Damnit, I like Jason Behr. And I love Dragons. And I like giant monster movies. And I like foreign giant monster movies. And I like Kaijus.
Then why didn’t I like this foreign giant monster kaiju movie about dragons starring Jason Behr, when all was said and done?
Much like “Reign of Fire,” Shim’s action film is a great concept with many possibilities that’s sadly just really bad. “Dragon Wars” has been one of those films that very well should have been a success in spite of all the odds against it as a successful overseas film that was imported, given high praise, and received very little advertising in the states. And lo and behold, it was a considerable box office hit here, and still: it’s a really bad movie.
It’s confusing, poorly written, mind numbing, and only really exists to host our average CGI monsters (the actual stars here). Shim’s epic “Dragon Wars” is a film that’s better suited for a cable television premiere, as it takes such leaps and bounds of mediocrity and utterly nonsensical storylines that it ends up being a jumbled mess.
After an introduction into what the basic concept is at the start, we’re then pushed forward into modern times where reporter Ethan Hendrick has stumbled onto a scientific finding somewhere near L.A., and recognizes what may be an omen for the coming of an evil serpent named Buraki. We’re warped back into his childhood where we’re retold the story of this evil serpent wreaking havoc with his vicious army, and the purpose of the two human prophets who must unite with the serpent to turn him into a dragon.
To which we’re warped again back into ancient Korea, where we witness one of the first Yuh Yi Joh’s born into a royal family who is forced to sacrifice herself and unite with the Imoogi and help it ascend into heaven and destroy its army, and Ethan is the re-incarnation of the Korean Yuh Yi Joh and must find the reincarnation of Narin, the female prophet to help battle the Imoogi…
Understand? Because, I’ve never been so confused before in my life. To be honest, I’m not even sure if what I described up there is the accurate plot.
By the description though, you’ll notice that “D-War” is such a repetitive sloppy bit of fantasy filmmaking that it can never really decide what story it wants to tell. Does it want to be a period fantasy epic, or a modern monster epic? Damned if they can make up their minds, and they obviously vie for both in its short run time. This constant meandering back and forth does really nothing but set up the foreshadowing of things to come and the almost endless flashbacks hoping to bind the story into coherence.
We know our crack reporter will be the key, already, so why bother explaining it to us? Why does this dragon need to get into heaven, and why every five hundred years? And how did they evacuate L.A. so fast?! Shim jumps back and forth, and back and forth until finally setting down on the central plot, but not before implementing all the action in the first fifteen minutes. Entertaining scenes of CGI monster mayhem and armies of soldiers terrorizing villages accompany the explanation, but the effects are never implemented to their full potential often resembling cut scenes from an XBox 360 video game, while everything in-between the massive monsters and battles is just forgettable.
There are some great instances here I’ll admit, but it’s quite telling when the film is at its most entertaining during its flashback scenes in ancient Korea and the young warriors then. In modern L.A., we basically have Ethan searching for a girl named Sarah who will have to merge with the dragon, while he runs around and receives warnings in his dreams (Sarah too, who has dream, after dream, after dream). We’re also forced to endure the painfully unfunny antics of his ethnic sidekick (Craig Robinson), and the over the top performance of Robert Forster who basically gives Ethan his purpose during the flashback, and appears sporadically as a morphing mystical guide to state the obvious.
For a character with such importance, Sarah is really just a bland broadly drawn individual who has zero charisma. Brooks plays the character with utter lethargy with most of the “action” continuously taking place in dreams, and campy scenes involving innocent bystanders. Behr is no saint either as he runs around dressed as an anime character with one facial expression (determined!) the entire time, and is only there to fetch Sarah. Only after the serpent appears do things finally pick up, but by that time audiences will really just be waiting for it to end to get to the mall on time.
Director Shim really aspires for big things here. He wants epic in the scale of “Jurassic Park,” the spectacle of typical Asian fantasy fare, and carnage in the scale of “Godzilla,” but the film’s best achievement may just be as an inevitable title on Rifftrax. The entire “plot” is basically centered on the monsters and the attempted injection of tension; In which time you’ll actually be waiting for the inevitable face off in the city between the two serpents that really never comes. Seriously, don’t believe the poster.
The “war” in L.A. is but a footnote to the actual climax in which our heroes face down the army and serpents in another ancient land and the inevitable takes place tying up all the sub-plots and loose ends in a basically a half hour, leaving everything to feel incomplete and scattered. “Dragon Wars” is wasted in pandering to the blockbuster crowd and never takes itself seriously. The end result is a laughable disasterpiece.