cast: Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, and Craig Robinson
director: Hyung-Rae Shim
86 minutes (12) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Jim Steel
Snakes On A Plane – a film put together by committee. What a turkey. Now, just for the sake of argument, imagine a film designed by a committee of seven-year-old boys…
Let’s make a film like Star Wars!
Yeah – but that’s been done. How about we do ‘Dragon Wars’ instead?
Yeah – we’ll have good dragons versus bad dragons.
Can we have dinosaurs as well?
Yeah – the bad guys will have an army of them. They’ll be like tanks. They’ll have rocket launchers and cannons fitted to them.
Wow! That’s great! Hey, we can have them fighting real tanks! In a modern-day city!
But what if the modern-day guys bring in helicopters and stuff?
That’s easy – we’ll use flying dragons to fight them.
Who’s the hero?
He’s a reporter or something. He’s got to rescue this girl from the bad dragon who wants to eat her. That means we can have lots of chases as well.
Ugh – a girl! I’m not sure about that.
Don’t worry – I’ve got a solution…
And so on. The above exchange never happened, of course. Dragon Wars (aka: D-War) is the singular vision of one man. Hyung-Rae Shim both directed and wrote the film, which was the first time that he’d done either, having been previously know in Korea as a comedy actor. “People laughed when I said I was going to make this film,” he says in the accompanying documentary. Quite.
He also built his own special effects studio a la Lucas, although the results are hardly spectacular. They wouldn’t have looked out of the ordinary a decade ago in this fast-moving industry, but they are serviceable. Weirdly, the documentary sometimes claims that it was the most expensive Korean film ever made, and at other times emphasises how tight the budget was. The two are not mutually exclusive, I suppose. Shim did aim it at the western market, which does some idea of commercial realism. This has been achieved by wholesale plundering of Star Wars, Indiana Jones,
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and Lord Of The Rings, which, let’s face it, were hardly the most original of films in the first place.
The first thing we see in the film is the investigation of a giant, Godzilla-esque crater in Los Angeles. Intrepid reporter Ethan Kendrick (Jason Behr) notices that some people are examining a giant, reptilian scale at the site. This reminds him (in flashback) of the time when he was just a mere kid (played by Cody Arens). His dad (Richard Steen) had taken him along to Jack’s Antiques, and he’s wandered off into the depths of the store while his Dad had tried to flog a fake knife to Jack (a bemused looking Robert Foster). A dragon scale in a chest reacts to Ethan’s presence by glowing green, so Jack fakes a heart attack to get Ethan’s dad out of the store. Kendrick senior immediately rushes for help, pausing only to tell his son to keep an eye on Jack. Jack immediately recovers and tells Ethan that he is the reincarnation of a warrior from 16th century Japan. He then recounts the story of the last appearance of the dragons (or Imoogi). Now we are in a historical fantasy that is being recounted in a flashback…
Coming back to the present day, Ethan finds that he is the reincarnation of a warrior whose duty is to protect the reincarnation of a woman, Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who contains an essence that, if consumed by the evil Imoogi, Buraki, will bring about hell on Earth, and the only way to save the world is to ensure that she is consumed by the good Imoogi. Of course, some FBI types figure out a loophole that could put off the problem for another 500 years. They could just kill her again.
Meanwhile, Buraki is rampaging through California looking for Sarah, pausing only to eat elephants at the zoo and suchlike. His army are also present, and they invade Los Angeles from their hideout in a huge cave in the desert. If this feels bizarre to read (and it feels totally ridiculous to type it), then it’ll convey a tiny fraction of what it feels like to watch. There is no characterisation and precious little logic in this film, but after a slow start it becomes jaw-droppingly weird. If your age is measured in double figures, though, I’d heartily recommend disabling your brain. A six-pack should just about do it.
DVD extras include a making-of documentary and a feature that compares the storyboard to the finished film.