Thursday, October 04, 2007

­Dragon Wars (D-War)

Being generally busy with the BFF got in the way of seeing Dragon Wars during its first couple of weeks in release, which most people would probably consider fortuitous. I had the morbid curiosity going on, though - they'd been talking about this thing on Twitch and Kaiju Shakedown for what seems like forever, and having seen a few good genre flicks from Korea in the past decade, I wondered how well someone from there would do with the Hollywood toybox.

The answer is, basically, "not well", although it's worth noting that we're talking about Shim Hyung-rae, who doesn't seem particularly noteworthy as a director, as opposed to Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho (who did a nice job playing with the CGI toys himself, with The Host). Which is a shame; he blows crap up as well as anyody - his property damage is the best I've seen of that sort of thing since Jackson's King Kong.

I also thought it was pretty cool to see a guy who is so clearly and proudly influenced by George Lucas. Lucas takes a lot more crap than he deserves these days, but there's no one better at directing a Great Big Action scene, and Shim is clearly referencing Lucas's playbook a lot in that area. Heck, the design of some of his creatures seems to be directly lifted from The Phantom Menace. Sadly, Shim also has Lucas's issues when it comes time to direct actors, at least in English. I half-wonder if I might enjoy this film dubbed into Korean or with a Korean cast, because I wouldn't necessarily know what sounded wrong or off. Which also raises the question of how good foreign films really are sometimes - do I just assume that the "foreign" stuff is also good, giving it a pass because I can't access it directly?

Also worth mentioning: I felt terrible once I got home from this movie. Whether it was the mozzarella sticks at the concession stand or using earbuds while playing my Nintendo DS on the bus to and from, something knocked me down pretty good.

Dragon Wars (D-War)

* * (out of four)
Seen 29 September 2007 at Showcase Cinemas Revere #1 (First-run)

Every once in a while, people look at my DVD shelf and ask why some movie or other is there, since they've heard me talk about how it stank. In the case of movies like Dragon Wars, the explanation is that occasionally one-star movies can have four-star pieces to them. I don't think Dragon Wars will end up on my shelf - I've got better impulse control than I once did - but it does do one thing pretty well, even if it's awful otherwise.

And let's be clear - there aren't words for how badly Dragon Wars sucks when the characters open their mouths. Calling them characters is probably generous; Ethan (Jason Behr) and Sarah (Amanda Brooks) are walking plot devices in service to a crappy story. Along with Jack (Robert Forster), they are reincarnations of players in a story of a girl prophecized to merge with an "Imoogu" (as sort of giant snake creature) so that it could become a "celestial dragon" which took place in 1507 Korea, although another giant snake has decided it wants to become a dragon, so he and his army are looking to grab the girl first. Since the virgin sacrifice and her protector fell in love and jumped off a cliff, everything apparently got put on hold for five hundred years, until Sarah's twentieth birthday. Now, there's giant snakes appearing in the Los Angeles area, but Ethan has apparently fallen in love with Sarah again and is looking to defy the prophecy, because reincarnated couples just don't learn.

Chosen ones, prophecy, reincarnation, and destiny are generally crutches used by lazy writers, and that's the case here. Nothing Ethan and Sarah do is really their decision; they're dragged along for the ride as much as we are. Jack is a walking, shapeshifting plot device, appearing in various guises and basically pointing the other characters toward where the filmmaker wants them next. Nobody, between bouts of ridiculous-sounding exposition, says anything memorable, supporting characters appear and disappear as is convenient, and some pieces feel like they were put together in the wrong order. The finale takes place near a giant temple that you'd think people would have noticed being in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Full review at HBS

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