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Dragon Blade
|     review    |     notes     |     availability     |


John Cusack and Jackie Chan battle in Dragon Blade.
Chinese: 天降雄獅  
Year: 2015  
Director: Daniel Lee Yan-Kong  
Producer: Jackie Chan, Susanna Tsang Pui-San
Writer: Daniel Lee Yan-Kong  
Action: Jackie Chan, He Jun  
Cast:

Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Choi Si-Won, Lin Peng, Wang Taili, Xiao Yang, Mika Wang Ruoxin, Jozef Waite, Sharni Vinson, Lorie Pester, Sammy Hung Tin-Chiu, William Feng, Steve Yoo Sung-Jun, Vanness Wu, Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Tomer Oz, Max Huang, Ian Powers

The Skinny: Jackie Chanís not-exactly-historical epic is good fun thanks to entertaining action, decent emotions and a hissable villain turn from Adrien Brody. Itís got issues, but this is solid commercial cinema thatís easily more enjoyable than many of Jackie Chanís recent efforts.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Hey Jackie Chan, didnít you say that CZ12 would be your last action movie? How then can you produce and star in Dragon Blade? Oh, CZ12 was your last ďglobal action adventureĒ while Dragon Blade is an historical action epic so itís actually allowed. Yeah, whatever, Jackie. In Dragon Blade you kick and punch people and act like youíre not nearing senior citizen age Ė itís an action movie, dude. Just own up to that fact and continue making action movies until youíre using a walker Ė and even then youíll probably make a movie where you use your walker to unexpectedly batter some young whippersnappers who pissed you off by stepping on your lawn. There are few constants in this world but death, taxes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator movies, and Jackie Chan making action films should be counted among them. We should just be thankful that Dragon Blade channels some of the Jackie Chan charm that movies like 1911 and Police Story 2013 didnít.

Another notable feat of Dragon Blade: Director Daniel Lee tones down his usual stylization in favor of straightforward, if not nuanced storytelling. Chan stars as Huo An, the captain of the Silk Road Protection Squad, fictional do-gooders who patrol the transcontinental trade route at the behest of the Han Emperor. Huo An and his team are tasked with preventing the peoples of the 36 nations on the Silk Road from warring, or maybe just being dicks to one another. Unfortunately, Huo Anís team is framed for a crime and are reassigned to dilapidated Wild Geese Gate, where they must help to rebuild the fortress within fifteen days. Meanwhile, a contingent of Roman soldiers led by General Lucius (John Cusack) arrives outside Wild Geese Gate with the intention of taking it over via force. As an ass-kicking Hun (seriously, they rule in this movie) and a pacifist, Huo An takes it upon himself quell this western invasion Ė peaceably, one would hope.

Peace would be boring though, and soon thereís John Cusack on Jackie Chan action. OMG, JC vs JC! However, Lucius is an honorable man and his primary focus is protecting young prince Publius (Jozef Waite), so their fight reaches a peaceful conclusion. Thanks to bromance, the men of Wild Geese Gate are soon chummy with the Romans, leading to a rainbow coalition of men working to fix the gate. Between grunting and sweating, the men spar, sing and do other manly and totally not homoerotic things. Given the fact that the Han Prefecture Chief has decreed that the gate must be completed under penalty of death, itís weird that everyone takes a break for the ancient China version of karaoke, but itís all good. Dragon Blade is not a realistic historical epic and it really doesnít try to be. The film is about action plus rousing and likable emotions synonymous with the Jackie Chan brand Ė that is, synonymous outside of stuff like Shinjuku Incident.

Huo An is an honorable guy whoíll fight for justice and drone on about friendship and decency whenever anyoneís in earshot. Hell, Huo An is so likable that after besting Hun warrior Lady Cold Moon (Lin Peng), she volunteers to marry him even though he already has a wife (Mika Wang). Also, Huo An moves men of different races and creeds with broken English speeches, and is so revered that heís accepted as the de facto leader of the Roman army in a pinch. Wow, Huo An is like the best man ever! Huo Onís awesomeness is incredibly cloying but ultimately acceptable because Jackie Chan plays the character as a variation on his likable heroes from films past. Chan may have his real life issues, but heís got a genial screen presence that makes him seem like a swell guy. It also helps that he doesnít engage in much of his trademark sweaty overacting. Nice, not too sweaty and full of humanist wisdom Ė thatís the Jackie Chan we know and love.

That Chan can still do likable helps to offset the copious bromance and cheesy emotions. The themes here are commercial and unsubtle, and so is the acting. The primary villain is the traitorous Tiberius (Adrien Brody), brother to Publius and a right scoundrel who shows up on the Silk Road to grab even more power. Brodyís British accent is spotty but his hissable demeanor and fabulous overacting make him a candidate for the yearís most entertaining villain. By contrast, John Cusack turns in a poor performance, and seems miscast. Some of the supporting actors are entertaining, particularly Xiao Yang and Wang Taili of recording duo Chopstick Brothers, who play the keepers of Wild Geese Gate. Lin Peng steals scenes as the strong Lady Cold Moon while Choi Siwon of Korean boy band Super Junior adds obvious commercial appeal in a supporting role. The acting is more serviceable than excellent, in that many performances go unchecked and few really complement each other, but this is par for a Daniel Lee film.

The action is enjoyable, with Jackie Chanís inimitable style and use of props in strong evidence throughout. Given Chanís age, the action isnít that robust or dynamic; the fighting and swordplay require more medium shots and editing than true action aficionados might prefer, but thereís still plenty of creative choreography and contact, and Chan even makes decent action actors out of John Cusack and Adrien Brody. The lack of stylized camera and montage is also a plus, and the action sometimes creates suspense, especially when it becomes clear that the filmmakers are willing to off characters. Cheesy emotions aside, the film manages to wring some poignancy from its character relationships. The finale features armies massing for a 30-minute battle sequence, and while the colorful ethnic costuming is cloying, the scale and CGI work quite well. Green screen is overused and occasionally obvious but itís that way in Hollywood fare too. Thatís fitting, because Dragon Blade oftentimes feels cut from the same cloth as less pretentious Hollywood historical epics.

The worst thing about Dragon Blade could be excised; the film features an insipid framing sequence about a couple of modern archaeologists (Vanness Wu and Karena Lam) searching for Wild Geese Gate. Their scenes annoy due to poorly-written English dialogue and drippy platitudes Ė just snip at the beginning and end of the film and you can lose the whole thing entirely! If you lack editing equipment you should fast-forward through those scenes because they really bring down the movie. Whatís left is decent enough to recommend to regular movie audiences and even disillusioned Jackie Chan fans. Dragon Blade will never count among Chanís classics but it fits into his filmography decently as a solid commercial film featuring high-minded ďhonor rules, betrayal sucksĒ values that Chan is known to push Ė even if he may not follow said values in his real life. If Jackie Chanís future action films turn out like Dragon Blade Ė seriously, you know heíll make more Ė that would be just fine. (Kozo, 3/2015)

 
Notes:

• This review is based on the 2D version of the film.
Dragon Blade also exists in a 103-minute international cut that removes the framing sequence featuring Vanness Wu and Karena Lam, and also streamlines certain portions of the film. The international cut of Dragon Blade premiered at the 17th Udine Far East Film Festival in April 2015.

Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on 2D and 3D Blu-ray Disc
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