Dragon Blade was produced for those clamoring to see Jackie Chan fight John Cusack and Adrien Brody. Which is precisely no one. Okay, there might be two or three oddballs out there dreaming about Lloyd Dobler and the Pianist clashing swords with Jackie Chan. If so, you’ll be satisfied by this rote and bloated historical epic.
Chan is Huo An, captain of the Silk Road Protection Squad, a peacekeeping force tasked with resolving conflicts along China’s vital trade routes. The Protection Squad is highly regarded until they are framed for smuggling gold. Huo An and his comrades are exiled to the Wild Geese Gate, a remote outpost in need of extensive repairs.
The ruthless Tiberius (Adrien Brody) has assumed the throne of the Roman Empire after murdering his father and blinding his younger brother Publius (Jozef Waite). Now, Publius is under the protection of Lucius (John Cusack) and his legionnaires who have fled Rome to seek sanctuary with the Parthian Empire in what is now Iran. Tired and running low on supplies, the Romans take shelter at the Wild Geese Gate where their knowledge of engineering proves useful in expediting renovations. Huo An’s leadership inspires the Romans, the Chinese, and a motley assortment of other races to band together when Tiberius and his forces arrive.
Dragon Blade is an extravagant production with a budget of $65 million, which was nearly recouped when it opened on Chinese New Year. It only opened to 14 theaters in the States and that release was truncated by over 20 minutes. Cut from the American version was a framing device involving modern day archeologists and by all accounts. However, the movie still feels like there was a good deal missing as subplots abruptly come and go. It’s doubtful you can blame it all on an overly exuberant editor. Huo An’s family (his wife is an honest-to-goodness schoolmarm) get a minimal of screen time and are quickly forgotten.
What we’re left with could hardly be considered subtle. Chan is called upon to do a lot of sentimental speechifying and he’s one of the few actors affable enough to make it palpable. Unfortunately, the dialogue sounds a lot better in Chinese than it does in English. Try not to cringe when Brody barks, “His crime is that he took the place in your hearts that belonged to me.” Or maybe you’re all cringed out when Huo An proudly states to Lucius that Chinese soldiers are trained to save lives, not kill.
Needless to say, there’s only so much Cusack and Brody can do in roles seemingly tailor made for Nicolas Cage. Perhaps, Cage was too busy with his own Chinese/American co-production, Outcast, the perfect title for a movie starring Hayden Christensen. Cusack is serviceable as the stoic Lucius while Brody chews the scenery as the bad guy. The international cast is bolstered by K-Pop star Si Won Choi and Aussie starlet Sharni Vinson, both of whom may be missed if you blink.
Don’t expect fight scenes with wuxia flair ala Hero or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon though director Daniel Lee certainly has the experience with films such as 14 Blades and White Vengeance. The action is slightly more grounded and only the opening fight features Chan’s trademark slapstick combat. Chan starts Dragon Blade literally getting his ass whipped by Lin Peng as tribal leader Cold Moon. On the other hand, director Lee throws way too much onto the screen with hundreds of extras and CG backgrounds muddied by frequent flashbacks and random slow motion shots.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Dragon Blade was shot digitally with Red Epic cameras so the transfer is clean with a bold color palette emphasizing the desert sands and innate design work on the armors.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional English subtitles. Battle scenes provide the DVD with its most immersive experiences as the sound is overwhelmed by the roar of charging armies and arrows whizzing through the air.
Behind the Scenes of Dragon Blade (21:28) is a standard making-of featurette.
Extended Interviews with Cast/Crew (56:13) are snippets with various members of the cast and crew, including the stars, director, and art director.
Rounding out the extras are music videos for the songs “Song of Peace” and “Please Tell Me the Wind to Bring My Father Home,” along with the theatrical trailer.
Film Value: 5
Dragon Blade has its moments, but laughable dialogue and a piecemeal plot drag down the movie. It still stands head and shoulders above some of Chan’s recent, lackluster efforts like CZ12 and 1911.