Thursday, 14 January 2010

Dragon Wars (2007)

Dragons with rocket launchers! So awesome.
That dragon on the right is like: "Can you believe this shit?!"

Dragon Wars
is a Korean film, but the American cast and locations make it clear that it was tailor-made for international distribution. It's budget was purportedly 75 million, making it the most expensive Korean film of all time. Although it was a hit in it's native country, it was a major flop overseas (renamed D-Wars in the US, because why would you want to let people know there are dragons in your stupid dragon movie about dragons?) It was directed by Hyung Rae-Shim, who also made the Korean monster movie Yonggary but is best known for comedies. Dragon Wars is pretty funny too, but probably not for the reasons he intended.

Dragon Wars begins with a clusterfuck of clunky exposition, dream sequences and nested flashbacks attempting to explain the film's simple yet convoluted mythology. Of course there's the opening monologue, the most shameless exposition device this side of a text crawl, where a soothing female voice assures us that "the time of dragons has only just begun." It goes on to explain that every 500 years, a woman is born with a spirit power, the ability to turn an 800 foot serpent, an Imoogi or lesser dragon, into a Celestial Dragon. Keep up, there will be test later.

TV news reporter Ethan (Jason Behr), or as I like to call him, Blandy McBlanderson, reports from what I thought was an archeological dig but is actually the aftermath of some horrific disaster in LA. He sees some FBI types uncovering a reptilian scale, which triggers a flashback to his childhood. Young Ethan and his father enter an antiques store owned by Jack (Robert Forster, showing up only long enough to collect a fistful of won). While Ethan's father attempts to pawn a family heirloom, Ethan stumbles across a box containing a mysterious scale that bathes him in bright light. Jack feigns a heart attack so that he can talk to the boy alone, triggering a flashback-within-a-flashback to ancient Korea, further fleshing out the mythology.

520 years ago to the day, back when martial arts masters could perform wire-assisted stuntwork with the greatest of ease, a Korean princess was born with a red dragon tattoo on her shoulder. This marked her as the Yuh-Yi-Joo, the girl with the aforementioned ability to transform an Imoogi into a Celestial Dragon on her 20th birthday. Two Imoogi vie for control over her power. There is the Good Imoogi, who is protected by a martial arts master named Bochun, and the Evil Buraki, who has an army of orc wannabes called the Atrox.

On the princess' 20th birthday, the Atrox army attack the town in search of the Yuh-Yi-Joo. They've even got a whole bunch of dragons, and although they are the crappy, non-Celestial models they are still pretty cool. There are rideable dragons, flying dragons, even dragons with rocket launchers mounted on their backs. Unfortunately Good Imoogi doesn't have an army, just Bochun and some guy named Haram who is destined to protect the Yuh-Yi-Joo from Baraki. How does he protect her? By grabbing her hand and leaping off a fucking cliff together. Thanks, guy.

So cut back to the present day, ie 20 years ago, and Jack tells him that he is the reincarnation of Bochun and Ethan is the new Haram. Ethan is given a medallion and the awesome responsibility of finding and protecting the Yuh-Yi-Joo, who has been reborn into a girl named Sarah. Back to the present-day present day, and although Ethan is still wearing the ugly medallion, he's almost forgotten the Yuh-Yi-Joo's name or even that he's supposed to find her until now. He enlists the help of his stereotypical black friend to try and find her, but since she's a 19 year old girl in LA with a dragon tattoo on her shoulder, he doesn't get very far.

Sarah turns out to be a similarly bland hot girl played by Amanda Brooks, and despite being unaware of her destiny she is scared by Ethan's news report on the disaster and surrounds herself with bunch of protective Buddhist scriptures that she keeps in her kitchen drawer for some reason. Later she is attacked by some thugs, but Jack shows up, fights them off and disappears. Then Ethan has a run-in with the leader of the Atrox army in Jack's antique store, but it turns out to be a dream sequence. Then Sarah has a run-in with him in an abandoned car-park but it turns out to be another dream sequence. Then her best friend has a run-in with him in her backyard and gets eaten by Buraki, an 800 foot snake that nobody else notices. This is not a dream sequence. Eventually Ethan finds her at the hospital, outruns the pursuing Buraki and explains what is going on. "None of this makes any sense!" gasps Sarah. You're telling me.

All of these boring characters, strangely stealthy giant snakes and half-assed storytelling reminds me of Sci-Fi Original movies such as Boa Vs. Python or Komodo Vs. Cobra, but unlike those films, which rarely live up to the promise of their titles, Dragon Wars delivers both dragons and wars in copious amounts. This reaches a giddy climax when the Atrox army descend on LA in an orgy of CG destruction. The special effects are pretty good and it's not every day you see a flying dragon taking down a helicopter or tanks facing off against dragons with rocket launchers. Meanwhile Sarah and Ethan are captured by some FBI agents who want to kill them, making the Yuh-Yi-Joo a problem for the folks in 2507. They escape, but end up being captured but the Atrox army anyway.

They both wake up in front of a massive fortress in the middle of an endless desert. Ethan is tied to a pillar and Sarah is strapped to a sacrificial altar. It looks bad, but luckily Ethan's medallion releases a shockwave that destroys the Atrox army and summons the Good Imoogi to fight the Evil Buraki. Nothing gets the blood pumping like a climactic sequence that requires no intervention from our hero. Sarah does her Yuh-Yi-Joo thing and tranforms the Good Imoogi into a Celestial Dragon using one of those dragon orb thingies, which also kills her. The Good Imoogi whips ass (although since it's two reptiles fighting against a dark and stormy background it isn't really clear) and flies into the sky, leaving Ethan to walk home from Mordor or wherever the fuck he is supposed to be.

This movie ranks up there with Michael Bay in terms of incomprehensible storytelling, but unlike a Bay film it's only 70 minutes long (also, no rapping robots). As a result, the sheer preposterousness of it all doesn't outstay it's welcome, leaving you gasping in bewilderment right up until the final frame. If you expect your films to make sense on any level however, you may feel an uncontrollable urge to kick Hyung Rae-Shim in the dragon balls.


MichelleTheNerd said...

Cool review. I can't believe that you find the time to do that in the morning before work!!! :)

Dave said...

Well, I usually punch out two or three reviews at once and then schedule them to post automatically every couple of days.