Dragon Blade Review

The Plot:

A band of warriors charged with keeping order amongst warring nations on the volatile silk road trading route form an unlikely historic alliance with a legion of Roman soldiers to protect ancient China from a power hungry and ruthless Roman general.

The Good

Jackie Chan is the most iconic and internationally charismatic martial arts star on earth. His presence alone ensures that Dragon Blade at least boasts some credible martial arts sequences. Likewise the presence of Adrien Brody and John Cusack give the film an instant global appeal far beyond the usual reach of typical Chinese financed productions. The novelty of watching genuinely a-list Hollywood stars line up for an unlikely culture-clash gives and extra dimension to a fairly straightforward story of historical power struggles.

As an action film Dragon Blade also offers plenty of clearly expensive sequences, with large armies rushing to battle against a backdrop of vast deserts and a towering fortress. Mixing fast paced martial arts trickery with Roman epic swordplay keeps the film energetically watchable.

The Bad

Ironically for a film which is about the unlikely and successful fusion of different cultures, at times the film struggles to reconcile its Asian setting and martial arts action with also being a Gladiator style sword and sandals epic. As an example the roman soldiers sing in Latin but speak with a muddled collection of Anglo-American accents.

Likewise, though Adrien Brody and John Cusack are both fine actors who do their very best to inject some believable passion into credible dramatic performances, it’s simply difficult to ignore their unlikely casting as fierce roman warriors. Seeing Cusack so dramatically transformed from mild-mannered comedy-drama star to a sword twirling action god capable of matching the legendary martial arts might of Jackie Chan strains credibility. It’s not that Cusack is actually bad, it’s just hard to avoid the suspicion that the film’s Chinese casting agents misunderstood exactly who the 49 year old actor was. Intending to hire Jason Statham but somehow accidentally recruiting the Must Love Dogs star instead.

The film was made with a relatively vast budget of over $65 million, making it the most expensive Chinese financed production ever made. Unfortunately while at times vast sets and literal armies of extras show evidence of that lavish production value, there are also moments when the films unconvincing CGI and production design make it look like a poor imitation to Hollywood’s flawless movie magic. For example, Jackie Chan’s distractingly obvious wig and overly heavy make-up constantly detracts from otherwise impressive scenes.

Chinese audiences that already readily consumed the film at the Box Office were obviously less distracted by the miscasting or familiar western stars and occasionally sub-standard production values. Unfortunately it means for an international audience the film will likely fail to amaze and be at best vaguely satisfying rather than memorably spectacular.

The Ugly Truth

For fans of Jackie Chan and martial arts epics, Dragon Blade will be a pleasing addition to his vast catalogue, made more interesting by the addition of recognisable Hollywood stars. Overall the film remains a mostly underwhelming anomaly for other less enthusiastic audiences. Fusing  the unique elements of Asian cinema with a generic Hollywood blockbuster feels more like cheap imitation than genuine innovation.

Review by Russell Nelson

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