Thursday, 19 February 2015

Dragon Blade (天将雄师) (2015)

Jackie Chan makes an epic movie, his way

In 48 BC (apparently while Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great make the closing moves of their civil war), Roman forces decide to conquer every kingdom on the Silk Road between Rome and China, despite the Silk Road not being in existence, and no contiguous territory between the republic and Central Asia. Jackie Chan, as the chief of the “Silk Road Protection Squad”, is called upon to intervene in a growing civil war in Rome—but not that civil war. It’s a civil war between the 2 generals, Tiberius, played by deliciously evil and ambitious Adrien Brody, and a war-worn Lucius, portrayed by John Cusack.

Dragon Blade possesses historical fancifulness which approaches the level of online fanfiction. Your inability to suspend disbelief has been taken into account: the film compensates for its outlandish setting by having elaborate action sequences and full-pitched desert battles that bear the seal of quality of Jackie Chan’s personal stunt and action choreography company.

Story-wise, the film is a credible effort by the Chinese film industry at producing a Ridley Scott period epic. There is, after all, that epic good vs. evil confrontation (in both political and military senses) between two evenly matched generals with the fate of empires at stake. At over $60 million, it is the most expensive Chinese film ever released, with the $130 million Empires of the Deep still unreleased 2 years after production. The money is in every shot: from the old school sets to the multinational army of costumed extras and the armed stand-offs, big ham performances from John Cusack and Adrien Brody, and tableaux and deus ex machinae gleefully swiped from both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

For the most part, the film looks like $60 million dollars. Except for say, some dodgy editing decisions, a desperate use of flashback scenes (including that one sequence of Adrien Brody sitting in a chair, Games of Thrones-like), and an entire scene that looked like a video transfer—signs that suggest a rushed post-production.

Dragon Blade may look like a Ridley Scott pic but plays out like a Jackie Chan flick, with a comic yet saintly central character, comic scenes and corny dialogue, dollops of moralistic preaching, and a propensity for the extras to mug relentlessly in camera. But any epic in the style of Ridley Scott will be severely tested by the levels of historical fancifulness in Dragon Blade.

Outside the bubble of the Sinosphere, the film may feel somewhat disturbing; Jackie’s heavy-handed “let there be peace between all men and races” and “We Chinese are peace-loving people” preaching throughout the film sits uncomfortably with China’s very public Big Power muscling in both the South China Sea and Central Asia.

Other than that, Dragon Blade is a highly entertaining epic film that teaches a good moral lesson. It’s certainly head and shoulders above the usual Chinese New Year cinematic fare. It even has potential to be an actual epic.


Anonymous said...

Ugh the silk road existed in 48bc. Besides that I agree.

Vernon Chan said...

We may call what existed in 48BC the "Silk Road"; trade however certainly didn't exist in the volumes comparable to the actual Silk Road until the northeast corridor in China was properly pacified much later.

M. Riordan said...

Red Cliff was the most expensive Chinese film. Yeah, you could make the argument that it was in two parts...but then I could make the argument that a single film version was released.