HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Dragon Blade
HTS Overall Score:71
Period pieces are a personal favorite genre of mine. Especially when it meets a lifelong love of Jackie Chan combined with the incredible fighting force known as the Roman Legionnaires. I saw the names John Cusack, Adrian Brody along with Jackie Chan and had to raise an eyebrow. Especially seeing John Cusack decked out in roman gear. The trailer gave the film a much more polished look than other of those “fake” Roman era movies (some starring Nick Cage and Hayden Christensen). While that is true, the film showcases some magnificent costumes and some GREAT fight choreography (the fight between Jackie and Cusack is actually pretty amazing), I still was put off by the very obvious 21st century dialog being spat out by Cusack and Brody in a 2200 year ago period film. The movie is rough, awkward and obviously very heavily edited before release here in the U.S., which gives for a rather strange viewing experience.
The film opens with a title scrawl telling the audience that this is BASED off true events. Well, in reality the only thing TRUE is the tale of a missing Roman legion that was supposedly rumored to be travelling the Silk Road of the orient. This is otherwise known as the famous telling and retelling of the lost Legion which has had MANY films and books trying to extrapolate just what happened to them. This is another such fantasy telling that really only loosely bases the film around the premise of a lost Roman Legion.
We get to know the Chinese through Huo An (Jackie Chan), the leader of the Protection Squad, a group of mercenaries that are hired to protect all the inhabitants of the great Silk Road from the strife and struggles that happen when you have 36 different nations sharing the giant road of commerce. Taking care of a minor squabble between clans proves Huo An’s skill in deescalating conflict, but soon his fate turns for the worse. Set up for a crime he and his crew did not commit, they are sent to repair the famed Goose Gate, a war torn part of the great wall that separates China from the rest of the road. Punished and in exile, Huo An and his men toil under the laboring premise of fixing the wall, only to run into a group of Roman Legionnaires led by Lucias (John Cusack).
Lucias is the commanding officer of said Legion, and he has vanished into the deserts of the orient, taking with him the young aristocrat son of the Empire’s greatest leader. After his father was murdered and the boy was blinded by his brother Tiberius (a glowering Adrian Brody), the young child was taken by Lucias and his men in an effort to keep him alive and they became the equivalent of Ronin, wandering the desert and waging a mini war on anyone who stood in their way. After the standard blade to blade combat scene between Huo An and Lucias (which was actually really well choreographed thanks to Jackie Chan) the two team up to survive impending doom for both. The Goose Gate work crew is facing extermination if they don’t finish the wall in 15 days, and Lucias and his men show them the modern ways of Roman architecture, allowing them to repair the wall in a fraction of their estimated time left.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=61801[/img]Now, with Goose Gate free from fear, Huo An gives his support to Lucial, as Tiberius has set his gaze upon the eastern Silk Road, bringing with him fear and domination. Now Lucias is not the ONLY target as Rome decides that it’s time to expand its empire once more. Combining Roman ingenuity with the loyalty and determination of the Chinese, the two races must combine forces to expel the expanding gaze of the crazed Roman leader and his army that is the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.
“Dragon Blade” is a rather unique film. It tries to blend the east and the west together, but not in your typical American/Chinese team up. This time it’s an ancient Roman legion and the east, which makes for some truly unique hand to hand and blade combat scenes. I’m sure there was a stunt man for John Cusack, but as a self-proclaimed fanboy of ancient Roman fighting techniques they did an incredibly good job at showing the use of Gladius and the Roman’s shield and phalanx maneuvers. However, as fun as those moments were, the story is really a bit of a jumbled mess. It’s pretty obvious that there was a LOT left on the cutting room floor, as there are whole sections of the movie that feels like 50% of the important information was left out as they shift from scene to scene. There’s an entire sequence at the beginning of the film where Huo An tears off the veil of warrior woman and then she’s suddenly throwing herself at him in the next scene, as if there was a whole scene cut out that would explain the dramatic shift in tones. The same goes for when Lucias sends his men back to Rome as scouts and then suddenly we have him in chains and turned over to Tiberius by the Chinese. It’s strangely bizarre and rather awkward at times.
Acting wise, Cusack and Chan are surprisingly restrained. Chan is known for his over the top humor, and while there is definite traces of that humor throughout the film, he keeps himself well in check. Cusack is another actor that either hams it up to level 10, or just coasts through a movie. He still can’t manage to pull off a Roman Legionnaire, but actually emotes quite well without seeming like a ham or sleepwalking through his role. The one role that REALLY just was sitting there for a paycheck was Adrian Brody as Tiberius. For over an hour he’s only show in flashbacks and glimpses and he just stands there glowering the whole time. Even when he DOES show up and start talking, his level of enthusiasm is next to zero and just snarls and chews his dialog.
Rated R for bloody violence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=61809[/img]While the film is a bit rocky, the 2.39:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray looks phenomenal. Given a slight golden hued color grading that resembles sand and dirt in every aspect of the framing, the film can look a bit ancient and …well… Roman, considering that’s how film has depicted that age for decades. There are some cooler moments where a teal blue tinge is given to the picture, mainly with Huo An going back to his home town as well as the interior of the Goose Gate arena. Fine detail is magnificent as you can see every bit of stitching on the silk brocade that adorns the Protection Squad, as well as the shining glint of the armor and steel that coats the Roman soldiers. Blacks are dep and inky, despite the golden hue, and there is no major crush to keep the darkness from view. There is some mild banding here and there, but you have to really look for it to find the scenes. Overall, it’s a very VERY pleasing looking image from Lionsgate.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=61817[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is labeled as Mandarin and English in hybrid, but really this mainly an English track. There are a few bits and pieces that are in Mandarin with English subtitles, but for about 90% of the film it’s an English audio experience. Dialog is crisp and clean, with both the English and Mandarin voices clearly audible. LFE is tight and punchy, immersing the whole track in a pounding arena of bass that doesn’t let up until the credits roll. Surrounds are more than adequate, giving a 360 degree field during the battle sequences, and settling back in to finely tuned ambient noises such as horse hooves crunching on gravel, steel swords sliding from a sheath and the whistle of an arrow overhead.
• Behind the Scenes of Dragon Blade
• "Song of Peace" Music Video
• "Please Tell the Wind to Bring My Father Home" Music Video
• Extended Interviews with Cast/Crew
“Dragon Blade” is nothing that good, but it’s not a horrible train wreck, as with many other low budget period pieces. There’s a few hiccups here and there, and some chunky editing, but overall it’s a mildly entertaining piece of cinema. Cusack and Chan have some good action scenes and the costuming was definitely top notch considering the budget. I just wish there had been some more effort in the editing department as that is where the film started to really fall apart. Audio and video remain top notch throughout and the minimal extras are actually pretty engaging, despite there being only a few music videos and a small featurette. Worth a rental
Starring: Jackie Chan, Adrian Brody, John Cusack
Directed by: Daniel Lee
Written by: Daniel Lee
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English/Mandarin: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 103 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 22nd 2015
Buy Dragon Blade On Blu-ray at Amazon
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