Directed by Hyung-rae Shim
Faster than a speeding bull T Rex chasing down Jeff Goldblum for a light lunch. Smarter than a giant American Godzilla who’s confused by a speeding cab. More powerful than 15 Megasnakes COMBINED … at 10 times the budget. This … is Dragon Wars. Those sold on the premise of dragons battling it out in the heart of Los Angeles, be warned. You’ll not get your fill of reptilian battle tonight.
Ace reporter Ethan (Jason Behr), dressed like an American Yakuza, stumbles onto an odd crime scene, complete with a crazy old doom-sayer and dismissive cops. The scene reminds him of something from his childhood and we flashback to his chance encounter with a man named Jack (Robert Forster). Jack tells a young Ethan a story of ancient Korea (as we flashback again. dual flashbacks for 50 bonus points) and two ill fated lovers…one the warrior and one the maiden who must join with the good Imoogi (the giant snake thing) to keep the world from plunging into darkness, for if the evil Imoogi were to gobble her up, he will use his new power to devastate the planet.
Flash back-forward, 500 years, and the evil Imoogi has awoken, tearing LA a new orifice in search of the girl with the dragon birthmark. As if a giant screaming cobra were not menacing enough, our evil snake is flanked by an army of red eyed knights who come off like rejects from the live action Masters of the Universe. Alas, there would be no comic relief from Gwildor. Super snake also has an army of lesser reptilians including winged, dragon-like Bulcos and giant frog/tanks called Dawdlers as well as angry little Raptors for the knights to ride on. Leading this army is a black knight with the golden voice of Inspector Gadget’s nemesis, Dr.Claw, and the charisma of an angry Bea Arthur, whose only weakness is the inability to get out of the way of moving vehicles. Life is funny that way.
By now you are getting the impression that Dragon Wars is a colossal mess, and you’d be right. Two particular moments in the flashback sequences had characters exclaiming “What are you talking about?!” We were glad we weren’t alone. The first half hour of this film is spent laying down an expansive story thick with Asian terminology tossed at your brain at a dizzying pace. Before long, Ethan grips his “destiny” (~moan~) and tracks down Sarah (Amanda Brooks), the new chosen femme fatale, who is already being stalked by the giant snake who seems to have no problem sneaking up behind her. Giant snakes are ninja like you know. Rounding out the forces of good are Jack who appears as random people, only to morph back into Robert Forster after he’s done his good deed, and Bruce (Craig Robinson) whose super power seems to be the emotional range of a table cloth.
The level of acting in this film tops off at “porn star.” Maybe porn star is being too generous. Let’s say porn actor. Jason Behr runs through the action with a look of eternal concern etched into his brow. This does not change for the duration of the film. Monotone seemed to be a theme and I can’t help wondering if it was the director that requested it. Sarah moans through her lines, Bruce speeds away from a giant snake with the same look on his face you’d give to a homeless guy trying to squeegee your windows and Jack … Jack who can float and do kung fu … doesn’t do much of anything. Our young lovers have the chemistry of a brother and sister miscast in the school play as Romeo and Juliet. It’s all very hard to watch. Give me a good Spanish soap opera any day of the week over this film. It should be noted that our primary actors play alongside a veritable parade of c list actors, all recognizable as “Oh it’s that guy/girl!” These parts could have been tackled by anyone and only seem to be planted to establish Dragon Wars as an “American Movie” … which it is not, of course. Personally, all of my anticipation lay in waiting to see which of these poor thespians would have to say the word Imoogi with a straight face.
Being a movie highly driven by CGI effects, the daunting task was to create these fantastical creatures and have them remain believable. Just how believable can you make a giant snake/dragon monster and froggy-tanks? The answer is not very. An hour into the film, we are treated to the pay off, as it were. The American Armed Forces face off against the evil Imoogi armada. Blackhawk helicopters race past sky scrapers while blasting away at the dreaded flying Bulcos. Tanks and various ground forces go head to head with the hulking Dawdlers and those otherworldly knights who drive them on. In the midst of it all, the evil Imoogi cuts a swath through the city streets, sending cars flying and puts one particular building in a death grip until a swarm of Black Hawks comes to lay the smack down. This scene is the one saving grace of Dragon Wars. It lasts about 20 minutes.
The film climaxes in another world altogether, it seems. I suppose it’s easier to render a desert than buildings, after all. Loose ends like a giant army of reptiles and knights get tied up in seconds and we finally get to see the giant snake battle we were promised. Of course, we were promised it in the city like the posters suggested, but at this point, I assure you, you’ll take what you can get. The final earth shattering battle we’ve all known was coming is also a fun ride, and also short lived. Had this occurred in the heart of LA, we could see buildings crumbling in their wake and people frantically running for their lives as the two titans writhe in battle. Instead, the dark horizon and bleak landscape lend nothing to what should have been the “WOA” moment of the film. It’s a damn shame.
Dragon Wars is an ambitious film, seemingly trying to out-monster the Jurassic Park franchise and provide a more dazzling spectacle than “Giant fucking robots”. I can’t help thinking that, had this film’s creators read the script and realized it’s fate, then embraced the gonzo nature of the subject material full on, we would have been able to enjoy a fully over the top assault on our senses. Godzilla: Final Wars was one such film, packing over 10 giant monsters into one film with modern effects, ridiculous plot lines, horrendous acting and non stop fun. This is the difference between what we would call a great bad movie and a just plain BAD bad movie. No amount of screaming snake effects can cover up bad story telling. At best, Dragon Wars is the biggest budgeted SciFi Channel original movie ever made, without being that of course. While seeing a modern army take on monsters mildly geektastic on a big screen, I’m thinking the price of a DVD rental is closer to what admission is worth.
2 out of 5
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