Dragon Blade (2015)

Posted in Reviews by - August 04, 2016
Dragon Blade (2015)

A sweeping desert-based historical epic from China which conjures up vague allusions to those sweeping desert-based historical epics from America made in the 1950s and 60s. Nowadays, of course, the cardboard sound-stage vistas of yesteryear have been replaced with awesomely vast computer-generated landscapes, and the costumes, set design and scale is quite magnificent. (The film was designed for IMAX 3D).

The story of Sino-Roman relations is an interesting one and something which hasn’t been explored too often on film. It is used here by writer and director Daniel Lee and producer and star Jackie Chan as a device for cross-cultural understanding, and very much in keeping with Chan’s position as something of a global goodwill ambassador. He plays Hou An, a peacekeeper on the ethnically diverse Silk Road in 60 BC, who heads up a local Hun tribe promoting peace among warring races who would rather use the highway for more nefarious acts other than trade and transit. His Silk Road Protection Squad is framed and sentenced to hard labour at Wild Geese Gate, a turreted fortress-like encampment in need of a tidy up. Roman centurion Lucius (John Cusack) and his starving army show up seeking refuge at the camp, harbouring Publius, a blind boy. Lucius swings a good sword and quickly befriends Hou An in the process. The two tribes – along with the Turks and the Indians and the Chinese – all work together to rebuild the Wild Geese Gate in a selfless display of solidarity.

But things turn particularly nasty in the second act when the action focuses on the corrupt consul Tiberius (Adrien Brody), who was responsible for blinding Publius and killing his own father in an act of almost biblical cruelty. He wants to secure ownership of the Silk Road and install himself as the Roman Empire’s top bastard. The premise quickly becomes utterly preposterous but the film remains solidly entertaining throughout, with Jackie Chan delivering a steady stream of quality fight action – some of it quite bloody in places and a far cry from his usual slapstick. He also does well to play on the somewhat limited kung fu abilities of the film’s Hollywood stars.

There is definitely a novelty value in Brody and Cusack’s supporting roles. Brody seems to be enjoying himself more, lavishly imbuing his cold-hearted and ruthless Roman with a slight hint of unholy madness. But there are clearly moments when Cusack is caught clock-watching. Chan keeps everything together, breaking between Mandarin and English dialogue with his customary, easy charm. In doing so, he is essentially displaying his command over both major film markets – the east and the west. Although this is a Chinese production, the over the top battle scenes, dodgy dialogue and earnest setting are all quite recognisable and generic cinematic conventions. It’s a popcorn movie – tasty, but fleeting.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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