This is a film that pitches Jackie Chan into a battle to the death with John Cusack.
I thought I’d put that out there to start with. Just so you don’t get the idea that this movie isn’t stupid. I mean, it’s not impossible to imagine a Jackie Chan/John Cusack vehicle – some sort of cross cultural comedy, like Rush Hour, only funny. Chan and Cusack both got their start in eighties movies, maybe you could do a riff on that, only with the silliness of Chan’s ’80s HK action movie logic impeding on the silliness of Cusack’s ’80s US teen romance genre. Might be fun.
But no. Dragon Blade is not a fun movie. It has that dour tone so many modern action movies have, and this seriousness does not go well with the out-and-out silliness of the plot. You see, back in ye olden days, Jackie Chan is head of an elite fighting unit dedicated to keeping the peace between the thirty-six nations on the Silk Road. Anyway, Chan is pursued by a barbarian woman but in love with a demure schoolteacher. His elite team is framed for smuggling, they’re banished to help repair this distant city. While they’re there, John Cusack turns up at the head of a Roman Legion.
Have you ever played one of those computer games where you have to find the hidden objects in a picture? I think any single frame of this movie could be used as the basis for a game of ‘find the historical inaccuracy’.
Anyway, Cusack fights Chan, but they make peace and the Romans are let into the city, which they rebuild in a trice using their Roman discipline and their fondness for building steampunk-inspired building machines out of the wood that they somehow source from the trackless desert.
So it’s all good times. East meets West and everybody’s happy… but oh no! There’s another, eviler Roman army coming, this time lead by Adrian Brody. Why Adrian Brody? Because life is cruel and justice is a lie. Anyway Adrian Brody causes chaos, leading to the death of the schoolmarm, John Cusack and an annoying kid I hadn’t mentioned. Then there’s a huge battle of every army in the world against Brody’s legion that somehow turns into a duel between him and Chan. Then the Queen of Pathia turns up and delivers some exposition that saves the day and the evil Brody is defeated. Moral: the Silk Road is good and Han Dynasty China was a bastion of anti-racist multicultural values.
So I have a bunch of issues with this movie — but I wouldn’t care about any of them if it was fun. Seriously, I don’t claim to have seen a huge number of Chinese historical martial arts movies, but I’ve seen a few and they’ve all been fun. No, they don’t always make sense. Sure, when you see flying guys whacking each other with magic swords, you have to wonder about the historical accuracy. But they’ve got a rollicking exuberance to them that makes you forget all that. Dragon Blade is dour, slow, overlong and it would probably be depressing if I actually gave a rat’s ass about any of the characters who die gruesomely.
Seems to be a bit of a trend in action movies, these days.
PS: Congrats to Jackie Chan for his Oscar, for a film that wasn’t this.