Blu-ray Review: Dragon Blade

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About halfway through Dragon Blade, the new historical-based, Chinese-produced action epic starring Jackie Chan and John Cusack (!), I realized I was watching a film likely to go down as an all-time turkey. Though it was a huge hit in China, Dragon Blade is one of the goofiest, most tonally-inconsistent follies to hit screens in years. Now available via Lionsgate on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD, you too can join the fun inherent in watching Cusack struggle with his role as a Roman general in the year 50 B.C. Maybe it was on Cusack's bucket list to have a sword fight with Jackie Chan. If so, check that one off—mission accomplished, though its entertainment value is questionable at best.

A little research into the production of Dragon Blade reveals that Mel Gibson was originally going to take on the role of Lucius. Gibson might have brought more of the required gravitas to the role, whereas Cusack seems utterly lost. It probably would've done little to save the movie, which plays like a series of meticulously choreographed combat sequences and nothing else. It's as if the editors decided that dialogue and/or character-based scenes were not really necessary. To be fair, Lionsgate has issued the 103-minute U.S. cut rather than the 127-minute international cut. Perhaps some of the plot was contained in those excised 24 minutes. What's left is action that strives for drama, but doesn't tell us why we should care about these characters.

Don't get me wrong. The production values in this Daniel Lee-directed epic are impeccable. An over-reliance on CG effects contributes to a blurred line between reality and fantasy (supposed, as the needlessly small title cards claim, this is based on a true story). But the fights are well staged and well photographed. Tony Cheung's digital cinematography makes the most of the elaborate costumes and scenic surroundings. But there's just not much else going on.

Huo An (Chan) heads up the Silk Road Protection Squad. The Silk Road is some 6,400 miles long, so the Squad has their work cut out for them. Lucius is travelling with an apparently ill/in-need child, Publius (Jozef Waite). Only about 30 or so years his senior, Publius tyrant brother Tiberius (Adrien Brody, more improbable casting) is after them. If you're wondering whether or not Tiberius has some sort of showdown with Huo An (spoiler alert!)—they do. 

Dragon Blade BD (302x380).jpg At least Lionsgate's Blu-ray presentation does the big-budget production values proud. The 1080p transfer is sharp and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack expertly balances dialogue (much of which is in Mandarin), copious effects, and Henry Lai's majectic score.

For those with a taste for Dragon Blade, the Blu-ray offers an array of extra material. There's a 20-minute 'making of,' a pair of music videos, and nearly an hour of cast and crew interviews. The Blu-ray includes a Digital HD download for those who love the film enough to want to watch it on all their mobile devices.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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