By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Dragon Blade”;
Cast: Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrian Brody, Joey Jozef, Lin Peng, Mika Wang, William Feng Shaofeng, Lorie Pester and Sharni Vinson;
Director: Daniel Lee;
With fine costumes, brilliant background score that has a mix of Oriental and Arabic music, good cinematography and razor-fine edits, “Dragon Blade” glitters in its high quality production values — but unfortunately fails to lure the audience owing to its poor narrative and dubbing.
This Chinese film, “inspired by true events” that occurred circa 48 BC, is an action-packed epic drama that showcases the heroic deeds of a Chinese General in rebuilding and destroying the lost city of Regvm on the Silk Route.
The film bookends with present day narration of two researchers discovering the lost city, and soon we are transported to the long lost era, when China was under the reign of Emperor Yuan of the Han Dynasty, where the strategic location of the city on the Silk Route had 36 tribal nations vying for dominance.
By weaving a few historical characters and unrelated events, the tale soon recounts the adventures of Huo An (Jackie Chan), the Chinese General of the Silk Route Protection Squad and his bromance with Lucius (John Cusack), the Roman general who is fleeing eastwards to protect his young ward, the blinded heir Publius (Jozef Waite), from his brother, the evil Consul Tiberius (Adrien Brody), who is now tracking them with his vast army.
Huo An offers help, rounding up support from the surrounding tribes and setting up a climactic stand-off between Tiberius’ mighty army and a united force of Silk Route residents.
The narration is packed with frequent high-pitched, well-choreographed action sequences which include a mix of Kungfu style Chinese martial arts and battle manoeuvres of the various ethnic tribes.
While the tale is of an epic stature, about the lost city — how it was reconstructed in 15 days only to be soon destroyed again — the screenplay has invested much time in the personal relationship of the characters and the finale is more of a simulation of the event.
Also, with a mix of Chinese martial arts and battle manoeuvres of the various ethnic tribes layered like an over-buttered sandwich, the narration gets soggy.
Chan’s Huo An is a nice, likeable buddy character, one with an edge over his comrades.
With ample footage in action and emotional scenes, it is one of the best characters Chan has portrayed in recent years. He shares an amiable rapport with John Cusack and their onscreen chemistry is palpable. This is evident during the second act, just after their initial clash when they exchange life philosophies, fighting techniques and even architectural suggestions.
Cusack as the loyal Lucius, and Lin Peng as the wild Uyghur warrior Cold Moon, who considers herself betrothed to Huo An according to folk laws, are pleasantly appealing and their performances stand out among the other A-listers.
In contrast, Jozef Waite’s immature Publius and Adrien Brody’s villainous portrayal of Tiberius seem contrived.
Dubbed in several languages, the English version is like the tedious journey of the Romans. Sitting through it is Chinese torture. The essence of the film seems to have got lost in translation.