Dragon Wars

“Dragon Wars” is about as ridiculous and gaga as a monster movie can get, but it’s also – and that’s a big surprise – fairly entertaining. Hyung-rae Shim’s action spectacle explodes with undeniable weaknesses that prevent the film from shaking off mediocrity, but as long as giant serpents and other flying reptiles are demolishing buildings and chasing army helicopters, it’s hard not to keep your eyes on the big screen.

The plot, which is trivial in case you don’t give a hoot about anything besides the action, is based on an old Korean legend about the Imoogi, a giant snake that was sent by the heavens to protect mankind. Every 500 years, the Imoogi gets the chance to transform into an almighty dragon, which it can only do with the sacrifice of a specific female. Of course there’s also an evil Imoogi, called Buraki, which wants to claim the powers of the chosen woman to assist the forces of darkness in destroying the planet.

Fast forward to present-day Los Angeles, where local reporter Ethan Kendrick (Jason Behr) remembers a story about the legend and discovers that he’s been chosen to find Sarah Daniels (Amanda Brooks), the woman in question, before the Buraki does. In a race against time that will determine the future of life on earth, Ethan and Sarah must find a way to get to the good Imoogi while the Buraki and its army of ruthless carnivores wreak havoc on the city.

If you got lost somewhere along the plot description, don’t bother. “Dragon Wars” is off to a slow start with a detailed illustration of the legend and the introduction of the main characters, but once the Buraki and its pals invade downtown L.A., all hell breaks loose and the over-the-top action prevails until the end of the movie. And yes, although the basic story line falls victim to monotony, it’s hard not to be entertained by a super snake working its way up the Library Tower or a horde of other creatures messing with police cars, tanks and helicopters.

With all the brainless chaos dominating most of the film’s 90-minute running time, there’s not much room left for clever and coherent storytelling. It’s pretty obvious what course the plot will adopt once the Buraki shows up, and surprises or plot twists become scarce. One aspect that may disturb to a certain extent is the mediocrity of the visual effects, which look fine for the most part, but seem rather fake at other times. Especially the big final showdown between the good Imoogi and the Buraki is an annoying fiesta of digital snakes battling it out on an obscure 3-d world that looks like a cheap rip-off of the gorgeous “Lord of the Rings” sets.

Another negative aspect that may be enervating involves the horrific acting performances. While Jason Behr never comes across as a devoted reporter and savior, Amanda Brooks offers absolutely nothing worth remembering her for. The usually brilliant Robert Forster is the worst of all, starring as Behr’s spiritual protégé.

“Dragon Wars” does not always take itself too seriously, and while some jokes fall rather flat, some are decent enough to bring about a giggle or two. The movie works for you only if you are willing to completely suspend belief and be entertained by giant serpents destroying things. Oh and although the title may suggest otherwise, if you pay for admission to see dragons only, beware, you won’t see an actual until the last three minutes of the film. Roooaaaarrrr!

Review by Franck Tabouring