clear idea that he wanted the character to be an Arnie-aping, man-of-few-lines, T-800-esque automaton. Storm is a little goofy at times, but I can’t blame him for the lack of engaging characterization. He’s hulking, throws some intense glares, and carries himself well during fight scenes. Seriously big hair, too.
Even if a film’s plot is silly and the sole ownership of acting chops resides with Richard Lynch and his ~72 hours on the set, not all is lost. Great or even good film fights can go a long way in raising the quality of the overall product. Lack of urgency notwithstanding, the fights here were okay, though it’s certainly a case where the energy level outstripped the choreography. The sword fights were bloodless duds, but Storm in particular looks good during his hand-to-hand fight scenes, and he and Chapin have a nice chemistry together. The fight settings are not particularly varied, though. Underpasses, L.A. concrete, parking garages, and warehouses are (once again) the most dangerous places around if you’re trying to avoid a martial arts fight.
The vast majority of b-level martial arts films have steered clear of time travel, with good reason. It can be a heady scientific story element probably best left to polished science-fiction genre filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis and Shane Carruth. However, I’m glad that Heavener decided that the ethics and philosophy of time travel could be conveniently discarded as long as you had plenty of tubing and strobe lights at your disposal. Fleeting moments of enjoyable absurdity or lively fights, but mostly forgettable.
For hard copies on Ebay or Amazon, VHS is your only format option. The film is also freely available through Troma’s channel on YouTube.
3 / 7