Let down by noble intentions

Superstar Jackie Chan (above) tries to hammer in a message of peace in Dragon Blade, but the result is far from entertaining.


125 minutes/Opens today/

The story: Huo An (Jackie Chan) is the leader of a small squad trying to keep the peace among 36 warring tribes along the Silk Road during the Han Dynasty. Framed for a crime, he and his men are exiled to the Wild Geese Gate as slave labourers. There, he crosses paths with Lucius (John Cusack), a Roman general on the run with his young master Publius from the latter's villainous elder brother Tiberius (Adrien Brody). K-pop star Choi Si Won has a small role as Huo's trusted lieutenant Yin Po.

Action superstar Chan's Huo An is a multilingual, peace-loving, headband- wearing pacifist who sings to rally others. It all makes sense when you think of him as a proto-hippie.

Alas, it is one of the few things in the movie that make sense.

Chan has repeatedly stressed that Dragon Blade is about bringing a message of peace to the world. Unluckily for him, a film is not judged by how noble its intentions are, but whether it actually holds together as a piece of entertainment.

In this respect, one could describe Dragon Blade as a family film - there is something for everyone to snigger at.

One big stumbling block for East-West

co-productions is convincingly resolving the problem of communication. What language should the characters speak and how would they understand one another?

In the period turkey Outcast (2014), which starred Nicolas Cage, Hayden Christensen, Liu Yifei and Andy On, English was simply designated as the common tongue from the Middle East to the Middle Kingdom.

Dragon Blade appeared to be going for some kind of historical accuracy with different tribes speaking in different languages.

Then Roman general Lucius shows up, Huo suddenly starts mouthing pidgin English and that illusion is soon shattered, replaced by the image of a sarong party girl prepping her colonial master target.

"I'm Huo An, work so hard," is one of the choice lines from Chan's character, by way of Yoda.

Worse, Huo suffers from a moral superiority complex. When Lucius confides in him about his crisis of faith and loyalty, Huo just about smirks when he replies that Chinese soldiers are not like Roman soldiers, they are "not trained to kill, but to save".

Hong Kong director Daniel Lee, who had previously helmed the messy period action flick 14 Blades (2010), is also prone to indulgent scenes, including a drawn-out song fest as Huo sings a song of pacifism and the Romans respond with a bellicose anthem.

The cultural miscommunication presents opportunity for some humour, only to be spurned by an earnest hand and a serious tone.

At least Brody has fun as the evil-to-the-core Tiberius and there are spectacular scenes of Wild Geese Gate, thanks to the US$65- million

(S$88-million) budget.

Ultimately, the success of any film starring Chan in the lead rests on his shoulders. And Chan in saintly mode is definitely less entertaining than Chan in playful mode.


This article was first published on Feb 19, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.