Review: Dragon Blade
Without question, Dragon Blade, immediately and always, is a wildly ridiculous movie. In fact, it’s a whole slew of movies, none of them particularly good, but all of them at least fun to watch.
What hints at a historic swords and sandals epic morphs into a typical Jackie Chan vehicle, one where this talented martial artist wows with his hands and feet while also making faces and goofing around. Then it goes into a violent tale of revenge. Dragon Blade also features singing.
Chan plays Huo An, a leader of an army that protects its facility on the Silk Road. He is a man who fights only when peace is no longer an option; he’s often leads the rejoicing.
The first visitors in the film are a Roman army led by John Cusack, who seems pretty out of place but makes it somehow work. He battles Huo An to a draw, and as a storm descends, General Lucius admits he and his men have defected, and are in need of water and shelter.
The man they left is General Tiberius, another gilded actor who seems out of place in Adrien Brody. There is talk of nobility and betrayal, of history and friendship, of revenge and peace. In fact, there is a grab bag of themes, and all of these brief musings take place with backdrop of massive spectacle.
Indeed these battles are the only thing given appropriate attention, with large scale melees and intimate hand-to-hand combat abounding, but hardly consistent in tone. At one point Chan turns red-faced when battling a female warrior (really the only one) and awkwardly touching her chest; at another moment a character has his eyes gorged out, with bloody sockets left in place as he screams in defiance.
Those are two ends of the spectrum, but perhaps Dragon Blade is trying to appeal to the widest possible audience. After all, it premiered in China in February and became a wildly successful hit. Written and directed by Daniel Lee, it’s hard not to laugh at the movie, but you’ll also laugh with it. It chooses arbitrarily when to take itself seriously, but Brody and Cusack try in vain to be serious the entire time (the former particularly chews the scenery as a malevolent ruler).
Chan of course is more suited to take up the cause; the charm that brought him to fame is still present, as are those deft skills that inspire awe. Armies of soldiers, sweeping aerial shots, and lots of chaos may also inspire awe, but there is plenty of confusion, curiosity and boredom to be had too.