This year, one movie was able to bridge the gap between geek and chic, using a compelling story and brilliant special effects to satisfy both fanboys and the average American. That movie was “Transformers.” Hoping to capitalize off the vast amount of money drawn in by that film, “Dragon Wars” — also billed as “D-War” — came quickly to America in order to sharpen the appetite of those searching for a brilliant sci-fi/fantasy flick.
Unfortunately, that hunger is not satisfied here. “Dragon Wars” has received plenty of buzz thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign and its infamy as the most expensive film South Korea has ever produced. Yet the shoddily made picture, backed by shockingly poor special effects, only leaves theatergoers wondering how all of that money was actually spent.
The convoluted and needlessly complicated story revolves around Ethan (Jason Behr) who realizes that he is the reincarnation of a legendary warrior who must keep dragons from destroying the earth. The key to victory comes with the help of Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who has a spirit that can keep the dragons at bay. Or something like that.
Though the first half of the film is almost entirely devoted to explaining the story behind the war of good and evil dragons, it is so full of fantasy mumbo jumbo that the script is nearly indecipherable. The dialogue sounds like it was written as subtitles to a kung-fu movie, delivered by actors who, though clearly American, do not deliver lines with the grace of a native English speaker. Acting school was clearly a route less traveled by the majority of the cast, who work the screen with the nuance of a Pet Rock, issuing one blank, bored stare after another.
Whatever steam lost during the talky first half is recovered during the second, where the dragons, for whatever reason, fight among themselves and humans in modern-day Los Angeles. All of the script’s shortcomings are revived in these battle sequences, though they are more frequent than original. It is hard to enjoy fast-cutting scenes as derivative as these, which reinterpret (i.e. steal) the best moments from disaster movies ranging from 1997’s “Starship Troopers” to 2005’s “King Kong” remake. In fact, producers ripped one of the film’s most anticipated sequences, a massive dragon scaling a skyscraper and facing an aerial assault, straight from the classic Kong script.
Kudos to the writers for giving the viewer what they ultimately want, but the digital work leaves much to be desired. In today’s world of hyperadvanced computer-generated films, “Dragon Wars” seems like a dinosaur. Its special effects may fly in an Iron Maiden music video, but not in mainstream media. The film gets especially killed by the small details: overhead shots of dragon armies that look as though they came out of the game Zelda, actors awkwardly emoting toward monsters that aren’t really there and layered shots that do not blend.
Ultimately, “Dragon Wars” takes itself far too seriously to deliver jokey thrills. Mis-steps mar the film’s tone even through the post-apocalyptic, overwrought metaphor of an ending. Errors in visual effects could have been remedied by a more lighthearted tale, one with the ability to laugh at the sheer audacity of its story while still providing roller coaster thrills. The film would have been gold in the hands of a director such as David R. Ellis, who made last year’s “Snakes on a Plane” such cheesy fun. “Dragon Wars,” on the other hand, will leave theaters not with a roar, but with a whimper and a future limited to DVD cut-out bins.
“Dragon Wars” was written and directed by Hyung-rae Shim.
“Dragon Wars” received one out of four stars.