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Dragon Hunt

1987, Starring Martin McNamara, Michael McNamara, Sheryl Foster, Heidi Romano. Directed by Charlie Wiener (Twin Dragon Film Productions).

Identical twins and martial arts experts Martin and Michael McNamara are back in this sequel to the kickboxin' brothers' 1986 film Twin Dragon Encounter. With new producers on board, Dragon Hunt stars Martin and Michael as themselves, plucky martial arts instructors caught in a life-and-death game of revenge orchestrated by their old nemesis, the mohawk-sporting Jake. After suffering humiliation when the Twin Dragons shot an arrow through his hand in the first film, Jake has returned with a laughable papier-maché replacement and another band of gung-ho mercenaries to even the score.

On the way to a secluded island to set up a covert training facility, Jake and his "People's Private Army" hijack a cruise ship. For some unknown reason, the Twin Dragons are blamed for this crime by a couple of hard-nosed cops, prompting Martin and Michael to duck the heat at a lakeside cottage with their girlfriends in tow. But their relaxing weekend of lying on fur rugs and sipping wine quickly goes down for the count when the traitorous ladies drug the Twin Dragons' drinks and take them to Jake's island stronghold.

In preparation for their arrival, Jake has upped the ante from the previous film and assembled a formidable team of dog wranglers, bowhunting poachers, ninjas and heavies to participate in a sadistic game of capture the flag. With a $200,000 price on their heads, the brothers are sent out into the wilderness to find the flag using only their knives and their wits. As the mercenaries begin to track the twins down, the McNamaras create intricate booby traps with sharpened sticks and raid a boat for dynamite and a grenade launcher. They quickly face off against a man known as "The Beastmaster" and his vicious dog, a master ninja named The Red Skull of Death and his cabal of not-so-deadly apprentices, and Vern, a "man mountain" whose pants keep falling down. The Dragons defeat their adversaries one by one, usually quite handily, leaving Jake and his inner circle of henchmen to take on the Twin Dragons in a 10 minute climax which is mostly made up of slow motion footage of the McNamaras rolling in sand dunes and discharging their machine guns in random directions.

A mind-blowing slice of mid-1980s Canadian trash, Dragon Hunt was directed by the questionably talented Charles Wiener, a hired gun known for tackling these kinds of vanity projects. Although a welcome improvement over his other poorly-photographed efforts, The Porn Murders and Fireballs, Dragon Hunt is still haphazardly constructed less a narrative than a precariously stacked sequence of events punctuated by heavy metal ballads. Lacking any sense of continuity, the barely articulated plot frequently contradicts itself, from an opening scene that has Jake loading up on illegal guns only to have him later announce that no firearms can be used in the hunt, to the gratuitous and inexplicable hijacking of the cruise ship (actually a small Thousand Island tour boat). With a completely disjointed atmosphere, the viewer is ultimately left wondering exactly how much of the confusing script was improvised on set.

What's most surprising about Dragon Hunt is that it isn't even impressive as a kickboxing film. Opting for a blended mix of hand-to-hand combat, survivalism, and heavy firepower, it is instead one of the most trigger-happy Canadian films ever made, boasting more explosions and shoot-outs than an average A-Team episode. In the rare occurrences where the McNamara brothers do let their feet fly, the fights are edited with fast cuts and obscured camera angles that make them just as bewildering as the rest of the film--certainly not a showcase of their skills by any means.

As heroes, Martin and Michael again prove completely uncharismatic. Uttering only a handful of lines over the course of the film, they spend most of their scenes exchanging worried glances. If the brothers have some difficulty playing themselves, then the non-actors they must fight are even worse—faceless ninjas and heavies mostly played by other kickboxers and apparent students from their school. Jake, who sports a mohawk and a hilariously dated "post-apocalyptic" wardrobe also narrates the film with one of the most over-the-top voiceovers I've ever heard, constant maniacal laughing and completely meaningless tough guy non-sequiturs like "Tick tock, time to rock!"

Despite these faults—or perhaps because of them—Dragon Hunt remains an endlessly entertaining film. The McNamaras have frequently decried the state of modern martial arts cinema, but their reliance on only the most braindead B-action plot devices makes for a distinctly low-brow delight. As the only character with some semblance of personality, Jake's schizophrenic villainy reaches the very heights of cartoonish excess, placing him somewhere between Cobra Commander and the Iron Sheik. The enjoyment multiplies even further for Canadian B-film fans. Although Dragon Hunt's location is only really implied, the Canadian backwoods setting is as obvious as it is comfortably familiar, and some eagle-eyed viewers will no doubt recognize the picturesque backgrounds from Ontario's Thousand Island region. The brothers even manage a sly product placement as they drive up to their cottage—the camera lingers on a shot of the Twin Dragon's awesome custom van, prominently displaying the phone numbers of their Toronto-area schools!

These days, Canadian film fans looking for locally-shot martial arts/action films can take their pick between Cinepix's Maritime-produced SnakeEater series and a half dozen titles produced by Jalal Merhi's Toronto-based Film One Productions, which dominated the early 1990s with Operation Golden Phoenix, Talons of the Eagle and the Tiger Claws trilogy. In the tax shelter wasteland of the mid-1980s, however, the McNamara brothers were truly the pioneers of the modern Canadian action film, determined to coax action-packed wilderness epics out of a budget that would barely cover a few pairs of weighted kickboxing gloves. Although the end results can be easily dismissed as ineptly made and acted, the Twin Dragons' film productions are usually enjoyable enough to stand proudly among the likes of Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare and dragon as some of the best schlock cinema that Canada has to offer.

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