D-War: Dragon Wars (2007) dir. Shim Hyung-rae
Starring: Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Chris Mulkey, Elizabeth Pena
“D-War: Dragon Wars” a new Korean monster movie is one of those films where the poster is infinitely better than the film. The ads depict two bad ass Godzilla-like serpents battling each other atop A skyscraper. I had hopes it could have been another quality Korean genre film like “The Host”, but I was shocked to see that it was all American – even set in L.A. with semi-recognizable Hollywood actors. In their attempt to make an internationally successful film the filmmakers disregarded anything about their own culture that would have made the film distinct and created a throw away carbon copy picture.
Curiously, according to the DVD Special Features, “Dragon Wars” was the most expensive film ($30m) ever made by Koreans. In fact, it’s worn like a badge of honour. But no one seems to care if the film is any good.
The story is apparently based on Korean myth. As a boy Ethan Kendrick meets an antique dealer (Robert Forster) who identifies him as the reincarnated spirit of Halam, a warrior from ancient Korea. In flashbacks we see Halam and his lover Narim confront an evil serpent monster named Imoogi. The pair take the power of the dragon to their suicidal deaths with the knowledge they will be reunited 500 years later. When Ethan grows up he is compelled to find the reincarnated lover who will have the power to summon the good serpent to fight the bad serpent. The backstory is impossible to understand – in fact I had to refer back to Wikipedia to remember it all. Anyways it’s all hokey-pokey pseudo-mythology stuff.
The Imoogi serpent appears in Los Angeles to find and kill Ethan’s reincarnated lover Sarah (Amanda Brooks). As a TV news reporter he discovers a series of mysterious events and disasters could be the reemergence of this legendary monster. Ethan accepts the responsibility of his former life and must save Sarah from the evil Imoogi. Just in the nick of time the good Imoogi finally returns for a climatic battle of the monsters.
All of the above is an excuse to have some good ol’ Godzilla-style destruction. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But unlike those campy Japanese films the Korean filmmakers felt the need to mask the film’s campyness and turn it into a Roland Emmerich blockbuster. Though the budget was the highest in Korean history they still couldn’t reach the bar that Emmerich or Michael Bay have set for the genre. There’s 2 or 3 big set pieces that sustain your attention, but everything else is just moving through the ringer with truly awful results. The best scene is an ambitious downtown L.A. monster battle (a la “Transformers”). There’s some awesome destruction and explosions involving the Imoogi and an army of flying pterodactyls. If you have to rent this film you may want to fast forward to this scene.
Since the poster features a dragon vs. dragon battle atop an L.A. skyscraper I was waiting for that scene. But it never comes. It’s only in the very last scene does the good serpent finally emerge. The battle is a let down because it's way too late in the film and, for some reason, the filmmakers forgot to put arms and legs on the monsters. Therefore their movements, actions and ‘fightability’ were extremely limited. I'll take Godzilla va. Mothra any day.
The film had potential to be another quality Korean monster movie like “The Host”, which could compete with the Hollywood blockbuster monster movies but still retain its distinct “Korean-ness”. Instead it fails because of its naïve attempt to be Hollywood.
“D-War: Dragon Wars” is available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on DVD. Buy it here: Dragon Wars - D-War