Review: DRAGON BLADE 天将雄狮 (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Review: DRAGON BLADE 天将雄狮 (2015)

Despite some entertaining moments and decent production values, DRAGON BLADE is a cinematic mess that tries too hard to be a serious historical drama and a typical Jackie Chan action-comedy blockbuster.


Reportedly the most expensive Chinese-language movie ever produced in the Chinese cinema, the US$65 million-budget DRAGON BLADE seems like a fascinating blockbuster worth watching for this crowded movie season of the Chinese New Year period. But despite the international cast comprising of Asian superstar Jackie Chan as well as a pair of Hollywood actors starring John Cusack and Adrien Brody, DRAGON BLADE is nothing more than a high-profile (creatively speaking, that is) fiasco written and directed by Daniel Lee. However, at the time of this writing, DRAGON BLADE is already making tons of money at the Mainland China box office -- grossing at RMB451 million (US$72.1 million) in its first six-day opening.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Jackie Chan plays Huo An, a commander of the Protection Squad assigned by the emperor of the Han Dynasty to maintain peace and order among the warring tribes in the Silk Road region. When Huo An and his fellow soldiers are accused of treason, they end up imprisoned in a labour camp and forced to work like slaves.

Then along came General Lucius (John Cusack), who helps a blind boy named Publius (Jozef Waite), escaped with his legion of loyal Roman army from Publius's treacherous older brother, Tiberius (Adrien Brody). As the Romans are approaching at the labour camp, the Chinese border guards try to stop them but hopelessly outmatched. However, Huo An manages to turn things around by defeating Lucius during a one-on-one sword fight. Both of them gain mutual respect for each other and in return of Huo An's generous hospitality to the Roman army, Lucius helps building the fort in the labour camp.

THE GOOD STUFF
 
With Jackie Chan served as the movie's action director, the fight sequences are mostly exciting with a mix of Chinese martial arts and sword-fighting skills. Although Chan's action choreography in DRAGON BLADE lacks the same creative tempo like he did better in the past, the result remains fairly acceptable.

From the technical standpoint, the production values are adequate enough for an epic Chinese blockbuster. Tony Cheung's widescreen cinematography fulfils some majestic moments shot in the desert landscape, while Thomas Chong's elaborate costume designs manage to capture the distinctive style of each clothing gear worn by different Chinese tribes and the Roman army.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)
 
The exciting sword duel, which showcased their different combat techniques between Huo An and Lucius in the open desert.

THE BAD STUFF
  
Like some of the Asian movies that blends the past and present setting (the recent Tsui Hark's historical action-adventure, THE TAKING OF TIGER MOUNTAIN quickly came to mind), DRAGON BLADE employs the same technique with the modern-day prologue and epilogue featuring two archaeologists (Vanness Wu and Karena Lam in their thankless performances) searching the lost ancient city known as Regum. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with the creative choice if done right. But the problem is, both prologue and epilogue are executed in such embarrassingly corny manner that it would be better if the scenes are removed altogether.

Moving on with the writing and directing, Daniel Lee's behind-the-scene effort is both haphazard and tonally inconsistent. Although he has prior experience directing a number of historical epics, including 2008's THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON, 2010's 14 BLADES and 2011's WHITE VENGEANCE, none of his aforementioned movies were particularly great or highly recommended efforts by any means. Sadly, the same reason continues to plague with Daniel Lee's latest effort in DRAGON BLADE. Throughout the two-hour length, Lee tries so hard to blend serious drama and lighthearted humour synonymous with the narrative style of a Jackie Chan movie. While there are several worthwhile moments that works decently, most of the scenes feel awkwardly misplaced to the point of self-indulgence.

First of all, the blatant display of Jackie Chan's heavy-handed jingoism about peace and harmony is annoyingly preachy as usual. Then there's a few amounts of cheesy dialogue and of course, plenty of equally tacky moments such as the scene involved Huo An and Lucius showing off their different style of training skills in front of everybody. It doesn't help either when Lee's stylistic choice of random flashbacks feels forceful and story development drags a lot to get to the main point. The ending is also a major letdown, especially for those expecting a satisfying payoff between Huo An and Tiberius. Their eventual one-on-one sword fight during the finale is surprisingly devoid of kinetic energy.

As for the acting, Jackie Chan plays the same old heroic role with a heart of patriotism. His acting performance is pretty much mediocre, while the way he portrays Huo An as a bilingual character who knows how to speak Chinese and English feels flimsy. John Cusack, in the meantime, is obviously miscast as General Lucius. Not only he looks unconvincing playing an experienced Roman general with his inescapable boyish look and everyman persona, Cusack doesn't even bother to hide his American accent whatsoever. Adrien Brody is also wasted as Tiberius, who spends most of the time posing a lot while looking disgruntled. The rest of the supporting actors are equally forgettable as well.

FINAL WORDS


Once upon a time, Chinese New Year blockbusters used to be fun and exciting with a new Jackie Chan movie released in the cinemas. However, DRAGON BLADE is hardly the case and it's sad to see another big-budget disappointment from this once-great entertainer.

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