Daniel Lee is one of the best action directors in Hong Kong. He isn't part of the hardcore group that pumps out at least 2 films per year, instead he keeps to a saner pace that allows him to put a little bit more time and effort into his films. That doesn't necessarily result in better films, but the more polished feel of his oeuvre does make it easier for his films to cross the Chinese borders.
Lee got off to a very rough start though. He directed his first film in '94, the year that Hong Kong cinema started its painful decline. Not that '94 Du Bi Dao Zhi Qing [What Price Survival] is a bad film, but it does show the first signs of an industry that is struggling to find a proper way forward. Lee tried again two years later, this time with the help of Jet Li. Hak Hap [Black Mask] is an entertaining romp, but hardly a standout release for neither Li or Lee.
He kept up appearances with Sing Yuet Tung Wa [Moonlight Express], but finally succumbed to the industry's failing standard. A Fu [A Fighter's Blues] and Siu Nin A Fu [The Kumite] are rather poor films far below Lee's own capabilities. He even tried his fortune in America, but Journeyman hardly made an impact and probably remains Lee's most obscure film to date.
In 2005 Lee started to work on his Hong Kong comeback. Maang Lung [Dragon Squad] was his near-perfect return to high octane action cinema, featuring an abundance of amazing gun fights. A less than stellar cast failed to gel everything together, but Lee was clearly done producing mediocre filler. Saam Gwok Dzi Gin Lung Se Gap [Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon] confirmed Lee's return to form, a slick, stylish historical war flick featuring Maggie Q and Andy Lau catapulted him back into the spotlight.
For his next film, Lee assembled an all-star cast (Donnie Yen, Wei Zhao, Sammo Hung) and set out to revive the glory days of '93, a year he failed to experience to the fullest when he just started out. Jin Yi Wei [14 Blades] is a joy for martial arts fans, with elaborate sets, excellent fight choreography and a high level of visual detail. In a surprise move, Lee's next film kept the setting but dropped the action. Hong Men Yan Chuan Qi [White Vengeance] is a tactical historical warfare film, focusing on an intellectual battle between two counsellors. Great stuff, just don't expect any big sword fights or dashing martial arts sequences.
Lee's latest films have enjoyed plenty of international attention, which put him in the top spot to direct Tian Jiang Xiong Shi [Dragon Blade], one of China's most recent attempts to bridge the gap between Hollywood and its local output. Rather than send its directors to Hollywood, China is now importing Hollywood stars to try and sell their films oversees. By the looks of Tian Jiang Xiong Shi though, they still have a long way to go. The film is a flawed attempt to mix Eastern and Western cinema, leaving it stranded somewhere in the middle. Hopefully this was just a one off for Lee, as his talents fare better when he can simply focus on making kick-ass action films instead of working on trying to unite two different film markets.