Monday, August 31, 2015

I dare you to look away from DRAGON BLADE (2015)

DRAGON BLADE is among both the best films Jackie Chan has ever done and the worst. Its a film that is glorious one minute and laugh out loud bad the next. Its a stunning spectacle that was shot and released in Asia in 3D that is getting a 2D release this Friday in theaters and on VOD.

Let me get the question of should you see this on a big screen out of the way before I go any further- yes you should. The visuals are frequently stunning. Also outside of one early fight Jackie Chan's fight choreography is bloody (literally) good.

The plot of the film has Jackie Chan as one of a small group of protectors on the Silk Road there job is to keep the peace and prevent anyone from taking advantage of travelers. Or the 36 kingdoms from preventing free trade. Chan's attitude is all men are equal and if we treat them right we will have a friend and allie instead of an enemy. When a cache of gold with his groups signature is found they are all arrested and sent off to help rebuild the decaying Goose Gate, a city outpost, some where in the wilderness.

One day a huge army is seen to be approaching. The group is a bunch of Roman Legionaries who are being lead by John Cusack. Cusack is trying to get a small blind boy to a distant kingdom. His men are desperate for food and water and they are planning on storming the city. Jackie Chan intervenes and talks them out of the attack, offering shelter from a sand storm. They then offer aide in rebuilding the city when they are given 15 days to complete the job. As the Chinese and the Romans come together Cusack reveals that he is on the run from Adrian Brody and his army. It isn't long before Chan and Cussck are in conflict with Brody, his men and those he bribed.

There is way more going on, a great deal of it never or poorly explained. The film's two major female roles, Chan's wife who is a school teacher, and a warrior princess who believes she is Chan's wife because he bested her, are under utilized and indifferently handled.(Let me put it this way this warrior princess would kill Xena easily she's that bad ass- but they don't do shit with her after a certain point.)

I should note that the version of this film screening in the US is 103 minutes long. The film's run time lists it as 127 or 125 depending on the source. this means that at least 25 minutes of plot was removed- and the film has sections that are choppy as a result.

The performances are all, with two exceptions pretty good. The stand outs of the cast are Jackie Chan who has one of his most heroic roles while Adrian Brody kicks ass as the villain of the piece (and one of the best screen villains in a long time). The weak performances come from the blind kid who Cussack is protecting he is frequently awful, while Cusack himself is very uneven, and seemingly bored at times.

The real problem here is the editing. Even allowing that the version I saw is missing a large chunk of time, the film still shows signs of being some huge epic chopped down to a manageable size. Characters come and go randomly. There is a sense that these people have a back story and they carry themselves and are shot as if they are supposed to be someone important, however there is no clue in the dialog or by their actions. Worse events just happen and we jump around. They finish building the city and the next thing Jackie is going to get his wife when a huge battle occurs-its such a radical jump I swore I fell asleep for twenty minutes. Toward the conclusion one of the character betrays everyone but then moments later is fighting on the side of goodness and light.

WTF? No seriously WTF?

Events are so out of kilter in places that the audience I saw the film with were roaring with laughter when logic jump moments occurred.There are times when you want to yell like John McEnroe "You can not be serious" because its such a mess... truthfully the plot makes no sense whats so ever and your brain will come close to exploding as you try to make sense of some of it.

And yet the film manages to over come some of the worst editing I've ever seen to be a good action film. No really when this film is on it rocks.

The action that Jackie has come up with is some of the nastiest he's ever been a part of. Blood and body parts fly in the epic battles. People die horribly. The violence can be ugly- but its also way cool as the fights,large and small become glorious action set pieces. ( The training competition is very well done) Best of all Chan's typical silliness is pretty much all gone.

Chan's character, while in his wheel house of  heroes, is also one of his most heroic.  Villain Adrian Brody's line "Real heroes remain accountable to the end" fits Chan to a T. Beaten, stabbed and shot full of arrows Chan is going to fight to the end because that's what he does. Chan's heroics earn the film a few tears which should not have been earned except that Jackie sells the character.

Watching the film there is a sense that there is a truly great film somewhere in the mess that is DRAGON BLADE, and it pops its head out just enough times that you end up liking, if not loving a film you really should hate.

Is this a great film?  Not as it is but it has it in it. It has enough going for it that if you like  Jackie Chan and you love well done action this film is definitely worth seeing.

The film hits theaters Friday the 4th and will be on VOD as well.

January 4,2016
A full review is coming but I have seen the full 127 minute version of DRAGON BLADE and it does play better.

The wrap around archaeological dig story only covers about seven minutes of screen time which means that there is still another 17 minutes of plot. Based on my cursory watching the additional bits make the story flow better. I know some of the things I thought were jarring seem less so. Plot points don't seem like they are hanging. As it stands this is the way to go- the problem is this isn't the version out in the US

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