- RatedPG13 /GenreAction, Martial Arts
- LanguageEng / Mand
A Chinese swords-and-martial arts adventure that takes place in the Han Dynasty, ‘Dragon Blade’ takes the typical martial arts epic for a spin, featuring a multi-cultural and multi-lingual cast of characters including Roman soldiers, Huns, Parthians and Uyghurs.
Directed by Daniel Lee ('14 Blades'), the US$65 million (S$88 million) ‘Dragon Blade’ is inspired by the true event of a missing legion of Roman soldiers when they travelled into China in 48 B.C.
At the centre of the film is Huo An (Jackie Chan), a commander of the Silk Road Protection Squad, tasked to protect and keep the peace between the 36 nations along the Silk Road.
Huo An, however, was arrested for treason, after he was framed for smuggling gold across the border. He and his men were sentenced to hard labour at Wild Geese Gate, a trading outpost in the desert.
Meanwhile, a Roman general named Lucius (John Cusack) is on the run from the ruthless Tiberius (Adrien Brody), who wants to rule Rome by all means, even if it means killing his only brother.
While trying to escape to China, Huo An and Lucius cross path in the most unlikely of circumstances and together they embark on a thrilling journey across the desert to stop Tiberius' armies from advancing.
A-LIST CAST, MEDIOCRE PERFORMANCES
John Cusack Roman general Lucius and Jackie Chan's Huo An in a fight scene | Photo: Encore Films
There’s a lot of talk about “peace” and “cooperation” in ‘Dragon Blade’; Hua An and his men roaming the Silk Road as a sort of early United Nations peacekeeping force, and staying true to the ideals of compromise set by his former mentor.
However, none of these themes come through potently enough to be affecting, and a large part of the blame lies with its story and cast.
The movie draws too much on the prowess of Jackie Chan, the perennially dynamic action star who can straddle comedy and drama in a single bound.
Chan’s valiant efforts are thwarted by clumsy storytelling, which just gets too convoluted, and the gratuitous attempts to infuse East-meets-West styles of combat into the action scenes falls flat.
It is still hard to imagine John Cusack and Adrien Brody playing dress-up as Roman soldiers and fighting Jackie Chan in a Chinese period epic.
As hilarious as that may sound, that statement cannot be further than the truth.
Cusack is a talented actor but he seems miscast as Lucius. Nevertheless, no matter how campy and, at times, melodramatic Cusack’s acting is, you will likely be rooting for him as the film stumbles into the closing act.
Since becoming the youngest Best Actor Oscar winner a decade ago — for Roman Polanski‘s World War II film ‘The Pianist’ — Adrian Brody has searched hard for roles he believes in and has perhaps found a vocation in film villainy.
We’re not very sure what compelled the actor to take on the conniving Tiberius, another villainous role after ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, but we hoped there was a lot of zeroes on the cheque.
Adrien Brody and Jackie Chan in a fight scene | Photo: Encore Films
Brody overacts in the extreme, following the long-discredited rule that the louder you get, the more intense your acting seems.
Of the support cast, Chinese singing duo Chopsticks Brothers (Xiao Yang and Wang Taili) have fun as the bumbling yet trusty Captain of the outpost and his sidekick Rat; Chinese actress Lin Peng is remarkably capable of holding her own in action scenes as Hun warrior princess Cold Moon.
Chinese actress Mika Wang’s thinly written Xiuqing, Huo An’s wife, is given little to do but whimper and wait to be rescued, while Korean singer/actor Choi Si-Won of Super Junior Fame also disappoints as Huo An’s duplicitous comrade Yin Po.
As impressive as much of the high-flying kungfu action is, however, the most memorable sequence in the entre film maybe well it’s most humorous and fascinating, where Lucius and his soldiers decide to help Hua An rebuild the Wild Geese Gate using their Roman know-how and engineering – alluding to early cross-cultural knowledge exchange.
The lack of a tightly wound story, coupled with a case of overlength, ultimately diminishes the impact of the film's martial arts high jinks and effectively rich visual palette, and it is, in the end, clear that ‘Dragon Blade’ can't quite live up to the promise of its irresistibly high-concept premise.
The film is however, an entertaining outing if you’re a fan of Jackie Chan and wuxia films.
‘Dragon Blade’ opens 19 February