Netflix UK film review: Dragon Blade
Adrien Brody's hair7
Ian Loring | On 15, Jan 2016
Director: Daniel Lee
Cast: Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody
Watch Dragon Blade online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalKTalk TV Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play
It is hard to resist anything with the title Dragon Blade. Oh my, the possibilities! Could it be a Blade spin-off, where Wesley Snipes is cast as a fire-breathing vampire killer? Could it be about a dragon that shoots blades out of eyes? Or could it be the collaboration everyone never knew they wanted between those three titans Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrian Brody? Yep, it’s the last one. And it’s a tantalising, nutty prospect that holds much promise.
China is one of the world’s developing players in film. Since limitations on Western content being officially released in China were relaxed, the market has become one of the big opportunities for US films to make money, but from the Chinese point of view, it’s a chance to make the country more widely known to mainstream Western audiences. Chucking Chan, Cusack and Brody together for what we’re sure was a lovely pay day for them all reeks of opportunism, so it is nice to see that Chan gets stuck in behind the scenes, taking an Action Direction credit to complement the somewhat less successful writing and overall direction by Daniel Lee.
Chan focuses, for the most part, on crafting close-quarter battles between two people, which don’t have a lot of stunts but do have a certain thrill. The Dragon Blade of the title is a dragon-shaped device, which attaches to swords and allows the user to throw the sword out and take it back again. It doesn’t have an awful lot to do with the story (Chan’s Huo An teams up with Roman soldiers, led by Cusack’s Lucius, to defend the Silk Road) but it certainly is an interesting weapon – Chan certainly doesn’t overuse it, but it does look rather cool. You get the somewhat standard-issue CG armies battling it out too, although this rather bloodless stuff doesn’t get the heart pumping too much. More of Chan’s still-energetic work would have been nice.
It is fair to say the rest of the film is less successful. While Cusack and Chan warm up to each other, and Cusack does seem like he’s been paying some attention to learning his lines, Adrien Brody is a different story. Coming in with a potentially English accent (it’s hard to tell) and playing another Roman – but this time evil and with long hair – he doesn’t put in all that much effort. The story essentially revolves around Chan and Cusack building a massive wall and having fights with Brody’s army, interspersed with songs, a child speaking English (but being subtitled anyway because of his incoherent voice) and cutaways to scenes in the past and the future (at one point glances between Cusack and Chan appear to be happening across different dimensions). It’s a bit of a mess, but there are moments of fun along with the moments of heightened melodrama. While far from a perfect experience, it may even be charitable to call it “good”; seeing this mash-up of actors (all looking awake for the most part) does have a certain delicious thrill about it and makes Dragon Blade worth a pop.
Dragon Blade is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.