Tuesday, December 11, 2007


For a Korean production that’s clearly aiming for wide international distribution, Shim Hyung-Rae’s D-War (Dragon Wars) is certainly an ambitious undertaking; it’s even got the multiple character OS marketing thing going, as well as the short, snappy title for quick and easy recall.
Sadly, the film itself doesn’t deliver on nearly all of the other, more significant levels that it should.

The biggest, most shamed-faced culprit has to be Shim’s script: to call it “scattershot” would be charitable.
The narrative jumps from scene to scene with neither rhyme nor reason, and there are a host of inexplicable developments and decisions that make D-War a simply terrible viewing experience.
And the front-heavy exposition—which takes up the first 20 minutes or so of the film, in an awkward and annoying flashback within a flashback—serves to stop the narrative cold even before it’s had a chance to rev its engine.
There’s talk of good serpents and bad serpents and a 20-year old maiden who is destined to lay down her life so that good will emerge triumphant. There’re also brave warriors and magickal amulets and reincarnation and wisps of the production design spirit of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, rudely summoned and shanghaied for this muddled production.
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a film like this, whose narrative operates in a complete emotionless vacuum, where all the pretty pixels in the world (more on that later) cannot save a story that so utterly fails to engage the audience, it may just as well be a non-experience.

Even the presence of Robert Forster (Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, Van Sant’s Psycho remake, and briefly, in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive) as Jack, the reincarnation of the elder warrior who fights on the side of good, does nothing to move things into the plus column: Forster’s not really given much to do beyond narrating that 20 minute block at the head of the film, and not very well, I might add. He also morphs in and out of the proceedings on a bizarrely irregular basis.
The other major players, Jason Behr and Flightplan’s Amanda Brooks, don’t exactly light up the screen either.
Behr, who can’t seem to escape the gravity of genre material after making a name for himself on TV’s Roswell (he’s also been in The Grudge remake and Skinwalkers, as well as the upcoming The Tattooist), doesn’t even seem to attempt to infuse his character of Ethan Kendrick with a glimmer of a personality. There’s nothing there to indicate Ethan is even a living, breathing person, much less the reincarnation of the young, valorous warrior who must ultimately sacrifice his love for the sake of the world.
Brooks fares no better with her Sarah, destined to carry within her the force that will be consumed, by either good or evil, thus determining the fate of the entire human race. There’s no struggle here, no raging against the dying of the light, just a young woman going blandly through the motions: Oh, look, a giant serpent. Run.
Meanwhile, other potentially capable actors like Twin Peaks’ Chris Mulkey and Elizabeth Pena (Jacob’s Ladder and Transamerica), are given nothing significant to do during the limited screen time they actually get.

If there is anything remotely resembling a redeeming factor where D-War is concerned, it’s quite possibly in the CGI.
Granted, this is nowhere near the level of a Transformers, and there are a healthy number of shots where the pixels are still showing. Still, for the most part, the effects are passably convincing, and the final climactic showdown between the good and evil serpents is commendable, and is marred only by the fact that it seems to be taking place not on Earth, but in an environment ripped off from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. One minute, we’re headed towards Mexico, the next, we’re in Mordor.

This may have the pretty pixels, but at heart, D-War is still a D-grade, low-budget monster movie, complete with head-scratching script and dodgy performances.
Sad, since in the wake of Bong Joon-ho‘s Gwoemul (The Host), I was really hoping Korea would give me another monster movie worth stomping up and down and roaring about. In the end though, all I can muster is an exasperated eye roll and a paltry “Pfffft.”

Parting shot: Interestingly enough, Heroes’ James Kyson Lee (soon to be seen in the upcoming English-language remake of Shutter) is part of D-War’s loop group.
Though he is best known for playing Japanese sarariman/sidekick Ando Masahashi on Heroes, Lee is actually Korean, his real name Lee Jae-Hyeok.

Parting shot 2: Reviews of Gwoemul and Skinwalkers can be found in the Archive.

(D-War OS’s courtesy of younggu-art.com.)

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