Director: Hyung-rae Shim
Starring: Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster
Kaboom Review Action Movie Rating: 55
A man tries to save a woman from getting sacrificed to an evil dragon, and then from sacrificing herself to a good dragon. And lots of monsters attack Los Angeles.
Dragon Wars is director Hyung-rae Shim’s ambitious attempt to globalize the Korean film industry, and this film has segments that hold up amazingly well to more extravagant films. There are some surprisingly effective visual effects and action. The story makes sense, kind of. The pace is crisp enough. But the bland acting, shattered premises, and the stupidity of some of the scenes pulls this film down considerably.
I had high hopes for Dragon Wars based on the action-packed previews, but a short run in theaters and abysmal reviews wiped out any expectations I had for the film. I planned to suffer through this film, even more so than normal because I had run out of beer to soften the pain. At times I felt like I really needed that beer, but at other times I was amazed at how riveting the film was.
But let’s get the painful part over first. In many places, Dragon Wars is just plain stupid. The story, set in modern Los Angeles, revolves around a 500-year-old Korean myth involving two dragons, one good and one evil. Supposedly, the good dragon (Imoogi) has been so good that he gets to evolve into a super dragon and go to dragon heaven. But there is a catch. In order to ascend, he is supposed to get some sort of blue light ball of goodness from a woman living on Earth. And of course, the evil dragon (Buraki) wants the blue ball as well, presumably to go kill stuff. But when you think about it, this doesn’t make much sense, because the evil dragon could surely go kill stuff already, so I must have missed something here. Anyway, there is a man involved as well. He is supposed to protect the woman from getting eaten by the evil dragon. Well, according to the myth, 500 years ago the man and the woman jumped off a cliff instead of allowing the evil dragon to eat the woman. And now, 500 years later in Los Angeles, all these characters are reborn to try again. Whew.
Okay, I admit that this doesn’t sound so stupid, and it isn’t. What is stupid though, is how this story unfolds in modern Los Angeles. The first half of the film is filled with broken scenes, actions that make no sense, and a general sloppiness that leaves you shaking your head in confusion. Let me give you some noteworthy examples. Buruki, the massive evil serpent dragon, is apparently a ninja dragon that can apparate at will anywhere in Los Angeles. Poof! There is it! And poof, there it goes, with only a few people spotting it. And poor Buruki is the second dumbest dragon I have ever seen in a film. For much of the film it searches Los Angeles, with the help of an army of supporters, for Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who is the woman with the blue light inside her somewhere. On several occasions Buruki corners Sarah. With its prey cornered, what would you expect it to do? That’s right! Eat her! Of course. Instead, Buruki kinds of just sits there and watches Sarah and Ethan (her protector, played by Jason Behr) run away. Huh? Apparently he couldn’t eat her yet because it would have ended the movie too soon.
And this sort of disconnect between the action and any sense of logic continues throughout the film. At one point two FBI agents drive into a besieged Los Angeles and within seconds find Sarah. Wow. That is impressive. In another scene, an FBI agent tries to shoot Sarah from point blank. Ethan jumps in front of the bullet to save her. He then topples to the ground, shot, or so I thought. But two minutes later he gets up, unfazed by the bullet. Did it hit him? It if missed, how did it miss Sarah? Where did the damn bullet go? This sort of stuff happens constantly, and it shatters any sort of tension in the film.
But that’s not all. A clunky script and lifeless acting deaden any life in the non-action segments of the film. Main actors Jason Behr and Amanda Brooks never find any chemistry, and sleepwalk through the movie. On a good note, Robert Forster, who plays a reincarnated Korean master dedicated to helping Ethan protect Sarah, does deserve some credit for his rich, resonant voice. But it’s shallow praise when that is the sole compliment I can come up with for the cast.
With all the negativity, it’s easy to dismiss Dragon Wars as an awful film. But just when you’re ready to write the thing off, Dragon Wars does a 360-degree turn once the action starts. In spite of its low budget, this film has some top rate visual effects and action scenes. Buruki and Imoogi, the two serpent dragons, are effective and convincing throughout the film. Two scenes, in particular, define this film and save it from the dragon dung heap. The first is an amazing battle in downtown Los Angeles between the forces of Buruki and the US army. An army of black-clad ancient warriors, massive rocket-firing turtles, and screaming pteranodons attack the city in search of Sarah (who Buruki found, forgot to eat, and then lost again). The US Army aims to drive them off, and the resultant battle is a drawn-out yet thrilling visual arts extravaganza. To be fair, some scenes repeat too frequently and the action doesn’t connect well to the story, but it’s a visual treat and surprisingly entertaining. The second scene is the movie’s climax, which brings together all the forces for one last showdown. While the surrounding portions of the scene are forgettable, the battle between the two dragons is a wild, inspired, and satisfying end to the film.
Other factors work to the film’s advantage as well. Choppiness aside, the film has decent pace. The music is excellent, and the sound deserves special mention as well. The babes and hunks rating doesn’t fare as well, though. Both Behr and Brooks are decidedly average in the looks department. Nothing noteworthy here.
This is a tough film to make a final call on, but the strong and creative action scenes were so surprising and enjoyable that I found myself satisfied at the end of the film. Sure, there are major problems with the film, but for a first international effort by Hyung-rae Shim, there are enough good things going on that the film is worth watching if you are a fan of action movies.
Visionary director Hyung-rae Shim is one of the leading comedians in Korea.
Consistent Premise: 20
Body Count: 78
Special Effects: 82
Overall: 55 (Solid in some spots, awful in other spots)