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Laramie Movie Scope:
Dragon Wars (D-War)

Lost in translation

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 15, 2007 -- “D-War” (AKA Dragon Wars) is one of those international productions that got lost in translation. It is a story based on a Korean legend, written and directed by a Korean, but set in America with a cast of mostly D-List American actors (with a few notable exceptions) who spend much of the movie trying to explain the legend of the Imoogi to American audiences. That's right, Imoogi. It sounds like a term of affection that Quark and Rom had for their mother in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

One of the few good actors in the film, Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”) gets stuck trying to explain the Imoogi legend fairly early in the film. The scene drags on forever because the legend is complicated. It has to do with serpent-like creatures who can become dragons by ingesting pretty young maidens imbued with something called “Yuh Yi Joo.” This is basically a rif on the old tradition of virginal sacrifices to appease the gods. There is a good serpent (dragon wannabe) and a bad one. They fight for the right to devour the maiden possessing the Yuh Yi Joo and thus become the king dragon. There is more, this only happens once every 500 years. In addition to the two giant beasts, there is an evil army, complete with more dinosaur-like creatures, to help the bad dragon.

Helping the forces of good is just one guy born (reincarnated) to help the maiden get eaten by the right dragon. Seems unfair, especially with the guardian is a hopelessly dense reporter named Ethan (played by Jason Behr). The Yuh Yi Joo girl, Sarah, (also reincarnated) is played by Amanda Brooks. Ethan's response to danger is to run away. Practical, but not heroic. He is supposed to have all sorts of powers and skills to protect Sarah, but he's got nothing. He's a blockhead with a trickle of testosterone. Sarah, at least, is heroic, and finally figures out what to do, no thanks to anyone else, including Ethan. He seems to be the only major player in this story who has no clue what to do or how to do it, despite numerous hints from his mentor, Jack (Forster). Ethan and Sarah are supposed to be star-crossed lovers, but that part of the plot fails due to zero romantic chemistry, poor acting ability and an inadequate screenplay.

Following this plot is difficult, mainly because the dialog in the film is the worst I've heard in a long time. It sounds like it was written by those guys who translate operating instruction manuals from Chinese to English. It is eye-rollingly awful. The acting is terrible too, except for Forster and Elizabeth Peña (“Down in the Valley”), who, as a government CSI, tries to explain the incredible leaps of logic by which the American government somehow determines that the giant serpents will go away and leave everyone alone if they kill Sarah. This is about as convincing as how Ethan, with a brain the size of a pea and zero research skills, is able to find the one true Sarah in Los Angeles among the 1,700 women with that name who fit her general description.

O.K., so we have a movie with a bad plot, bad dialog and bad acting. What is left? Well, there is the action, headlined by a battle between modern weapons and a big snake. The action scenes are pretty good with decent special effects. There are some good battles between flying, fire-breathing dragons and military attack helicopters and between soldiers, tanks and dinosaurs carrying rocket launchers. There is an imaginative battle between the giant Imoogi creatures. There is also another battle that took place 500 years ago between a human army and the evil Imoogi army. The battle scenes are good, but not good enough to rescue this movie from its inherent weaknesses. I suspect this movie would have been a lot better filmed in Korea with Korean actors in the Korean language, like another recent well-reviewed Korean film, “Gwoemul” (The Host). Another way to fix it would be to cut out all the scenes except for the action scenes and squeeze a brief explanation of the legend on the fly into the action scenes and around the edges of the film. Way too much time is wasted trying to explain the legend to no avail. It might make sense to Koreans familiar with it, but not to Americans who have never heard of it. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)