Tuesday, August 14, 2007

D-war: the round-eye view

To hear the Korean media hype D-war, you would think that it was quite a cinematic experience. The thought that media hype equals cinematic quality is an idea that I got over a long time ago, regardless of the national origin of the movie. But I am willing to give any film a viewing, especially when it is not coming out of my own pocket. My wife, her brother and his wife and I decided to go and check out a late night movie last weekend and though I preferred to go and see the Transformer movie, the others had already seen it, so I was trumped and D-war was 'obvious' choice since most of the other theaters were showing that KwangJu Massacre movie which would be WAY beyond my language ability.

The Lowdown -- Warning: possible spoilers (?)

The 'plot' brings an old Korean legend into the present day with a story about a serpent (with its evil army) battling it out with a 'good' dragon. Having missed the last time around in Korea, 500 years ago, they are both seeking the sacrificial maiden with a birthmark on her chest while a reincarnated guru and his student are assigned the task of protecting her by taking her to 'the grand cave' for a sacrifice to the 'good' dragon.

The key to watching this movie is a healthy dose of 'suspension of disbelief.' Perhaps there are some things lost in the translation between the Korean and English, but it just seems like the plot is all over the place and we are asked to just 'accept' too much that doesn't make any sense, like why the dragon, who is capable of instantly flipping a car hundreds of meters into the air or slithering up the side of the Liberty Tower can't seem to chase down what looks like (and likely is) an old Hyundai Excel on a straight stretch of suburban road. The absence of any late model or luxury vehicles in L.A. is also a bit distracting for anyone who has ever been there (or even seen it in another movie). Why this good-looking TV reporter (Behr) wears a ridiculous-looking pendant around his neck everywhere he goes is also a mystery. Obviously, it is all made clear to us in the end...sort of.

I was expecting this cinematic blockbuster and what I got was kick-ass Hollywood-style computer graphics show on top of a bad B-movie with a few washed up television actors topped off with the 'I-am-Korean-and-everybody-told-me-I-couldn't-do-it-but-i-did' self-aggrandizing, nationalistic cherry at the end of the movie.

The acting by both the Korean and American actors was poor; probably owing to poor script writing more than the abilities of the actors. Leading man, Jason Behr the may be used to cheesy scripts from his television drama days but he couldn't get a handle on this Limburger. Robert Forster, who has been around since the beginning of time and has even been nominated for an Oscar lent a pivotal roll as the storyteller and reincarnated protector and was probably the most convincing roll in the movie. Sarah, the sacrificial maiden for whom all the chaos is wrought, is played with amazing lifelessness by relative (and probably henceforth) unknown Amanda Brooks. This movie is full of mostly television actors, like Elizabeth Pena , that you will probably recognize from the fringes of various dramas and sitcoms. I couldn't find much information on the Korean actors that helped to set up the thin plot at the beginning of the movie, but the performances were no better than the American actors. Again, I blame most of this on the poorly written script and one would suspect that a director who is as stubborn as he claims probably did not allow much freedom to the American actors to make appropriate changes. It is also worth noting that the director was a comedian in his former incarnation here in Korea. This might also help to explain some of the ridiculous dialogue.

Another distracting aspect of the film is the battle sequences. The evil army was well portrayed with graphics but the 'American' forces did not resemble closely enough what we would expect for the situation, again likely due to the limited budget and the need to keep the number of extras to a minimum. However, as Hollywood has shown us in movies like Troy and Alexander, much can be done with graphics to show larger forces than are economically feasible. The small number of forces brought out to fight against the mammoth serpent attacking downtown L.A. or the evil cannon-toting dinosaur army just didn't seem realistic considering the reality of U.S. forces available in the area (see map below). I suppose the director couldn't afford to scramble any air power from Edwards, Pendleton, or Palms or troops from any of the hundreds of other bases in the area.

So, who should go and see this movie? --Kids would probably love it as it resembles an episode of Power Rangers on a combination of meth and crack. Computer graphics-philes will love this movie since the most spectacular thing about it is the object of their philia. Others with time and money to kill might find it entertaining just to count the number of Hyundais in LA; be sure to buy lots of popcorn.

Finally, I can understand that the budget of this movie and its directors access to the necessary materials to make this movie a top notch production may have been limited and it makes sense for anyone trying to promote a movie to go full-bore and try and make your movie seem like a masterpiece that's worth the money. Hollywood has mastered the art of present a dud as a diamond. However, other than the graphics and perhaps it's directors stick-to-it-iveness, there is little else to applaud about this movie. The fact that more than 5 million people have seen it may be more due to hyper-nationalistim and a desire to support the gumption of its Korean director who I'm sure will not lose any sleep over what I or any other round-eye thinks about his movie


Jon Allen said...

I liked the review in the Joong Ang daily . It said what a 'realistic dragon' it was.. err what exactly were they comparing it with?

Fencerider said...

Well, I would agree that if a 'serpent' or 'dragon' resembles a snake or lizard then they definately got it right. It was at least as good as the snakes in Anaconda or any of the creatures in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Both dragon and serpent looked as realistic as one could expect such a thing to be. That was one of the aspects of the movie that was actually close to believable
If you want an interesting take on the whole dragon thing try to get ahold of the dragon documentary on the discovery channel. Apparently, the dragon is a fairly consistent legend across cultures but as I said in the review....suspension of disbelief is necessary for the entire viewing process.