Review written and owned by John McGinn
Have you ever thought what if the two of the greatest civilizations in history in the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty had encountered on another? Well you don’t have to wait any longer for we have it in Jackie Chan’s starred epic Dragon Blade that rivals many Hollywood summer blockbusters. I’m surprised no one has come up with this ideas before.
Don’t you love when a film opens up with the caption “Story is inspired by true events”? That’s when you know the film is going to take a lot of liberty with history, and Dragon Blade’s story definitely ignores history, as yes the Han Dynasty knew about the Roman Empire through the Silk Road, but had no contact with the Empire, and there is no clear evidence the Roman Empire knew about the great Han Dynasty, and if they did they obviously didn’t think anything of the far flung kingdom on the other side of the world, so just ignore the opening statement and the brief laughable prologue and epilogue that take place in the present.
Captain Huo An (Jackie Chan), and his Han Dynasty protection squad are charged with keeping the peace in China’s desolate western region where conflicts boils between many groups vying for trade supremacy and control. Huo An and his soldiers live by the code “Make peace not war” and entertainingly end a conflict between two groups that ends up getting Huo An a second wife in the Hun warrior Cold Moon. Of course not everyone loves living by the above motto, which leads Huo An, and much of his protection squad being set up for smuggling and sent to the fort city Wild Goose Gate to help rebuild the fortifications. Unbeknownst to Huo An and the rest of the people in Wild Goose Gate the Romans are coming with General Lucius (John Cusack) leading an escaping army who’s protecting prince Publius the heir to the Roman Empire from being killed by his older brother Tiberius (Adrien Brody). After a tense moment a sandstorm forces Lucius and Huo An to work together bringing these two great civilizations together and the two learn much from each other as the work together to rebuild Wild Goose Gate and protect Publius. I won’t go into detail, but the plot does get a little convoluted with some flashbacks and Tiberius’s supposed true intentions, but that doesn’t really take much away from Dragon Blade.
It is interesting to see the Roman Empire from a Eastern perspective, and a little of how the Chinese both view the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty which the majority of the Chinese people view as the greatest of the Chinese Dynasties, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Chinese view sort of wins out. The script as a whole is pretty decent and well written except for the ridiculous concept and a few plot holes, and focuses on Cusack and Chan. The two actors have great chemistry working together, and it shows in the film as some of the best moments of the films takes place with Lucius and Huo An as the two learn from one another talking about their pasts, ideals, desires, and futures, and then defending Wild Goose Gate and protecting Publius.
I have never been a fan of Jackie Chan whether it be his early work or his move to Hollywood I’ve found his films to be mediocre at best and his acting put is nicely leaves a lot to be desired, but I have to give the actor credit since Chan’s return to Hong Kong, and mainland China he has tried to reinvent himself turning into a producer, director and trying to hone his acting ability turning more into a dramatic actor, and it’s worked. The only failure he’s really had was the film 1911, but I put more blame on the Chinese government since they backed the film, but even with the censored and badly written script Chan did do an admirable job directing the film, and acted really well in the film. Chan’s reinvention continues with his wonderful performance in Dragon Blade as Captain Huo An showing that he can fully act and show wide range of emotions. With the large cast and such a large scale film many actors and characters are lost in the shuffle, but the three stars in Chan, Cusack, and Adrien Brody shine keeping the film gripping dramatically.
It never ceases to amazing me the varied gorgeous landscapes and environments China encompasses as it is displayed here in Dragon Blade which was filmed entirely in western China and the Gobi Desert giving a desolate and foreboding feeling for the film, which suits Dragon Blade and its set pieces well. The action was gripping from the opening well-choreographed fight between Huo An and Cold Moon to the dramatic one on one battle between Lucius and Huo An to the epic climatic battle that would rival any Hollywood film.
With the success of Hollywood films in China Chinese studios have recently been trying to market the films outside of Asia trying to lure in Hollywood stars to star or co-star in their films with limited to little success. I can only think of Tim Robbins in Back to 1942 and Christian Bale’s The Flowers of War. Jackie Chan, director Daniel Lee and the producers of Dragon Blade had wanted an A list Hollywood star for Dragon Blade in their hopes of trying to make the film more marketable for American audiences, and was rumored to be getting Mel Gibson for the film, but ended up with John Cusack and Adrien Brody. While Dragon Blade has become a blockbuster in China, and is sure to be one in Asia I doubt they’ll have success in the States as while Cusack and Brody are good capable actors they don’t have drawing power to get American audiences to rush out and see Dragon Blade. That is a shame to, because Dragon Blade is a flawed but good film, which is surprising because when I first saw the trailer for the film I laughed at how ridiculous it looked, but I gave it a chance and I hope everyone else will. You won’t be disappointed.
4 out of 5 Stars