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Dragonball: Evolution
"Kid, our careers may not survive this one."

Chow Yun-Fat and Justin Chatwin look for some help from the director in Dragonball: Evolution.
Japanese: ドラゴンボール エボリューション  
Year: 2009
Director: James Wong  
Producer: Stephen Chow Sing-Chi
Writer: Ben Ramsay, Akira Toriyama (original manga)
Cast: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, James Marsters, Joon Park, Eriko Tamura, Randall Duk Kim, Ernie Hudson, Texas Battle, Megumi Seki
The Skinny:

Kids with low standards may enjoy Dragonball: Evolution, but everyone else will only be mildly diverted if not totally annoyed. Actual Dragonball fans will scream bloody murder, and those with respect for Stephen Chow and Chow Yun-Fat may begin to question their loyalties. If you buy the action figures, the bad guys will win.

by Kozo:

If you're a fan of Dragonball, then you've probably already lowered your expectations for Dragonball: Evolution. Here are some other ideas to prepare yourself for the film: A) Free yourself of the notion that the Dragonball characters and concepts are good ones. B) Tell yourself that the manga and anime are inherently unfilmable, ergo we should we happy with anything. C) Console yourself with the thought that creator Akira Toriyama got a nice fat royalty check. D) Imagine that you're less than six years of age and that you've never heard of Dragonball. And finally, E) pretend that your ticket money is a donation. The actual charity receiving your donation? Uh, I haven't thought that far. Ah, screw it - here's the straight skinny: Dragonball: Evolution is lousy and laughable, and only slightly more fun than getting kneecapped with a tire iron. But the Nancy Kerrigan treatment would be over much quicker than a viewing of this movie. When you think about it, choosing between the two is actually pretty tough.

Discussing the differences between the source material and the live-action film would be depressing, so here's what passes for the plot: spiky-haired Goku (Justin Chatwin) is an orphaned high-school kid with untold martial arts abilities, and has sworn not to fight because he'd massacre his peers. Goku is earnest and goofy, and is infatuated with classmate Chichi (Jamie Chung), who has a toothy smile and very visible décolletage. Goku's grandfather Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) gives Goku a glowing orange orb called a "Dragonball" for his eighteenth birthday, and spouts some mumbo-jumbo about a prophecy. However, Goku blows off having birthday cake with his granddad so he can go to Chichi's party, during which Gohan is assaulted by Piccolo (James Marsters), the lumpy green-headed villain of the piece. Piccolo has risen from the depths of legend to reunite with his disciple, the monstrous beast Oozaru, but to do so he'll need all seven Dragonballs, plus a dermatologist.

After realizing that Gohan's present is more than just a glowy superball, Goku teams up with inventor and hot chick Bulma (Emmy Rossum), whose own Dragonball was stolen by Piccolo. Together, the two seek out Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat in Hawaiian shirt), who has his own Dragonball and understands the prophecy intimately. The three take to the road to capture all the Dragonballs, where they bump into dopey bandit Yamcha (Joon Park of Korean band G.O.D.). Shenanigans ensue, Yamcha joins the group, Chichi reappears and disappears, and everyone regroups for the big CGI finale where the seven Dragonballs are reunited while Goku yells, "DRAAAAAAGGGGOONNN!" like a male cheerleader at a junior high pep rally. There's also sequel potential, a completely predictable tacked-on ending, obligatory romantic subplots, and the overwhelming feeling that you've just seen the bastard child of the Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros. movie adaptations. I have just wasted one minute of your life with these two paragraphs.

Dragonball: Evolution is a difficult film to review - not because it requires thought or perspective, but because it invites so much snark and ridicule that any sane writer has to rein in the very understandable urge to write the meanest film review ever. Dragonball should be a fun and imaginative adventure possessing of themes of friendship and honor. Dragonball: Evolution is a lamely-plotted pre-teen fantasy that uses rote lessons like "be yourself" to sell action figures. There's tons of schwag to be hawked thanks to this kid-oriented blockbuster wannabe, from action figures to video games, posters, folders, and lunchboxes. Marketing aside, there's very little reason to recommend Dragonball: Evolution. Anyone with a reasonable or even below-average sense of quality should know to steer clear of this toy commercial. Dragonball: Evolution makes Transformers look like award-winning filmmaking. Hell, even Flintstones and Scooby Doo are better than this.

Kids who've never heard of Dragonball may still find the cheapo computer effects and perfunctory fight sequences to be an adequate babysitter. Alternately, the short running time and absence of any character development make the film an easy watch for filmgoers with low standards. Again, complete non-familiarity with the source material helps, because anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Dragonball will know that this ain't Dragonball. It has the same character names, the same iconography and some of the same relationships, but beyond that the resemblance is so small that they could have called the film Seven Orange Orbs or Weremonkey vs. Braniac. For a children's movie, this is passable crap, but as the official Dragonball movie it's absolutely intolerable. Condolences to everyone involved, especially Chow Yun-Fat, who was once an award-winning actor, and producer Stephen Chow, whose track record as a non-actor (he also produced the ghastly Shaolin Girl) is now a woeful 0-for-2. Let's be magnanimous and not blame either for Dragonball: Evolution. Denial is our friend. (Kozo, 2009)


DVD Region 1 (USA)
DVD Region 3 (Korea)
Blu-ray Region A (Hong Kong)
Blu-ray Region A (United States)

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image credit: 20th Century Fox Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen