Eve Of The War

Dragon Wars
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Author:  Alland [ Sun Sep 16, 2007 12:06 am ]
Post subject:  Dragon Wars

Just saw this sci fi/fantasy flick today, the second day it became available at a local theatre in my neck of the woods. The acting is okay, if nothing spectacular, and the special effects ARE spectacular.

The beginning's a bit choppy, as after the first few minutes showing the on-site investigation of a mysterious disaster somewhere in the US, the male lead (a reporter) has a flashback to fifteen years ago, during which it is revealed to him during a visit to an antique shop that he is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior whose duty was to help the forces of Good create a good dragon. Seems there's this race of giant (i.e., Godzilla-sized) snakes that can turn into dragons if they absorb the essence of a person with the approriate birthmark: a serpent-shaped birthmark on the shoulder. To further confuse things, the movie now jumps back another 500 years to Korea, where the hero used to live as a famed warrior.

Back in the Korea of the 1500s, a young woman appears with the snake-shaped birthmark on her shoulder. Every 500 years, someone like her appears, and on her twentieth birthday, she must become one with a good giant snake (read "get eaten") to fulfill her destiny, which is to create another dragon for the forces of Good. Needless to say, the forces of Evil have their own giant snakes, and they, too, can become dragons if the appropriate maiden is eaten. Unfortunately, the warrior and maiden fall in love, with a relationship doomed in advance, like a Korean version of "Romeo and Juliet".

Since only one maiden with the proper qualifications appears every 500 years, you can imagine how fierce the competition is. In fact, the bad guys show up with a regiment of swordsmen in European-style Renaissance plate armor (the armor existed in those days, but only in Europe), massive quadrupedal reptilian beasts that have magically-enhanced rocket launchers mounted on their backs, cavalry mounted on more reptilian monsters that look like a cross between a dragon and a prehistoric ostrich dinosaur like Struthiomimus, and an air force of western-style dragons the size of small aircraft, and which spit fireballs rather than breathing out streams of flame. (The cavalry lizards also make one think of the "tontons" seen early in "The Empire Strikes Back".) They attack the fortified village the maiden is in, which is defended by standard militia forces armed with spears, polearms, and a battery of field artillery. The hero helps the maiden escape the destruction of her village, but instead of taking her to the good serpent, he tries to run away with her, and when the bad guys catch up to them, they commit suicide---again like Romeo and Juliet---to avoid being used for evil.

Once the various flashbacks are finished, we leave the reporter back in the modern era, more confused than ever, but knowing now that the reincarnation of the maiden has shown up, and the bad guys are wreaking havoc in the neighborhood trying to catch her---anachronistically-armored swordsmen, giant snake, dragons, and all. Eventually he finds---and falls in love with---her, while all hell breaks loose in the unnamed major city they are staying in. The entire army that destroyed the Korean village is resurrected and marches into downtown USA, locking horns with armed police, the FBI, and eventually the Army.

The special effects and battle scenes are magnificient, both the modern ones and the one taking place during the Korean flashback. All the computer-generated monsters are realistic-looking; the animation is as smoothly done as it was in the modern remake of "King Kong". Do you like movies with lots of heavy military hardware? Do you like movies with realistic-looking large monsters? Do you like movies where the two are thrown together in large-scale combat? If so, then you'll like "Dragon Wars". The police are eventually reinforced on the ground by Army troops backed up by armored troop carriers and M1 tanks, and there are long sequences of dogfights in the aerial canyons created by skyscrapers between the western-type dragons and Apache helicopter gunships. Lots of fighting, lots of killing, lots of realistic-looking destruction; almost makes you wonder who really needs a plot to this picture, doesn't it?

As the battle rages, the reunited (and reincarnated) lovers flee the city, dodging not only the two sides, but also the FBI, whose Paranormal Affairs division has informed the US Government of just what the Sam Hill is going on. Naturally, the government is made to look ruthless, with its head field agent planning to stop the fighting simply by killing the chosen maiden himself before either side can get her (thereby postponing the crisis for another 500 years). I don't want to give away the ending, but there is a spectacular fantasy denouement, which includes the best-animated version of an oriental-style dragon I've ever seen on the screen. Watch it and enjoy.

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Sun Sep 16, 2007 12:30 am ]
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Cheers 'Alland' sounds good.
I'll have to look out for it at my local theatre.
I wonder if it'll be out on DVD for Xmas?

Author:  Alland [ Tue Oct 02, 2007 8:04 pm ]
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A bit of bad news here: my local cinema ran the movie for barely two weeks before dropping it. I was only able to see it twice, both times coming in early Saturday afternoon. Both times, the audience could be numbered on the fingers of one or---at most---two hands, but I assumed the big crowds would some later. Guess there simply weren't any big crowds. There wasn't much local advertising, and no in-depth reviews in the local papers, so that might have had something to do with it. The majority of my special-effects crazy countrymen don't know what they've missed.

I read that "Dragon Wars" made the record as THE most expensive Korean film ever made, and anyone who sees the special effects will know where all the money went. If the film does as poorly in the US in general as it did around here, then I imagine the studio will rush the thing into DVD as quickly as possible, in order to get back as much of their investment as they possibly can. To sci fi/fantasy film historians of the future, this film will go down as a missed opportunity on par with Ray Harryhausen's dinosaur western "The Valley of Gwangi", another film with magnificent special effects for its time but poor advertising.

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Sun Oct 07, 2007 12:15 am ]
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I'm sorry to hear that, I haven't seen or heard anything about it in my neck of the woods. but we do tend to be a little bit behind the USA when it comes to film releases, I shall keep an eye out for the DVD though.

Author:  Loz [ Sun Oct 21, 2007 6:49 pm ]
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I've heard of this and I'm looking forward to seeing it. Thanks for the review Alland

Author:  Alland [ Sun Jan 06, 2008 9:25 pm ]
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Well, it's officially been advertised on the Sci Fi Channel (and presumably elsewhere): Dragon Wars will be released on DVD this Tuesday (Jan 8, 2008), at least in the US. All you fellow Americans who were too snotty to look at it when it was in the theatres, buy a copy and then bemoan your stupidly passing up the all-too-brief opportunity to see it on the big screen. (Even the biggest wide-screen TV is small compared to the screen in a movie theatre.) Another one of the great ignored special-effects classics in the fantasy/sci fi field is about to come out. As I stated earlier, we haven't had a movie with good effects being this ignored since Ray Harryhausen's "The Valley of Gwangi".

Author:  Alland [ Fri Jan 11, 2008 11:11 pm ]
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Just bought my DVD today at a local Wal-Mart. The film people are so eager to sell it that they not only have it on sale by itself, but also as part of a twin-pack with the US version of "Godzilla" (the one starring Matthew Broderick and done by the guys who did "Independence Day"). Sort of a questionable market strategy, considering how poorly that version of "Godzilla" did. (After that one movie, they gave the rights to the Big G right back to the Japanese.)

Author:  craigr [ Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:44 am ]
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I'd recently noticed this at the local video rental place, as well as seeing it for sale at a couple stores, but had never heard of it. You weren't kidding about a lack of advertisement in the US!
Thanks for the review; I'll at least rent it, though as a fan of kaiju eiga (Japanese giant monster films), maybe I should just buy this straight away for the sfx.

Author:  craigr [ Thu Nov 13, 2008 6:31 am ]
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Finally got around to seeing this a couple months ago, and forgot that there was a thread here for it.
I can't add anything to the description already given for the story, but I can vouch for the fact that the SFX are nearly flawless. Really, this is a film to watch purely for the visual thrill ride. Not for the somewhat two-dimensional characters nor the plot, though all that is interesting enough. (I wish a little more time could have been given to the characters; there was some decent set-up, but not enough time to get to know--nor care much about--them.) The SFX almost seemlessly blend CGI with live-action. As an added bonus, a major battle in downtown Los Angeles takes place in daytime, in bright sunshine. No darkness of night to hide stuff. No rain to blur our view. Full, crisp, looks-pretty-darn-real stuff.
And the Korean flashback sequences were a treat in their own right, too.

A lot of effort went into making this picture look good. I normally don't 'sell' a movie based solely upon its SFX quality (that's why I got very bored with the Star Trek franchise; too many SFX, not enough substance), but I'm making an exception for this one. That, and it's interesting seeing a different cultural take on what many would consider to be a tired genre.

Certainly a fun way to blow an afternoon, and even moreso if you watch with a young-ish child around ten years of age or so. Teens might not get into this at all, and younger kids might get scared by the violence (and likely won't have a clue about the dual storyline/reincarnation plot).

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Thu Nov 13, 2008 11:39 pm ]
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Thanks for the review craigr I don't know if it's on sale over here but I'll keep an eye out for it, :-k I'll have to borrow a 10 year old kid though. :-k

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