Ah, the B-movie. The term describing low budget films once released as the second half of double features. Nowadays, the term has been adopted by film fans to describe flicks steeped in cheesy production values, bargain bin acting, and straight-to-video sensibilities. By this definition, the $75 million dollar South Korean film 'Dragon Wars' might be one of the most expensive B-movies ever made. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the worst flicks I've had the displeasure of watching.
Even after sitting through 'Dragon Wars' I can barely decipher the unnecessarily convoluted storyline. Here goes. In modern day LA, a television news reporter named Ethan (Jason Behr) and a young woman named Sarah (Amanda Brooks) realize they're the reincarnated spirits of two lovers who've been caught up in an ongoing supernatural struggle for 500 years. On one side of the conflict is Buraki, an evil 200-meter long Imugi serpent, who arises from his hibernation to kill Sarah on her twentieth birthday. The evil serpent hopes to defy the Will of Heaven and obtain the power hidden within Sarah so he can become a Dragon. Opposing Buraki are the agents of a good-natured Imugi -- this serpent also needs Sarah to sacrifice herself so it can become a Dragon. As a horde of monsters invade LA under the command of Buraki's General (Michael Shamus Wiles), Ethan and an ancient shapeshifter named Jack (Robert Forster) have to deliver Sarah to the good Imugi and save the world.
After wading through the dense folklore provided in a flashback within a flashback (within a third flashback), I gave up trying to make sense of the plot.; it's not only full of holes, but it neglects the most basic tenets of storytelling. Are the monsters flesh and blood or spirits? Are the warriors in the evil army invincible or fodder? Is the director attempting to make a slapstick comedy or a shlocky creature feature? The answers to these questions hardly matter since Ethan and Sarah make some of the most boneheaded choices imaginable, including stopping to visit a psychologist, and grabbing a cup of coffee, even as they know a serpent is honing in on Sarah’s position. Of course, who can blame them? The serpent repeatedly bursts into scenes, only to watch helplessly as his prey escapes... on foot!
The actors don’t even seem to be having enough fun to elevate 'Dragon Wars' to the level of entertaining crap. Behr barely registers as a human being -- the most exciting thing about his wafer-thin performance is watching him imitate Skeet Ulrich. Brooks is determined to evade the attacks of the evil Buraki, but seems unfazed by the fact that one way or another she’s Imugi lunch.. Forster cashes a paycheck and reads his lines from a teleprompter. Meanwhile, Wiles (as the General) waltzes around looking like an emaciated Bill Murray with a scowl tattooed across his face.
Don't even get me started on the "dreaded" forces of the evil Imugi. When the battle finally erupted, giant lizards sporting back-mounted rocket launchers had me furrowing my brow in disbelief. The clumsy imagery was straight out of a middle schooler's sketchbook, and I could only conclude that the army forces in the film were defeated because they were doubled over with uncontrollable laughter.
The film's central conflicts boil down to laughable conundrums, the most painful of which revolves around which serpent gets to consume Sarah's eternal soul. Eventually I found myself wishing the evil Imugi would just eat Sarah , if only to put the film out of its misery. When the conclusion finally arrived, I sat slack jawed as the good Imugi finally decided to get off his scales and do something. For a flick that features flying fireballs, monsters invading LA, and two dragons fighting in a randomly generated CGI realm, I was struggling to stay awake.
The only moment that seemed to capture the tone the filmmakers were aiming for was a great mini-battle between flying creatures and helicopters over LA. If that spirit had been successfully carried through the rest of 'Dragon Wars,' I might have enjoyed myself a lot more.
A poor excuse for a B-movie, I can’t imagine many people wanting to add ‘Dragon Wars’ to their home movie libraries. Unless you want to witness a train wreck of inconceivable proportions, this one’s best avoided.
I expected the film itself to be bad, but I didn't expect to see it hit Blu-ray with such an uneven, hit-or-miss transfer. The 1080p/AVC encoded video featured on 'Dragon Wars' may shine at times, but ultimately it falls apart during some of the film's standout scenes.
The image actually starts out quite strong -- bold colors showcase bursts of magical energy, explosive flames, and the film's many CG monsters. Detail is sharp and textures really pop to give the picture a healthy three-dimensional appearance. Indeed, one glimpse at the bestial attack on downtown LA will probably have many people singing praises about the picture quality.
Unfortunately, the transfer is plagued by problems that get more intrusive as the film goes on. At first, the image only displays a handful of trouble spots, namely a few soft long shots of LA, some murky expositional scenes, and various scattered digital artifacts. The problems increase exponentially as the film continues, culminating in off-kilter skintones and crushed blacks. Video quality in the third act implodes entirely, with scenes consistently lacking clarity and vibrancy, blacks appearing gray and brown, fine details fluctuating, and colors growing muddy and flat..
In the end, despite some early showcase moments, ‘Dragon Wars’ fails to impress.
'Dragon Wars' features an earsplitting Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (3.0 Mbps) that unfortunately seems to value volume over elegant sound design.
The roar of battle blares through every speaker, frequently overwhelming character dialogue. There were several moments where I completely lost track of the story because I missed what the characters were saying. It doesn't help that the dynamics have been amped up to uncomfortable levels -- the screeches of dragons are shrill, while the quieter elements of the soundscape are tinny. Despite some frequently aggressive LFE rumbles and an insane level of rear speaker support, I simply didn't feel immersed in the audible world of 'Dragon Wars' at any point.
This Blu-ray edition of 'Dragon Wars' ports over all of the features that appear on the standard DVD, though in this case it’s hardly a cause for celebration. A cast or crew commentary would've helped considerably.
'Dragon Wars' is an absolute aberration of a film lacking even enough camp style to win over many B-movie fans. Sadly, this Blu-ray release doesn't make the experience any more bearable. An uneven video transfer, a loud but uninvolving TrueHD mix and a slim collection of lackluster supplements offer little to recommend them. In short: stay far, far away from 'Dragon Wars' -- it's destined for the bargain bin.