Yao Long (Sam Hui) and May Yip (Maggie Cheung) are Manchurian orphans who have relocated to Russia. As they grow up together they begin to fall in love and promise each other that they will never part. Youthful promises though are often hard to keep and when Yao witnesses a murder he is abducted by a mysterious group of assassins called the 800 Dragons. They employ blood draining techniques to force him to lose his memory before training him in ninjitsu and martial arts to make him into a highly skilled killer.
Forced to become an assassin, Yao is sent of several highly secretive missions but on one such outing his face is seen by none other than May so he is ordered to kill the remaining witness. However, seeing the familiar face triggers Yao's memories and when he fails to kill May the 800 Dragons put out on a contract on his life. Now, Yao must use the skills taught to him by the organisation to fight to become a truly free man.
Of all the remakes of the manga 'Crying Freeman', 'Dragon from Russia' must be one of the most disjointed. Despite obvious similarities with it's source, the plot of the film is extremely muddled and jumps around so much that you can barely follow it. This confused approach tends to severely hamper your enjoyment of a film with obvious story potential and can perhaps be attributed to the use of multiple directors (or should I just point the finger directly at a certain Dean Shek?). However, there are signs of improvement once the second half of the film approaches (and the majority of the action kicks in) as the holes become less apparent and it is possible to put the glaring faults to one side and enjoy it for the entertainment value alone.
Sam Hui as Freeman is an odd choice to say the least, especially when you consider his predominantly comedic background, but it seems even stranger that he opts to portray the lead in the style of an imitation Bruce Lee. He utilises several familiar stances and battle cries that are synonymous with Lee which add nothing to his performance and only aid the film's confusion. This isn't to say that he is technically bad though as he is still a very capable actor with obvious skills in the action department but it just seems like a very puzzling approach to take. On the other side of the acting spectrum, Maggie Cheung is criminally under-used and it seems like a waste of her immense talent to have her play a simple damsel in distress. All she really has to do here is constantly scream out the name of the hero and get herself into sticky situations.
The real talking point for this film remains the action which forces the plot to take a back seat (definitely a good thing here). The fight choreography from Yuen Tak is nothing short of superb and is littered with everything from acrobatics and impressive kicking combinations to dazzling weapon work. Some of the most memorable highlights that spring to mind are a blindfolded nunchaku battle, torch lit pole fighting and an excellent church shoot out where Freeman leaps around from all corners of the building to take out his opponents. So there you have it, not only well choreographed but original as well!
To sum it up then, 'Dragon from Russia' is a group of excellent fight sequences strung together by a rather muddled plot and some odd casting. Perhaps if the producers had followed the original story more closely it could have risen to greatness but as it is, the story forces it to remain an average affair.