Dragon Wars features great visuals, sets up characters that fall flat

Dragon Wars

By Patrick Stinson, Contributor

What is D-War? It’s a question that those who are not as dreadfully geeky as me are probably asking. Five years in the making, it’s a fantasy film by South Korean director Hyung-Rae Shim (who also directed Reptilian, another movie you’ve never heard of ), who sought to combine Korean legend with modern technology and storytelling to create a unique action film.

Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Godzilla fan, so a movie with dragons fighting attack helicopters in Los Angeles seemed like a definite mustsee. Unfortunately, while the final result is a remarkable spectacle, it ultimately offers no reason for any normal person to watch it.

There is a semi-logical story behind all of the events in the film, which would be compelling if it were handled properly (evil serpents, reincarnated lovers, a mysterious old man, and a battle over a girl’s soul what’s not to like?). Unfortunately, it is handled so clumsily that the film serves largely as a framework for two blowout special effects scenes. In one scene an army of vicious reptiles attacks Los Angeles in broad daylight, leading to a confrontation with the United States military that rivals any similar scene in American action films like Independence Day and Transformers.

Another is a battle to the death between two mystical 150-meter long serpents. For the violencecrazed young men in the audience (read: me and my friends) this was worth the price of admission.

However, to get to that point, we had to suffer through a great deal of pointless filler. The film’s dialogue was atrocious (I suspect this is due to Shim’s relative unfamiliarity with directing scenes in English) and the romantic scenes could be compared unfavorably to those in Star Wars: Episode II. The villains are given no particularly interesting motivation, the few interesting characters tend to become grease spots, the film’s hero is a bore, and the heroine actually seems to be catatonic most of the time.

In addition, the film badly needed another visit to the editing room; interspersed throughout are brief, completely pointless segments about what boring and irrelevant secondary characters are doing.

Even the aforementioned action scenes could have used some reworking. The film’s primary villain, Buraki, spends so much time fruitlessly chasing our heroes that he seems almost deprived of menace. In a staggering display of illogic, a pack of sword-wielding morons manages to successfully tangle with a fully-armed U.S. Army unit, with only occasional help from their fire-spewing dragon friends. And after treating us to amazing shots of the carnage in L.A. that are both spectacular and horrifying, the film abruptly cuts away with no further information on who wins the battle, what the aftermath was like, or the world’s reaction to dragons attacking a major city.

Finally, the last scene of the film takes place in some weird geographic netherworld; we are never shown where it is, how the characters were transported there, or where they are going to go afterward.

But for all that, the film’s worst sin is that it spends a great deal of time setting up three characters who then fail to accomplish anything. The film ends with a series of plot devices; the characters’; skills, histories, emotions, and motivations are all rendered irrelevant because they are saved by a magic amulet and a big serpent. When one of the leads decides abruptly to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of mankind, all I could wonder was what took them so long?

D-War is rated PG-13 and should be seen by serious science fiction and fantasy buffs that are looking for something new. All others should probably avoid it.