Dragon Wars (2007)
Directed by Shim Hyung-Rae
Written by Shim Hyung-Rae
Starring Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Aimee Garcia, Craig Robinson, Chris Mulkey, Elizabeth Pena
Sony Home Entertainment
Available January 8, 2008
According to Korean legend, every five hundred years a woman is born with the mark of the dragon and inside her a spirit energy that can create a celestial dragon. In the heavens, two sects of dragons and their worshippers wait patiently for this woman to be born. And every time she is born, a war breaks out on Earth to take her soul.
In Los Angeles, a young woman by the name of Sarah is the latest reincarnation of the Yoo Yi Joo, and the evil dragon wyrm Buraki wants her spirit! But Sarah is not alone, for she has a lone protector, Ethan, the last reincarnate of the Yoo Yi Joo’s defender. As the Buraki, as well as his followers and their army of lesser dragons, tear through the city, Sarah and Ethan are able to stay one step ahead of them. But as Los Angeles begins to crumble, Sarah becomes more and more convinced that she will have to meet her destiny head on.
In this U.S. and Korea co-production, director and writer Shim Hyung-Rae (who helmed the 1999 monster flick Yonggary) utilizes a Korean technical team and an English cast to bring his mayhem to the screen. The result is a wildly ludicrous, barely comprehensible mess with scores of CGI monsters laying ruin upon a city. In Korea, it has become a huge hit. In America, well, it was in and out of theaters in about two weeks.
Sadly from the get-go, Dragon Wars has a lot going against it. Shim, who culls Korean legend to bring a different saga of dragons to the screen than most western audiences are familiar with, has just way too many ideas and backstory that he wants to compact into the 90-minute running time. Early on, Ethan is told the legend of the dragon sects, known as the Imoogi. Ethan’s mentor, Jack, spews out this highly detailed legend in voiceover, while a flashback to Korea plays underneath. Ethan has only to say “what are you talking about?” to the story. This becomes a running theme with the script, as the legend is referenced again and again. If you don’t catch it the first time around, you’ll be completely lost later on in the film. It is this frustration of not knowing what the hell is going on, even though every character seems to know exactly what is happening, that keeps a dark cloud over enjoying the action and ‘splosions later on.
Not only is the script nigh-indecipherable, but most of the actors on board can’t even bring a solid performance to try and hide it nor believe in the words they are trying to emote. Robert Forster, who plays Jack, is great as always, and it is his reading of the legend in a calm and zen-like tone that makes it at least sound cool, even if you don’t quite understand it. Jason Behr (Roswell and The Grudge re-make) is in full rebel indie rock mode as Ethan, and he has an energy to him that at almost nullifies the completely flat performance of relative newcomer Amanda Brooks. Elizabeth Pena pops in just long enough to cash a paycheck. Everyone else seems pulled directly from made-for-network-television disaster movies.
That being said (and it is a big “that”) the action sequences are spectacular and well worth sitting through the “I’m going to save her” banter and comedy side-bits to get to. Once the dragon masses are let loose in Los Angeles, the entire plot takes a backseat for twenty minutes while the military takes on the invading forces. Helicopters and the smaller dragons tumble in between the skyscrapers, while in a purely King Kong inspired set up, the monstrous Buraki wraps himself around the Library Tower (downtown LA’s monumental skyscraper) as he fights off three helicopters. Shim seems unconcerned with saving any bystanders too, which is always a plus, as buildings are shown filled with people moments before they are destroyed, and cars are thrown with wild abandon. Shim’s Korean effects house does an impressive job bringing the effects to the screen and blending them in with the live action. CGI does not a good movie make, but it can certainly be the highlight.
Much like an episode of Dragonball Z, more often than not you’ll have no idea what is happening, what the characters are saying, and you’ll be asking yourself “how did we wind up here?!” more often than not. Kaiju fans will get a kick out of the massive rampaging, though something has certainly been lost in the translation from rubber suits to Photoshop. The under-13 crowd, however, will absolutely eat this up.
Dragon Wars comes to standard DVD and Blu-Ray on January 8, 2008.