If your intention is to watch a film that can delight the eyes instead of delighting the mind, Daniel Lee’s historical epic Dragon Blade has the cinematic power to fit that bill perfectly. Armed with a starring duo of Jackie Chan and John Cusack, Dragon Blade entices the viewer with promises of duelling armies locked in grandiose battles against head-spinning backdrops of ancient China, bathed in war-torn splendour.
But what use do any of these elements have without a plot? Well then, let’s investigate. There’s something about a group of Chinese soldiers, led by Jackie, being duped into building some colossal city. Then some Roman army show up out of nowhere, led by John. There’s a bit of fighting, then a bit of bonding, an awkward dollop of exposition, and then more Romans show up, just as Jackie’s character’s wife gets assassinated because he did something to upset someone. The film concludes in a messy shambles of Romans, Turks, Huns, and Parthians slaughtering each other over something to do with pride, revenge, treachery – we think.
Suffice to say Dragon Blade is as interested in the coherency of its story, as you are when attempting to figure it out. Dragon Blade may boast vast levels of stunning cinematography, but no amount of swooping wide-shots of carefully choreographed armies striking visceral poses, can mask a crummy plot. Dragon Blade explicitly states in the opening credits that the following 127 minutes are based on real events, an excuse for inept story-telling perhaps?
Whilst the film’s plot may be deplorable, Dragon Blade finds strength in Jackie Chan. He delivers a humble performance as family man Huo, which balances the overblown belly the rest of this movie swings about the place. The same could be said about John Cusack’s exiled Roman anti-hero Lucius, but only if you were being kind. His delivery is dour and morose, lacking in the charm Jackie conjures so effortlessly. Adrien Brody is arguably the film’s biggest drag. His performance as the film’s big villain, the corrupt Roman emperor, is utterly drab and lifeless. A villain isn’t really a villain if you can’t find a reason to dislike them, but one has to draw the line somewhere!
Does Dragon Blade understand its dodgy methods of plot, and therefore attempts an elaborate cover-up in the form of some stellar cinematography, or did everyone kick the film’s production off with the cinematography coming first, to the extent where the plot was left behind in a cloud of dust? You may have to watch this film to decide for yourselves, but a mixture of affable acting on the part of Jackie Chan and Lee’s gargantuan directorial vision, even if it is all spectacle and no substance, makes Dragon Blade an entertaining if not entirely legitimate purchase.
DRAGON BLADE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DANIEL LEE / STARRING: JACKIE CHAN, JOHN CUSACK, ADRIEN BRODY, LIN PENG, CHOI SIWON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW