Based on true events that were revealed, Jackie Chan is joined by Hollywood actors John Cusack and Adrien Brody for this historical epic that is quite good.
Huo An is a soldier who has his own command and has earned the respect of many of the surrounding tribes after averting a battle between Indians and Huns. Due to the corruption of someone within their group, Huo An and his men are forced to do construction at the ruined fortress of Goose Gate. However, one night will change Huo An’s destiny forever when a group of Roman soldiers led by Lucius arrives. After a brief battle, Huo An sees a young boy very sick. Lucius asks for food and water for the boy and his band of soldiers. Showing to have a heart, Huo An agrees.
It is not long that the Chinese soldiers have helped the little boy, Publius, back to health. Lucius and Huo An soon become friends and both their bands of soldiers begin to work together to help repair Goose Gate and engage in friendly sparring matches to test each other’s combat skills. It is then when Lucius reveals all. Publius’ elder brother Tiberius has blinded the boy with poison when he was denied the position of heir and consul when their father Crassus dies. Tiberius ends up killing his own father and is now after Publius and may be on his way to the Silk Road as he has been made the new consul. Even worse, Tiberius has allied himself with Yin Po, who was responsible for Huo An’s exile, so that he could take over the Silk Road. In an effort to prevent this from happening, Huo An and Lucius form an alliance against the massive army of Tiberius. Will they succeed?
Daniel Lee is a film director more known today for historical epics yet he had his share of modern day action films (Black Mask and Dragon Squad to name a few). By far, this is perhaps his best directorial effort to date thanks to getting some historical facts from lead actor Jackie Chan, who researched the story that in ancient China, Roman soldiers had in fact come to the Silk Road. Using Chan’s research and storyline, Lee collaborated on a script with Tony Cheung and Nicky Shi. There is one unnecessary element in the entire film, but more on that in a bit.
The film’s central plot is the alliance and friendship between a band of Chinese soldiers who protect the Silk Road and the defected Roman soldiers who must protect the rightful heir to an empire from the vicious evil brother who has claimed the throne. Yes, sounds like a storyline that may have appeared in quite a few historical action films. However, what drives the film is the lead cast, who do their best in terms of both acting and action all in one nice little package.
Jackie Chan has continued to showcase more of his acting skills all while showcasing his action style as well. Since his 2012 film Chinese Zodiac, Chan has taken a more subtle approach to take on projects that enable him to show that he’s not just about action. While he does get quite the amount of action here, it is more akin to what to expect in a historical epic as he no longer uses his trademark style of action. He leaves the choreography to his stunt team leader He Jun, who does quite an impressive job with the action. As for Chan, he plays a character with more limited English than he speaks in real life when he converses with his newfound friend Lucius.
John Cusack is one Hollywood talent who has proven to be quite versatile. Some may not know this, but martial arts is actually a passion of his as he is a 7th-degree black belt in the Ukidokan system. The style was founded by kickboxing legend Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who fought Chan in two epic fight scenes in the 1980’s. Urquidez was on the set of the film as Cusack’s personal trainer. Aside from his usual acting style, Cusack was able to handle his action scenes quite well, adapting to the rhythm Chan expects in his films thanks to perhaps the experience Urquidez showed when he fought Chan in Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever. The respect Cusack’s Lucius and Chan’s Huo An shows that turns into friendship is the heart of this very film.
Another Hollywood talent, Adrien Brody, just oozes with evil as the corrupt Tiberius. With the notion that he should be the rightful consul and lord, Tiberius kills his own father when he is passed for his little brother to become next in line. Brody brings his A-game in the role of the deadly lord who brings a massive army to face off against the alliance of Lucius and Huo An. A breakout star in the film could in fact be six-year old Chinese-British actor Jozef Liu Waite, who plays Tiberius’ blind little brother and rightful heir Publius. This kid is quite a talent to look out for, especially when he sings a song in Latin in which Lucius and his soldiers pay tribute to their fallen.
The film has been hailed as the most expensive film in China, which is okay because it made more than double that at the Chinese box office. The reason perhaps for the budget comes in perhaps one of the most epic battle sequences seen on film in which Tiberius’ army confronts those of Lucius and Huo An, along with many others. Unlike Lord of the Rings, this epic battles consists of actors and stunt performers giving their all to bring this battle to life in the same way John Woo did a few years back with his historical epic Red Cliff.
While the overall film is quite good, there is a flaw and it pretty much could be ignored as one watches this. The film opens with two archaeologists, Christian and Karena, finding the spot where Huo An and Lucius gathered their forces, in order to decipher the dual Chinese and Latin inscriptions on the site. Christian is played by American-born Taiwanese Vanness Wu and Karena is played by Canadian-born Hong Kong actress Karena Lam. This didn’t have to be necessarily used as the central storyline itself would have just been enough or even with a narration explaining the fact. However, as mentioned, one can just ignore this and focus on the heart of the film.
Dragon Blade is a truly exciting historical epic that is driven by the heart of the film, the friendship between Jackie Chan’s Chinese general and John Cusack’s defected Roman general as well as Adrien Brody’s very well done evil performance. However, ignore the modern day scenes and just focus on the central plot.
WFG RATING: B
A Jackie and JJ Productions/Visualizer Film Co./Sparkle Roll Media/Huayi Brothers Media/Shanghai Film Group production in association with Home Media and Entertainment Fund, Tencent Video, China Film and Capital, and Alibaba Group. Director: Daniel Lee. Producers: Jackie Chan and Susanna Tsang. Writers: Daniel Lee, Tony Cheung, and Nicky Shi; story by Jackie Chan. Cinematography: Tony Cheung. Editing: Yau Chi-Wai.
Cast: Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Choi Si-Won, Lin Peng, Mika Wang, Sammy Hung, Wang Ti-Lai, Steve Yoo, William Feng, Jozef Liu Waite, Scotty Robert Cox, David Alonzo Peck, Gregory Joseph Allen, Sharni Vinson, Lorie Pester, Karena Lam, Vanness Wu.