ambitions of a corrupt Roman consul would belittle Alexander’s conquests if he
could realize them. He intends to assert control over the entire Silk Road,
starting with the sleepiest stretch in western China. However, the impossibly
upbeat captain of the Silk Road Protection Squad and a band of maverick
centurions will stand against him in Daniel Lee’s Dragon Blade (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
An always tries to avoid physical violence. Yet, despite his status as a heroically
departed general’s only true protégé, he has been banished to the provincial
Wild Geese Gate due to trumped-up corruption charges. Apparently he is quickly rehabilitated,
because he has already re-assumed command of the Silk Road forces when a Roman
remnant arrives in all their glorious belligerence. First they fight, but they
quickly forge a wary truce. Real camaraderie between the Han Silk Road forces
and Roman soldiers follows soon after.
word arrives Huo An’s men must rebuild the crumbling city in fifteen days, the
Romans agree to help in exchange for assistance reaching the legitimate Roman authorities
in Parthia. Combining Roman engineering with good old fashioned Chinese slave
labor, they do indeed rebuild a shining city on a hill, throwing in a few extra
aqueducts just because they enjoy building them. Unfortunately, the villainous
Tiberius does not appreciate Han do-gooders aiding his enemies. After all, he
has a young brother to kill in the astonishingly annoying Publius, who has thus
far been protected by the world weary Lucius and his band of brothers, which
now includes the honorary centurion Huo An.
Dragon Blade is not terrible,
even though it has nearly all of the shortcomings you would fear. Of course, it
starts with casting of John Cusack and Adrien Brody as Lucius and Tiberius.
Probably no actors have looked or sounded more out of place in a classical
antiquity setting since Edward G. Robinson appeared in the Ten Commandments. While Cusack seems to be trying to slouch through
the film unnoticed, Brody is conspicuously dull in role that requires serious
is hardly blameless either. Although he thankfully reins in the shticky comedy,
Dragon Blade is a perfect example of
his burgeoning martyr complex, which he shamelessly indulges. It also reflects
his increasingly problematic Mainland-centric China chauvinism. According to
Huo An, Westerners are trained to kill people, whereas Chinese soldiers serve
to protect. Okay, while you’re at it, why don’t you explain to the emperor how
the common people would like more say in issues of governance—or try telling it
to Beijing today. Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers came to the Admiralty to do
exactly that, but Chan didn’t want to hear it.
one of the coolest things about Dragon Blade
is the democratic idealism represented by Wild Geese Gate, as well as the
massive CGI awe of the place. There are also some pretty spectacular
warfighting scenes that inventively combine the styles of the two rag-tag
forces united against Tiberius’s armies. Old Man Chan can still handle himself
in a hand-to-hand scene, when he is not lecturing his audience and Lin Peng similarly
makes the most of her limited screen time as the Hun warrior princess Lengyue. Costume
designer Thomas Chong also takes full advantage of the opportunity to create
costumes in the traditional styles of at least a dozen distinctive nationalities.
of Chan’s ideological baggage, director-co-screen writer Lee takes viewers on a
rough narrative ride. There are more conspicuous gaps in Dragon Blade than Hillary Clinton’s email archives. Reportedly, twenty-some
minutes were cut from the Chinese version for the American theatrical print,
including a modern day framing device featuring Karena Lam. That was probably
one of the easiest parts to lose, but as it is currently cut, characters’ allegiances
will change drastically and considerable geographic distances will be traveled
all quite suddenly without anyone taking any notice. That is just life on the
A chaotic mixed bag, Dragon Blade lacks the mature and engaging heft of Chan’s work in
the unfairly dismissed Police Story: Lockdown and The Shinjuku Incident.
For diehard fans, it opens this Friday (9/4) in New York, at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Adrien Brody, Chinese Cinema, Jackie Chan, Lin Peng