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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dragon Blade (Blu-ray)
Dragon Blade (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // December 22, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 29, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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When the trailer for Dragon Blade first hit the internet, the reaction was mostly unintentional amusement. Action superstar Jackie Chan joined in a period epic by...John Cusack and Adrien Brody? Of course, Brody is an Academy Award-winner, and Cusack has had his fair share of impressive performances over the years, so it isn't like the unusual combination couldn't have worked, but in execution -- especially at the other end of a depressingly routine trip through the American recut woodchipper -- Dragon Blade's unconventional casting is probably the least ridiculous aspect of this fiasco of a movie.

Set in 50 BC on China's famous Silk Road, Chan plays Huo An, leader of the Silk Road Protection Squad, who are tasked with keeping the peace when a conflict breaks out between two parties on the route. The film opens with an action sequence that feels like vintage Jackie Chan, complete with Chan's usual comedy (he even pulls out one of his old bits: accidentally touching a woman's chest). The scene is awkwardly followed by one of the same woman, Cold Moon (Lin Peng) offering herself to Huo An sexually, a strange comedy bit that already feels out of place in the movie even ten minutes in. When the SRPS returns home, they are confronted by authorities and accused of using the Silk Road to smuggle gold, and are sent to help construction at Goose Gate, a job generally reserved for prisoners. At Goose Gate, they encounter Lucius (Cusack) and his Roman army, who needs food and medicine for his group's cargo, a young prince named Publius (Jozef Waite). In exchange for the food and medicine, Lucius helps Huo An rebuild Goose Gate, but before long, Lucius's enemy and Publius' brother Tiberius (Brody) appears, setting off an epic battle between the collected groups at Goose Gate and the Roman army.

Watching Dragon Blade, it's blatantly obvious that 24 minutes of the film have been left on the cutting room floor. The movie jerks itself back and forth through unexpected flashbacks and awkward transitions so often it's easy to become lost. This schizophrenic sensation only aggravates what is already a tonally bizarre film. Melodrama seems to be more in vogue in China than it is in America, but Dragon Blade really lays it on thick at times, in scenes that are no longer built to organically or play like natural transitions in the narrative. It's weird to go from traditional Jackie Chan action-comedy antics to a scene where a character has their eyes gouged out, or to watch Cusack dramatically attempting to protect a prince who is bawling in exactly the way you would expect a six-year-old child to do. I imagine the kid's age is tied to some historical truth, but when he tells Lucius to leave him, it's more hilarious than tragic.

The final element of confusion stems from the film's three leads, who all appear to be making different movies. Chan plays his role with a mixture of his usual persona and his dramatic persona, which might have worked if Cusack didn't seem starkly contemporary and American in comparison. The two have zero screen chemistry, a fatal flaw in a movie that ultimately comes to be build around the two men's friendship and respect for one another. Meanwhile, Brody is shown numerous times glowering on a golden throne before he is finally introduced with a pun, before proceeding to chew the scenery in every way imaginable. At one point, delivering a dramatically weighty line, he whispers so quietly that it feels like something out of a comedy sketch (When Cusack responds by yelling at him, it's easy to suspect it's Cusack being frustrated with Brody rather than a performance). Even in a movie that landed all of its other beats properly, Brody's performance is full-on ham, one that goes up against Eddie Redmayne's Jupiter Ascending baddie for silliest of 2015.

As with many Chan films, one hopes the action will be the movie's saving grace, but even that isn't particularly impressive. It's nice to see Chan switch gears, with most of his fight scenes here based around swords and armor, but Dragon Blade constantly falls back on ugly slow motion that deadens the thrills, leaving the viewer with nothing to ruminate on but the surreal nature of seeing Cusack and Brody sparring with Chan. There is some nice action involving bow and arrow, and the battle scenes are certainly large in scope, but none of it manages to catch hold given the film is obviously trying so hard for an emotional weight that it fails to achieve. Dragon Blade is a true and genuine mess, made even messier through the long-obsolete notion that American audiences wouldn't rather see a foreign movie as it was intended to be seen.

The Blu-ray
Dragon Blade hits home video with artwork highlighting its three main stars, with Lin Peng slipped in for good measure. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-ray case, with a leaflet offering a code for an UltraViolet Digital HD Copy. The entire package slides into a glossy slipcover, which features embossing for the characters, title, and border, and a holofoil finish with a sunburst pattern on it that emerges from the center of the artwork. There is one slightly bizarre design choice on the rear, however: the placement of the box copy beneath the UltraViolet banner on the rear, which makes it blend in with the block of standard copyright text.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, Dragon Blade's original photography leaves something to be desired even though the disc presents it in a way that appears to be faithful. Fine detail is consistently strong, with detail such as facial stubble and the prop design nicely showcased. Colors, on the other hand, feel slightly overcooked, with bronze skin and slightly blown out highlights cropping up during the daytime. The real handicap, however, is budget: CG and greenscreen backdrops stand out like a sore thumb, and even worse is the movie's frequent use of choppy, digital-looking slow motion in action sequences, which is so ugly it almost has the opposite effect than the hypnotic effect that slo-mo is generally expected to achieve.

A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track generally fares much better. As any fan of martial arts movies knows, the sound effects are one of the most crucial elements to becoming immersed in the action, and Dragon Blade gets plenty of mileage out of the clang of swords against armor and the whooshing of blades just missing their intended targets. Massive crowd scenes make nice use of the surround channels, and the rumbling of hundreds of horses' hooves beating the ground provides a bassy weight. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and English and Spanish subtitles are provided for the entire film, and when the film is played without subtitles, an automatic subtitle track just for the portions of the film that are in other languages is selected, which can also be turned off.

The Extras
"Behind the Scenes of Dragon Blade" (21:28) features the usual reliance on film clips to pad out its running time, it does provide a reasonably interesting look at the extensive special effects work that went into the film, as well as a glimpse of some surprisingly great production art, and some insight into the kind of research done to make the film historically accurate. As with so many DVDs these days, you can also watch the uncut interviews (56:13) used to create the featurette, but I don't recommend it -- these tend to be drier than the kind of desert most of Dragon Blade takes place in, not to mention you'll have to hear every single cast member describe the story and their character. The disc's extras conclude with two music videos by Jackie Chan, "Song of Peace" (3:14), and "Please Tell the Wind to Bring My Father Home" (4:10). Both include burned-in English subtitles.

Trailers for Heist, Last Knights, Maggie, The Forbidden Kingdom, Houdini, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu and are accessible under the Special Features menu under "Also From Lionsgate." An original theatrical trailer for Dragon Blade is also included.

Conclusion
Whatever redeeming qualities Dragon Blade might've had in its uncut form -- and those appear to be somewhat limited to begin with -- it loses in the 23 minutes hacked out of the American version. What's left is a bizarre, frequently funny disaster that doesn't even provide the action thrills one expects from Chan. Skip it.


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