Saturday, December 01, 2007

Imoogi and Baraki and Bigass Snakes, Oh My

The hilariously redundant D-WAR: DRAGON WARS is reportedly the most expensive South Korean film ever made, something like $70 million. And it's all up on the screen, particularly a mid-section setpiece in which a mean giant snake blasts its way through downtown Los Angeles, upending cars and smashing buildings and knocking Apache helicopters out of the sky. The CGI effects, created by the writer/director Hyung-rae Shim in his own special effects studio, are mostly impressive, and the ambitious storyline reaches out to 16th-century Asia for a romantically rendered flashback inspired by popular wuxia like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.

I say the budget is all up on the screen, because little of it appears to have been used to buy charismatic young stars or an intelligent screenplay. D-WAR is a deliriously silly movie with little regard for its plot. Coincidences, such as the one that brings its hero, a cable news reporter named Ethan (Jason Behr, who has unusual tastes in hair and wardrobe for a major news star), and its heroine, empty-eyed 20-year-old Sarah (Amanda Brooks), together to jump-start the plot, abound. I don't know how fluent Shim is in English, but an unfamiliarity with the language might explain Ethan's database search for women of a certain age named "Sarah" without taking into consideration the thousands of "Saras" roaming around L.A. Though I don't know how to explain Ethan taking a bullet in the shoulder, and then getting off the ground without even a grimace or a hole in his shirt with an injury that is never acknowledged for the rest of the running time.

For a movie that ultimately boils down to two giant serpents wrestling each other, the backstory is needlessly complicated. Luckily, Shim hired the fine actor Robert Forster to explain it to a young Ethan in a flashback that leads to a flashback-inside-a-flashback. Basically, 500 years ago, a young Korean girl was born with the Yuh Yi Joo inside of her--an energy to be transferred from her on her 20th birthday to a "good" serpent--the Imoogi--and transform it into a dragon. However, an evil serpent--Baraki--wants the Yuh Yi Joo, so he can turn into an evil dragon. He can also turn himself to a Korean-speaking man who resembles a white-haired Richard Moll, and has an army of Lucasian warriors and creatures to assist his quest for the Yuh Yi Joo.

He fails to get it 500 years ago, and is now back to get it in Los Angeles, where Ethan, the reincarnation of the young warrior pressed into service protecting the girl five centuries ago, discovers the Yuh Yi Joo is inside Sarah, who has no family and apparently no job or schooling, but lives with a roommate in a comfortable house in the suburbs. Forster, as Jack, the antique-store owner who knows everything about the Imoogi legend, dies--maybe, I think, it's hard to say for sure--but pops up often in ghost form, either to provide Ethan with a periodic pep talk or just to kick the asses of some muggers giving Sarah a hard time outside a bar.

D-WAR was reportedly shorn of at least 17 minutes before its U.S. theatrical run this summer, which may explain some of the plot holes, like why the FBI knows more about an obscure Korean legend than the leads do or what scientist Elizabeth Pena's question about diamonds being the Earth's hardest substance has to do with anything. Some of D-WAR's dialogue comes across like NON SEQUITUR THEATER. It's hard to hate any movie, though, that unironically features that time-tested tradition of giant-monster movies--the scene in which a bunch of cops fire their pistols in vain at a huge snake that has already knocked down a few dozen buildings. Plus, in another (unintentional?) nod to monster movies of the past, the Baraki's evil lair is none other than camera-friendly Bronson Canyon. Throw in not one but two Wilhelm Screams, and D-WAR comes across as such stupid fun that only a cur would point out that there's only one dragon in the movie, so there could hardly be any dragon wars.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

Sounds like you need to show me that over the holidays.