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Dragon Blade - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Tian jiang xiong shi

China 2015

Genre:
Action

Director:
Daniel Lee

Cast:
Jackie Chan
John Cusack
Adrien Brody
Lin Peng
Choi Si-Won
Wang Taili
Xiao Yang
Jozef Waite
Mika Wang Ruoxin


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Dragon Blade

Dragon Blade - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Huo An (Jackie Chan) leads a protection unit that is responsible for keeping the peace between the different cultures on the Silk Road. Cultures are constantly clashing there, but Huo always manages to enforce his ideals of peace. Until he is one day accused of having smuggled gold over the Silk Road. Huo An and his unit are sent to Wild Geese Gate as labor force where they are supposed to rebuild a fortress. However, suddenly Lucius (John Cusack) and his Roman army stand in front of the fortress' walls. Because of the tactical error of the man in charge Huo An manages to seize military authority and deals with the task at hand in a peaceful manner. Lucius had to flee his home country since Tiberius (Adrien Brody) poisened his own brother and killed his father in order to seize the power. But the little prince is still alive, though very ill, and is protected by Lucius. Huo An promises to help the boy and give Lucius' men provisions if they in return help them to rebuild the fortress, which according to a new order has to be finished in just 15 days. Slowly a bond of friendship starts to develop between the two cultures. But it doesn't take long for Tiberius to stand in front of the fortress' gate...

Dragon Blade - Film Screenshot 2 Dragon Blade - Film Screenshot 3
Dragon Blade - Film Screenshot 4

Review: No one really knows what "Dragon Blade" exactly is supposed to be. No review could actually give me an answer to that and I'm afraid it won't be any different with this one. Because how can you describe this action flick working on an epic scale? Maybe it's best to think of it as a Chinese battle movie set in a desert which centers around unity and peace, but also deals with betrayal and bloodshed. And let's not forget that there is also Jackie Chan. Oh right, and the biggest oddities are of course John Cusack and Adrien Brody in additional leading roles. But can this actually work out in the end? In a way it can, but there are a few less easily forgiveable oddities like a too convoluted screenplay, flawed editing as well as the pathos which at times puts the whole story in danger of sinking into a puddle of cheesiness. However, the flick is undoubtfully fun as well.

Dragon Blade - Film Screenshot 5

Chan ("Police Story 2013", "Chinese Zodiac") can be seen in one of his standard roles. He is the nice guy who also happens to be an outstanding fighter and yet wants to settle things in a peacefull fashion. Accordingly, this also characterizes his passive fighting style. As the story progresses it turns out that this tactic doesn't lead him anywhere anymore. He may still cling to his moral values, but with every loss around him he realizes that he can only attain peace when he sheds blood himself, too. Still, it's this very transition that's not brought to screen very well. The script by Daniel Lee doesn't flesh out the characters well enough and instead focuses on illuminating the relationships among the individuals. But since the foundation for this to work out is missing the director doesn't achieve what he aims for. As if he knew it Lee also worked in some flashbacks to enforce some emotional involvement. As is to be expected this doesn't bear any fruit either.

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This doesn't mean that the relationships between the characters aren't interesting, though. John Cusack ("2012", "Con Air") plays an honorable Roman warrior who had to flee his home country. At one point his wish to return home is even carried across quite well, but most of the time you get the feeling that Cusack had too hard of a time to hide the fun he had while shooting. I'm not saying that his acting performance is fundamentally unconvincing, but it could have turned out better. In general, it's safe to say that the supporting roles in the movie are basically cast with at least solid actors, which is in fact a big improvement over what we are used to see from most other Chinese films featuring Western actors. But then there is also Adrien Brody ("The Pianist", "Predators").

Dragon Blade - Film Screenshot 7

Brody is clearly a valuable addition to the film. It's a shame that his role is lacking three-dimensionality as well, but he manages to give the villain the necessary intensity. Furthermore, he reveals at the end that his role in fact might have possessed some depth. If he just had been allowed to show more of it... Moreover, he and John Cusack deliver some nice fights against Chan. Which naturally brings us to the action aspect. This is where we actually get a pleasant surprise. Of course Chan is 60 by now and doesn't jump around as nimbly as back in his prime, but come on! He is 60 and still moves around as if he were at least ten years younger! His loss of speed in the fights he makes up for with some nice editing, though, and especially with great innovativeness, which strangely enough makes "Dragon Blade" the best martial arts movie featuring Chan in quite a while. Also, the different fighting styles of the participants, particularly that of the Romans, add a lot to the high level of variety shown.

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Dragon Blade - Film Screenshot 10

Of course, there are also some epic battles. In this respect it needs to be pointed out that they in fact have been created with the help of a great number of extras or good cgi-effects. On the other hand, there is some very obvious use of green screens when it comes to some sets. All in all, it seemed to have been director Daniel Lee's ("14 Blades", "Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon") concern to make everything look very epic. And he succeeds with his widescreen shots of the desert. The numerous different cultures that clash on screen are also impressive. Particularly the costumes they wear. Still, Lee fails when it comes to emotions. Speeches full of pathos, characters that meet their maker in slow-motion and with a histrionic score in the background, cheap flashbacks: all annoying embellishments. Apart from that the film's editing also creates some empty spaces in the story and the frame narrative settled in the present doesn't make any sense at all. Despite some points of criticism, which shouldn't be downplayed, "Dragon Blade" has its moments, though, and manages to be fun, too.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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