Biehn Season, Vol. 2: 3. American Dragon (1998)


Director: Ralph Hemecker

Starring: Michael Biehn, Joong-Hoon Park, Don Stark

Bit late, sorry about that, I know you’re all pining for The Biehn. In wrapping up Vol. 2, I’m breaking new ground. After the dreaded draw was made and the Post-it unfurled, I was forced to raid Lovefilm for this one…

Y’all ready? Cuppa & biscuits to hand? Right. Detective Tony Luca (Biehn) makes a hand shandy of an undercover investigation and gets shunted onto another case – seems a handful of Oriental gentlemen have been rudely slaughtered. Into the mix arrives Inspector Kim (Joong-Hoon), all the way from Korea and who seems to know more than he’s admitting to. Luca and Kim reluctantly team up, nut heads, punch each other in the face, go on the slosh, bond… Basically, all the stuff you’d expect from one of these things. Anyway, the Yakuza and the Mafia are being played by a shadowy bloke (errr, called Shadow) who is a member of an even shadowyer crew known as Black Lotus. Or is it the other way around? Never mind. Stuck in the middle of the Mafiosi, perpetually frowning Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Lotus-ies and Shadows (of which there are lots) are Luca and Kim, both of whom must face their personal demons…

"Wolf, if you mention 'Black Rain' one more time..."

Right, I watched American Dragon (Dragons – you tell me…) a few weeks ago now. The film hasn’t stuck in my memory and I can’t be arsed renting it again so this review may turn out patchy.

From the off director Ralph Hemecker tilts in the direction of Black Rain. He’s after capturing those tight, moody close-ups and the fancy shafts of light. Ralph captures a few, but we’re not in the same league as precipitation noir here. That’s not a criticism; there’s nothing wrong with aiming for Ridley Scott territory and missing by a lot more than a tuppenny bus ride and a field of cows. Now, there’s moody and then there’s impenetrable gloom, both are separate entities. Hemecker may have got confused by that. Some of this is needlessly murky and rendered a chore to sit through simply because of an ineptly lit location. The fighting finale is an example, when our heroes must each battle his nemesis – in tasteful silhouette. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d much rather see what’s going on. Continuing une theme de Stygian, the post-scrap convo plonks Luca’s face in shadow right when you need to see he and Kim connecting, their eye contact – school boy error, Ralph. Did you not pay the lecky bill or something? Not to be deterred, Hemecker even throws in le doptre De Palma for one shot early in the film. I’ve got to give him a nod for trying.

"No really, Mike, the comedy will work. Trust me..."

As with any Buddy-Cop™ movie, those two leads in front have got to be tooled up with the old magic chemistry. If it’s not quite there, then sheer force of personality together with a crackling script will pull you through 90 minutes. Erm, none of the above. I’m sure both Biehn and Joong-Hoon are capable, but they’re working (in the dark) with a script bereft of balance and coherence. Tonally, it’s all off, what with the quasi-Black Rain atmosphere and then the attempted Red Heat style comedy nosing uncomfortably into the second half of the movie. It is to the actors’ credit that a couple of the gags work. Others don’t; the alley fight, knocking seven shades of shite out of each other. A tramp trying to get some kip threatens to ‘call the cops’ and they break off scuffling to turn to camera and snap in unison, “I AM a cop!” Awful. Luca and Kim as characters do not fit easily into a semi-comedy, I don’t know why the writers persisted with this notion. Serious blokes, coming from a bad place… chuck in a couple of light relief moments for ‘em, sure, but for the love of Grabthar’s hammer, leave out the wisecracking buddy schtick.

Rocco goes bowling...

There are a few decent punch-ups on offer. Luca’s toilet set-to with Rocco (Don Stark) is pretty rough and tumble. Sadly, Rocco commits one of Movieland’s cardinal sins when he dusts himself down and leaves it to his henchmen to finish off Luca. Unwise. You’ll be praying for Don Stark’s presence throughout; when he’s on screen the film lifts a notch. No surprise he’s the centre of percussion in American Dragon’s best scene. Hemecker must’ve thought ‘fuck it, in for a penny, in for a pound’ and lays on The Godfather. Rocco rolls into a bowling alley and lays waste to the opposition, blasting away with a weapon in both hands, in slo-mo, operatics on the soundtrack, Amadeus playing on screens displayed around the lanes. It’s so gratuitously over the top you can’t help but grin. Plus, you don’t need a fucking torch to see what’s going on, which is a bonus. It’s a fantastic sequence; Stark plays the black comedy straight, his Rocco is a seriously unhinged twat who revels in killing (he’s learned his henchman lesson – if you want a job doing, do it yerself). He doesn’t need a gun either, just witness the messy bowling ball incident…

... tumbleweeds...

The Biehn does his stuff well. He’s looking good here, clearly enjoying himself. At the beginning he’s got that coat/pumps combo going on from The Terminator, wouldn’t be surprised if it’s deliberate. He does his best with the quips; it’s quite funny when he breaks up a fight by firing into the air, then after leaving the room he sticks his head back through the door and says, “Sorry about the ceiling.” It falls flat though. If this was Midnight Run, straight after you’d get some uptempo funky trumpet music as a punchline. Instead – tumbleweeds. Even if they had the Grange Hill theme straight after, that’d work. I kept playing it on my iPhone every time these two were strolling along, just to replace the sub-Zimmer moody tunes. Works a treat, try it: “Usually they just tow.” Wah-wah, wop-waaaah… But then you’ll get a flash of something, like right at the end when he and Kim are saying their farewells at the airport. Luca says, “Next time, I’m coming to Korea.” To which Kim returns, “Abso-fucking-lutely!” Biehn’s face breaks into a big, natural grin – as did mine. Cue the music…

This frown ain't big enough for the both of us, dur-dur-dur!

There’s little to be said for the remainder of the cast. I warmed to Joong-Hoon after initial reservations. Outside of his natural language he struggles with the lines, sometimes speaking slower and enunciating certain words for clarity. Yeh, it fits with his character but you can still tell when he’s trying too hard. “I was obsessed with the Lotus and worked late one night…” Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (as Matsuyama) frowns magnificently, but that’s about it. As for the Shadow (Byron Mann), he just lurks in the dark, an enigmatic presence with a few nifty moves thrown in. The double-header with him and Rocco versus Kim & Luca should’ve been epic. It’s a ball ache, for reasons already given above. Repeat after me, Ralph – the light is my friend…

The best I can say is I preferred it to the execrable The Art Of War. Amazingly, and I swear I didn’t know this until I had already mentioned Black Rain, in Argentina American Dragon was released with the title Black Rain 2 and was actually marketed as a direct sequel to Ridley Scott’s film! The fucking cheek of it!

Can’t find a trailer (or the full movie) so have this instead. Bear in mind if you haven’t seen American Dragon (aka Double Edge) and don’t wish to know any more – avoid:

More importantly, here’s the Grange Hill theme:

Cheers, folk.

ThereWolf, August 2011

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About ThereWolf

I only come out at night... mostly...

16 responses to “Biehn Season, Vol. 2: 3. American Dragon (1998)”

  1. just pillow talk says :

    Yet another movie from him I’ve never seen, and apparently better off for too.

    Man, he really knew how to balance the good stuff with, well mounds and mounds of shit.

  2. Jarv says :

    Never even heard of this. I like Black Rain, though.

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    How far is a tuppenny bus ride and for that mater what is a tuppenny bus ride?

    • Jarv says :

      It’s a bus ride that costs 2p. 2p won’t get you very far.

      Or I think it nay be rhyming slang for something hookers used to offer.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        2P= 2 pence right?

      • Jarv says :


        2 pence. Not a lot of money. You can’t even buy a penny sweet for it.

        Xi, seeing as you’re around- did you get a chance to look at the covering I did of the riot last night? I’m genuinely curious about the tactics here, because the mob clearly had them, and the cops didn’t.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I thought that was it but I haven’t been in the UK in over a decade so I’m surprised I remembered.

        Yes I just finished reading through all the posts from last night.

      • Jarv says :

        I’ll put this back in the Rec Room at the end of that thread- then.

    • ThereWolf says :

      I actually meant to type ‘thruppenny’ coz tuppenny isn’t far enough really.

      But, still, it’s a fair distance. And when you factor in the field of cows, that’s quite a long way.

  4. Xiphos0311 says :

    Its hard to make an informed opinion about what the bulls were doing. I have no doubt what you were writing was accurate the problem is all you really see was what was right in front of you and that’s hard to extrapolate over the entire AO. It’s an easy thing to do and believe me I have done that myself a lot in the past.

    I will agree though that it sounds like the Met did not particularly distinguish themselves in how they handled the situation. It sees they were overwhelmed from the beginning and never were able to get a hand on the situation. If I was in charged I would have put every single bull I had in harness and put them on the street and if that didn’t work call in the National Guard.It looks like the Met were way understaffed.

  5. Continentalop says :

    I have never seen this movie Wolf, and even though you didn’t give it a glowing review, you almost make it sound like unintentional comedy. I’ll have to check it out.

    • ThereWolf says :

      It’s not horrendous, Conti. By all means, give it a go. The comedy is completely intentional – just in the wrong movie.

      Some of it works, though. Don Stark rocks as well.

  6. Droid says :

    Ah, Biehn. You could’ve been great. Instead we got shite like American Dragon. What a shame.

    Midnight Run FTW!!! One of my all time favourites. “If you don’t cooperate, you’re gonna suffer from fistophobia!” hehe

    Good stuff, Wolf.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Cheers, Droid.

    The Biehn IS great!

    ‘American Dragon(s)’ is worth 90 minutes, it’s not total bollocks. But I’m probably being too lenient.

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