DRAGON BLADE (2015)
aka Tian Jiang Xiong Shi
Written and Directed by Daniel Lee
Set during the Han dynasty, a government-hired protection squad, led by Captain Huo An, protects the Silk Road and all those who pass through it, seeking to stop battles and keep the peace between waring tribes who traverse it. After being framed for smuggling gold, the entire Silk Road Protection Squad are sentenced to work on rebuilding Wild Geese Gate fortress. When the fortress comes under attack by exiled Roman soldiers, Huo An must do all he can to protect it. Fortunately, Huo An manages to convince the Roman Legion’s general Lucius to not seize the fortress and in return grants them the shelter, food and medicine they desire.
With the architectural and engineering skills of their new allies, the residents of Wild Geese Gate are able to meet a deadline imposed on them to finish the rebuilding of the fortress. However, the celebration of their creation through teamwork is short lived when ruthless Roman leader Tiberius sets his sights on claiming Silk Road for himself. Joining forces with Lucius’ men, Huo An must protect Silk Road from its greatest threat.
Historical flick Dragon Blade, based on the supposedly true story of the Battle of Zhizhi in which the Romans clashed with the Hans, blends realistic battle sequences with pantomime narrative to create an entertaining, if a little campy, action film.
Martial arts star Jackie Chan steals the show as Silk Road Protection Squad member, Captain Huo An. His outstanding combat scenes, with the aid of a Chinese sword and armoured gauntlet, prove that he’s still got the ability to tackle intense fight scenes, which people half his age would struggle with, even at the age of 60 years old! His character of a good-natured, kind-hearted protector, who’s sole purpose in life is to make peace and create friends out of foes, suits Chan down to the ground. His character even displays some of Chan’s trademark humour, both in fighting and in the dialogue, with most of the wit saved for the first half of the movie. When push comes to shove though, Chan’s Huo An is the most committed man there is to get the job done to defend his ideology and his people.
Dragon Blade also stars Hollywood actor John Cusack as exiled Roman Captain Lucius, though he’s rather wooden in the role as he fails to convince as a heroic warrior fighting for the good of his people. Adrien Brody isn’t much better as vicious Roman leader Tiberius who’s the big bad villain of the piece. As a matter of fact, none of the Roman legion, including young Master Publius, can be taken seriously as an army or a group of people under threat. Jackie Chan’s Captain Huo An, the Protection Squad and the rest of the tribes of Wild Geese Gate are much more convincing as they’re utterly committed to their cause, even during their downtime when their humorous side comes out.
Whilst the film rarely comes up for air, the story and script for Dragon Blade leaves a lot to be desired. The film also struggles with choppy editing that seems to cut at the wrong moment and gives an impression that important scenes have been left on the cutting room floor. Checking IMDB, this certainly seems to have been the case, with Dragon Blade‘s original running time being 127 minutes and the current version shown in the UK officially 99 minutes long, according to the BBFC. Reading Wikipedia for this particular movie, certain aspects have definitely been cut such as the present day ending and some facts concerning the context of a scene which often appear vague in the cut I’ve watched. The fight scenes, however, are where Dragon Blade excels. Both one-on-one and full on battle sequences are exhilerating to watch and in some way remind me of the incredible combat scenes in fellow historical drama Braveheart. Granted, this movie has more martial arts pizazz but the fights always seem to stay within the borders of realism, even to the point of displaying the various styles of fighting of different nations and tribes.
Dragon Blade is quite an enjoyable film to watch but unfortunately the weak narrative and struggling performances from a few individuals leave the movie little more than a bit of eye candy for action enthusiasts.