Director: Daniel Lee
Cast: Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody
This is more Gladiator in its inspiration than 300, a sword and sandal saga which has less of oiled torsos and more of platitudes.
Chinese cinema's Mr Nice Guy Jackie Chan is back at what he does best - leveraging all his martial art-fuelled superstardom to breach the divide from East and West. And this time, he is doing it in this 48 BC-set epic in a film directed by Hong Kong-based helmer Daniel Lee.
The film's setting is Han dynasty-ruled China and Huo An (Jackie Chan) leads the Silk Route protection squad where 36 warring tribes are fighting for supremacy. He lost his family in war when he was young and was brought up by a Chinese general who taught him that peace is the only way forward.
The film gives maximum screen time to the three main leads -- Brody, Chan and Cusack.
But as part of a nefarious plan, Huo is framed in a smuggling case and sent off to exile where he, along with other slaves, is supposed to build a city.
Roman general Lucius (John Cusack) soon arrives there. The guards at the city ask Huo to lead them given his superior knowledge of warcraft. A swordfight between Lucius and Huo is interrupted by a sandstorm and the latter gives shelter to Lucius and his men. The Roman soldiers help the Chinese to rebuild the city in 15 days in return.
A bromance kindles between the duo and Lucius reveals he was forced to escape from evil Consul Tiberius (Adrien Brody) with the rightful heir to the throne, young Publius (Joel Jozef). Tiberius is following Lucius with a 100,000-strong army and he has more on his mind than just killing the boy.
History goes for a six, as is the wont of such films, but there is enough to keep you occupied. The action, for instance. Chan, who shares the credits for directing action sequences, does a commendable job. The hand-to-hand combats and swordfights play out well; a particular scene where the Romans and Chinese display their prowess is especially well choreographed. Unlike the genre as made by Hollywood, the gore and violence are comparatively lesser in Dragon Blade.
The women characters have nothing much to do, the only exception being Lin Peng who plays warrior princess Cold Moon.
At $65 million, this is one of the most expensive films ever made in China and the production values justify it. Whether we are looking at the ruins of the city, Huo's village or the Roman Empire, everything has been meticulously designed and is expansive.
Where they could have saved the money was 3D. The special effects add absolutely no depth to the film-watching experience.
The film's heavy dialogues full of platitudes also drag it down. It is a surprise that Chan is able to stir the tribes to fight for what is right with his lackluster and platitude-heavy speech. The actor himself looks tired and spent in certain scenes.
Cusack brings his no-nonsense screen persona to the film but it is left to seething, angry Adrien Brody to overact his way through the role of evil emperor. The three are given maximum screen time which ensure the rest of the cast is there in only blink-and-you-miss-it roles.
The drawn out climax will remind you of a Bollywood film and its parochial patriotism, which must have made sense for the Chinese audience, is jarring.
Watch if you are a Jackie Chan fan or if you want to give World Cup final a miss.