Dragon Wars

They're attracted to bad hair!
★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2007
Director: 
Hyung-rae Shim
Starring: 
Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Aimee Garcia
The Setup: 
Bunch of dragons menace L.A.
Discussion: 

I’ll pretty much go see anything in which monsters fight in a major metropolis, so I was curious about this one right away. Then there was an article in the NYTimes about how this is this South Korean’s attempt to make a movie that was marketable to the States, which is why it takes place in L.A. and is filmed in English. And when the Times review came out and said it was dumb but really fun, I knew I had to rush out before it left theaters.

First I sat through a trailer for the new Uwe Boll film [so appropriate—they know their audience!] which it doesn’t look like I’ll bother with, despite the fact that it stars Jason Statham. If Mr. Statham were a little less stingy about taking off his shirt, we might have a different story. The movie also stars Ray Liotta—it looks like kind of an ‘Island of Broken Toys’ of movies. Oh dear. Then D-War opens with a big crater in the middle of Los Angeles. Poor, poor Jason Behr, of The Grudge, is on hand as a newscaster. He catches a glimpse of a scale, and soon exclaims “This has something to do with me!” You see, back in the day, Jason was at this antiquities shop, and saw this glowing scale in a box that zapped him. Then poor Robert Forster shows up to tell him that he’s the one, and spills this whole tale about a girl who is the dragon’s guardian or whatever and holds the key to something or other and when the time comes, Jason, whose name is Ethan, will have to protect her or whatnot. They’re reincarnated or some such. The dragons are the Imoogi, and there’s good ones and bad ones and this whole thing having to do with the events of 1570, when, as we know from previous movies, all Asians can fly. It makes no sense, so don’t worry about it.

So this girl Sarah, played by sad Amanda Brooks, sees Ethan on TV—he doesn’t need to shave to appear on camera—and her friend says how hot he is. Sarah freaks out and goes home, where she takes this book of ancient Korean writings she keeps in a kitchen drawer and tapes them up around the house. She tells her friend that she feels like this is the only thing that can protect her. Her friend just thinks she needs a few good beers and to meet a man. She goes out to a bar briefly, then leaves alone, making it only about five feet before she’s accosted by three thugs who seem about to rape her. Is this what life on the streets of L.A. is really like? By now one has noticed that this entire movie is assembled from little bits that have worked in other movies, and possibly by a Korean who based the entire thing on his viewings of American movies.

So Ethan—whose hair is best left unmentioned—is all keen to find this chick for some reason and his standard-issue wacky black sidekick helps him, for some reason. Somewhere in here Sarah’s friend gets eaten by a dragon—oh, have I mentioned that there’s a giant dragon slithering around L.A. looking for Sarah? Yeah, but it seems that no one in the teeming metropolis has really noticed it and the way it destroys houses. You know, just the kind of thing you wouldn’t see if you weren’t REALLY looking. Ethan finally meets Sarah in this hospital. She’s under quarantine, but this helpful doctor takes him right to her. Now they’re on the run together, trying to puzzle out why there’s a dragon after her.

Please don’t miss this woman who shows up out of nowhere, gives them a ride, then drives off. Who is she? She is never explained. Then Ethan says they should talk to “My friend the Professor, he’s an expert on dreams and the subconscious,” causing Sarah to dreamily ask, “The subconscious?” Then they start making out on the beach and professing their undying love, regardless of the fact that they met merely an hour earlier. Despite having a dragon on their tail, they have time to stop for a bite, where they arrange to take off in a helicopter from the top of the round Capitol Records building. But wouldn’t you know, the pesky dragon has followed them even there, and he takes offense at the presence of the helicopter, biting and sending it crashing down to earth. Around this time you see that ominous special-effect clouds are rolling in, turning the sky an angry hue, and casting a dire shadow over the city. Then—the sky clears, and it’s sunny again! It sure is hard to throw out good special effects once you’ve paid for them.

Anyway, this is where the shit hits the fan, and where you get what you paid to see. There is a giant dragon battle on the streets of L.A., dragons vs. helicopters, dragons vs. cars, dragons vs. tanks, and dragons vs. dragons. It’s like the end of Transformers, but with dragons, and cheap but could-be-worse special effects. It seems to last about as long as the battle in Transformers, too.

SPOILERS > > > Then they’re taken in by the FBI—who is going to resolve the whole mess by killing Sarah! They say “The department has a very sophisticated paranormal unit.” Blah, blah, they escape, there’s a car chase, and Sarah is taken. When our characters next wake up, they’re in this mysterious no-man’s land next to a giant temple on the scale of Chichen-Itza. How come nobody spotted this on a satellite? And—where the fuck are they supposed to be? You gotta love it. Anyway, Sarah is all tied up and they’re going to sacrifice her the bad dragon—or Imoogi, sorry—and then something or other happens—luckily not being able to follow what little plot there is will not inhibit your enjoyment—then the good dragon shows up—about fucking time! I thought they were supposed to protect Sarah?

Then I think the good dragon dies, but is reborn and now has legs! Previously they had been just big snakes. So now it looks like some traditional dragon from the placemats of that Chinese restaurant down at the strip mall come to life and—it looks fucking awesome! I was REALLY into it. It also has this floating orb thing, never even REMOTELY explained, but which obviously brings to mind the seminal and clearly highly-influential Roger Dean album cover from Asia’s first album! Which—now it can be told—was my absolute favorite album of all time from 1982-1985. So is the album cover an illustration of ancient Korean legends—or did the album cover inspire THIS MOVIE???

Anyway, after all that shit, all that moping and struggle under the weight of horrific hair, Sarah is killed [at which point we discover that even dragons cry] and she appears as a spirit, telling Ethan to piss off and come back in 500 years. Cock tease!
< < < SPOILERS END

Now I am all down with cultural difference, so don’t misunderstand me when I say that the Koreans' understanding of what makes a sensible movie that might succeed in America is so delightfully off it’s hilarious. Everything here is just so, so wrong, yet in such a way that provides boundless mirth during the scenes between dragon attacks. You can laugh at how overwhelmingly stupid the entire thing is, ooh at the dragon attacks, then start the cycle all over again. For anyone who grew up looking forward to Monster Week on TV, it can be a heady combination.

Should you watch it: 

If you like monster movies, this is for you!