Dragon Wars
directed by Hyung-rae Shim
(Sony, 2007)

When I see such things as a litany of hilarious "things I learned from watching Dragon Wars" and complaints that there is really only one dragon and he appears only at the very end, it does make this film seem pretty stupid -- but despite all of the oddities, gaps and other problems with the plot, I had a ball watching it.

Maybe it's just the fact that I've tried very hard to never let the kid in me fade away, but dude, there's destruction on the level of a good Japanese Godzilla movie, the CGI effects are a wonder to behold and I don't know where else you will ever find gigantic sloths with missile launchers on their backs in the year 1507. It also doesn't hurt that the lead actress is pretty darn hot.

Admittedly, the backstory is incredibly long, complicated and foreign (as in Korean legend), but let me break it down for you. Let's start with imoogis, giant serpents who lived in the heavens long ago.

Every 500 years, one good imoogi is rewarded for its good deeds by receiving the Yuh Yi Joo, which allows him to become a celestial dragon. Among these imoogis was an evil one named Baruki who lusted for the Yuh Yi Joo. To keep him from getting it, the Yuh Yi Joo was hidden on Earth -- but it wasn't hidden very well, as Baruki knew it would be borne inside the body of a 20-year-old woman who was born with the image of a red dragon on her shoulder.

An old warrior and his protege are sent to safeguard the Yuh Yi Joo and make sure the girl is sacrificed to the good imoogi once her 20th birthday comes. Last time, back in 1507, there was a problem, as the young warrior fell in love with the girl. To cut a long story short, both the good imoogi and Baruki were forced to wait another five centuries for a chance to ascend into the heavens.

In 2007, the Yuh Yi Joo resides in the body of Sarah Daniels (Amanda Brooks), and a TV reporter named Ethan Kendrick (Jason Behr) comes to realize he is the reincarnated young warrior destined to protect her. He has to find her first, which isn't easy given the fact that Baruki and his hordes of servants set out tearing Los Angeles apart to find her first.

Will Ethan be able to save her from Baruki? Will he seek to change their fate once again or deliver her to the good imoogi?

Director Hyung-rae Shim reportedly spent several years trying to make this film a reality, so all of the criticisms of the plot are more than valid. One would think, for example, that even the most star-struck of L.A. residents and tourists would actually notice a giant serpent tearing its way through the city. You also have to wonder why the FBI would so readily accept the "ancient legend" explanation of the monster -- or how they figured out so quickly that the serpent was looking for Sarah Daniels. The list goes on and on.

Having enjoyed the film so much, though, I just think all of these things are funny. In fact, they almost make me want to watch the film again to see what other goofs I can find. I'm sure the epic scale of the action and the incredible special effects wouldn't diminish very much on a second viewing, either. I really don't understand how so many people can label Dragon Wars one of the worst movies ever made -- they obviously haven't seen a lot of the obscure B-movies I've suffered through.

by Daniel Jolley
9 February 2008

At the end of the day, it's all Toho's fault. The Japanese movie-making powerhouse that brought us 50 years of Godzilla goodness decided to shelve the big guy. So what happens? The Americans decide to take big, green and radioactive and turn him into a female oversized iguana. I don't think the Japanese were amused, and this resulted in a number of high-quality, CGI-laden Godzilla movies in the early 21st century to remind the world how it's done. But then, giving proof to the axiom that "history is doomed to repeat itself," they decided to hold off on making new Godzilla movies for a while.

Enter Korean director Hyung-rae Shim, who decided that he could make a giant monster movie -- but wisely avoided any references to green radioactive dinosaurs. Instead, he delivers Dragon Wars, steeped in Korean folklore, chock full of kung fu goodness and set ... in Los Angeles? With a mostly American cast?

The movie opens up to a demolished apartment complex, where the only evidence appears to be some odd scale-like substance. On the scene is ace reporter Ethan, played by Dawson's Creek and Roswell alum Jason Behr. He's mysteriously allowed into a crime scene just by flashing his media credentials, collects a sample and is off to the office where he fingers a large gold amulet and the audience is treated to a flashback where we learn he was given the amulet as a child by the owner of an antique store and is told the legend of the dragons (or imoogi).

The imoogi are dragons that yearn to be celestial dragons, granting them untold powers (and I mean untold -- they never elaborate on what powers they get), and one gets this chance every 500 years. They're mainly forces of good, but one imoogi -- a King Cobra-esque dragon -- is an evil lizard who wants the power all to himself. The Powers That Be decide the safest place to hide the key ingredient to making 500-foot-long dragons into super-dragons is, naturally, a human girl. Said girl grows up in a small village protected by a martial arts master and his young pupil. Pupil and magic girl fall in love, village gets attacked by evil dragon's CGI army of armored warriors, elephant-like tank lizards, small flying dragons and then the big evil dragon himself. Pupil and girl die by jumping off a cliff to avoid getting eaten, preventing either evil dragon or good dragon from ascending. With me so far?

Turns out our intrepid reporter is the reincarnated pupil, and he must track down the reincarnated girl so she can give the power to the good imoogi. All he has to do is find a young girl in Los Angeles with a tattoo. Cue a wild search through the city until he manages to track her down, appearances by the general of the evil army, the antique shop owner who displays some abilities himself, the FBI and Homeland Security. We can't seem to find Osama bin Laden (because he's hiding, you see), but they do seem to know an awful lot about Korean folklore and have prepared for such an incursion. In no time flat the evil army is rampaging through L.A. while the army comes in to fight back, our hero and heroine make multiple escapes from the evil dragon that defy logic and physics, and we won't even go into all the actions that leave your scratching your head and wondering what's going on.

And therein lies the secret to enjoying this movie. The director realized any attempt to make this movie make sense would ruin it, so he and the cast just had fun. If you attempt to rationalize it, you will be sorely disappointed. And trust me, there will be multiple times in the movie when something completely wrong will happen, and the movie just continues on. For example, the hero's best friend and cameraman (Craig Robinson, best known for playing Darryl from the American version of The Office) empties a gun at the evil general, aiming directly at the very large shield and never aiming at any other body part, gets zapped in the forehead by the general, then gets hit by a car while the hero and heroine run away. When she asks if the friend is OK, he replies "I'm sure he'll be fine." Oh, and 19-year-old girls not named Spears or Lohan drink openly in bars.

The point I'm trying to make is this -- if you're looking for a serious movie, avoid this one like the plague. If, however, you're looking to spend a few mindless hours enjoying a very well made silly movie that will result in much laughter, this one is worth a rental. For a non-ILM movie, the effects aren't bad, the actors never bothered to over-act and it makes a suitable substitute until Toho decides to get back into the monster-movie business. Check your brain and your suspension of disbelief at the door, invite some friends over and enjoy!

by Timothy Keene
9 February 2008

Buy it from Amazon.com.