Dragon Blade
dir-scr Daniel Lee
prd Jackie Chan, Susanna Tsang
with Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Siwon Choi, Lin Peng, Mika Wang, Xiao Yang, Wang Taili, Sammy Hung, Jozef Waite, Sharni Vinson, Lorie Pester
release Chn 19.Feb.15, US 4.Sep.15, UK 15.Jan.16
15/China 1h43
Dragon Blade
Not messing around: Chan and Choi

chan cusack brody
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Dragon Blade Even with an epic scale and a story based on a historical legend, this film is so choppy that it's difficult to work out exactly what's happening. The main problem is a script that's packed with cheesy dialog and simplistic moralising. But it looks great, and Jackie Chan's fight choreography is snappy and witty enough to hold the attention.

Along the Silk Road in 50 BC, an elite legion of Roman soldiers led by General Lucius (Cusack) has gone rogue to protect young Publius (Waite) from his murderous brother Tiberius (Brody). Lost in the desert, Lucius and his men approach Wild Geese Gate intending to fight. But Protection Squad Captain Huo An (Chan) would rather be friends, so the Romans chip in to help a multi-ethnic gang of prisoners rebuild the damaged gate. Then Tiberius turns up, demanding that Lucius hand over Publius before he continues on to annex China to the Roman Empire.

This is a great story that isn't easy to tell in a movie, partly because of the languages involved (there's a variety of local dialects, plus of course Latin, which here is rendered in a range of English accents). The problem is that the script sounds like it was translated using Google, with painfully corny English dialog that Cusack and Brody bravely attempt to conquer (both fail). So both of their earnest performances feel shamelessly silly, undermining the genuinely disturbing violence their stories include.

Meanwhile, Chan charges around like a man on a mission to hold the entire movie together with wacky slapstick, pointed political observations, some tearful emoting, dark drama and of course lots of flashy battle action. These fights are staged with plenty of eye-catching flourishes, bringing out the personalities of the characters while preventing the cast or crew from taking anything too seriously. The underused standout is Lin's archer Moon, who decides she's Huo An's wife after an earlier encounter, despite the fact that he already has one (Mika Wang).

Basically, a story this robust and complex needed a much more adept storyteller. Perhaps the longer Chinese version makes more coherent sense, because the constant cutaways to brief undefined scenes are baffling here. And the film may work better in the culture where it was made, rather that as this East-West hybrid. All of which is a shame because the message of peace at all costs is one the world really needs to hear more than two thousand years later.

cert 15 themes, violence 3.Dec.15

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