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Dustin Putman

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Dragon Wars  (2007)
Zero Stars
Directed by Hyung-rae Shim
Cast: Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Aimee Garcia, Craig Robinson, Chris Mulkey, John Ales, Elizabeth Pena, Billy Gardell, Geoffrey Pierson, Holmes Osborne.
2007 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, September 15, 2007.
Had infamously wretched filmmaker Ed Wood been given $75-million and access to computer effects back in the days of "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Glen or Glenda," he might have made something approximating the quality (or lack thereof) of "Dragon Wars." Written and directed by Hyung-rae Shim and funded in South Korea, the movie was nonetheless primarily filmed in Los Angeles featuring English-speaking actors. Sounds complicated and it probably was, especially when taking into account that Shim has next to no understanding of the language. Indeed, "Dragon Wars" is an abysmal collision course of cultural confusion, nonsensical plotting, blank-faced characters, amateurish dialogue so stilted it has to be heard to be believed, porn-level bad acting, and CGI effects (the near-entirety of which were glimpsed in the theatrical trailer) that range from serviceable to chintzy when compared with what the major special effects houses are now capable of.

The story is incomprehensible save for the few bits of mildly discernible information squeaked out during an early monologue from Robert Forster (2006's "Firewall"). This sequence, in which Forster's loony antiques dealer Jack endlessly prattles on to young Ethan (Cody Arens) about nonsense involving serpents, dragons, tattoos and doomed star-crossed lovers in 16th-century Korea, only for the boy to respond in deadpan, "What are you talking about?" is sheer unintentional hilarity that cannot be faked. Out of this flashback, which includes an extended flashback of its own, comes the present-day dealings of now-grown news reporter Ethan (Jason Behr). When a scaly fossil with a familiar design on it is discovered in the city, Ethan has good reason to believe that a prophecy predicted by Jack fifteen years ago is about to come true and a siege of giant reptiles are about to take over L.A. His one chance at stopping their reign of terror lies with Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who holds the power within her (marked by a tattoo on her chest, natch) to defeat the creatures on her twentieth birthday. Of course, to do this she will have to sacrifice her own life, which is certain to put a damper on her and Ethan's instantaneous and newfound love for each other.

If director Hyung-rae Shim weren't already confirmed to be a real person, his name would make a good pseudonym for Uwe Boll. "Dragon Wars" is one-part laugh riot, one-part study in boredom, and wholly dreadful. The height of ineptitude with which the film continually hits is staggering, running the gamut from cultural inaccuracies (19-year-old Los Angeles native Sarah nonchalantly goes to a bar and buys a drink with nary a mention of being underage), to fathomless storytelling craters (how is it that the Asian creatures and ancient warriors magically appear in modern-day America, and how do Ethan and Sarah get transported in the third act back to Korea, circa 1500?), to performances that wouldn't pass muster in a high school play, to horrid extras who portray fright by waving their arms in the air or mimicking Macaulay Culkin's hands-to-the-face expression from "Home Alone."

The incompetence doesn't stop there. Characters, like Sarah's friend, Brandy (Aimee Garcia), and Brandy's boyfriend, are inconsequential, barely introduced, and then discarded. Day players, like a motorist who saves in-distress Ethan and Sarah by picking them up, act seconds later as if they intimately know the hero's and heroine's life stories. Ethan and Sarah preposterously declare their undying love for one another on the same day they meet, despite never previously sharing a substantial conversation with each other. When Bruce (Craig Robinson), Ethan's trusted coworker, has a life-threatening run-in with one of the huge, world-destroying serpents, he still dutifully heads to work the next day. Moreover, city officials and citizens alike act as if it's business as usual, paying no mind to the Armageddon at hand. The action is mind-numbing rather than diverting, amounting to a lot of shots of explosions, serpents wrapping around and crushing buildings, and the protagonists managing to somehow outrun the slithery monsters even when on foot.

"Dragon Wars" is destined to go down in history as one of cinema's most blunderingly, catastrophically bad big-budget films of the last few decades. Only worth seeing with a large group of friends and a bottle of hard liquor by your side, the movie bypasses the barest hints of behind-the-scenes sanity and enters a realm where the viewer legitimately wonders if what he or she is watching was made by homosapiens. Narrative cohesion is nonexistent. Pacing amounts to the act of spinning your wheels in mud. Without a director able to dictate to his actors what he wants from them—and, it would seem, with no one to translate for him—leads Jason Behr (2007's "Skinwalkers") and Amanda Brooks (2005's "Flightplan"), like their co-stars, perform as if their bodies have been replaced by emotionless robots and their lines are being fed to them from off camera. Yes, it's that dire. "Dragon Wars" is such a disaster from the bottom up that, on second thought, Uwe Boll might have been able to improve upon the unholy mess that Hyung-rae Shim hath wrought.
© 2007 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman