Monday, September 17, 2007

Supporting the D-War

Do you know what the number four movie in America is? That's right, just behind the modern comedy classic "Mr. Woodcock" is "Dragon Wars" (or "D-War" as it is officially titled) the commercial zenith of Korean movie making. It was the most expensive movie in Korean history, it obliterated opening box records at home, sold out theaters abroad, and it has now finally took on the greatest challenge of all and made it all the way to open in over 2200 screens in the US. As relatively modest as this opening position was, it was seen by many as the triumphant culmination of over fifty post-war years of struggles and efforts in the establishment and cultivation of a unique national cinematic identity, it was the South Korean answer to the gaudy blockbusters of the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, and Bay.

My initial impressions of the film itself completely sucks.

I mean it looks awful. It looks like something the Sci-Fi channel could have just slapped together in a week; just get Ron Pearlman, some clumsy CGI, half a script, a shooting location in Vancouver, mix and serve. To flex their casting budget muscles they used an all English speaking cast including headliners Robert "Remember Jackie Brown?" Forster and Jason "I was the star of Roswell" Behr. The totally irony free, incredulously earnest plot appears to be so confusing that every scathing review I've read had a different interpretation of what was going on, something involving and ancient army of dragons, wizards, lizards with missile launchers tied to their backs, and virgin sacrifices. I've decided the most accurate synopsis is probably the wikipedia plot outline:
As a young boy, Ethan Kendrick (Cody Arens) encounters antiques dealer Jack (Robert Forster), who has a glowing dragon scale in a Korean chest in his shop. Jack tells Ethan that he is the reincarnated spirit of Haram, an ancient warrior apprentice from 500 years ago. This warrior saved his love Narin from Buraki, a 200 meter long Imugi serpent. Jack gives Ethan a powerful pendant and tells him to find the reincarnated version of Narin; for when she turns 20, the pair will be be forced to fight Buraki again. 15 years later, the adult Ethan (Jason Behr) is a television news reporter who coincidentally meets Sarah Daniels (Amanda Brooks), the reincarnation of his love. Together, the duo must fight Buraki who has returned in modern-day Los Angeles along with an army of reptilian monsters.
So yeah, I guess it's kind of like "Transformers" meets "Reign of Fire" or something like that. It currently occupies at 34 on Metacritic, one of the lowest for movies currently in theaters and a 14% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There isn't a single element about this film that I find appealing and I can only take solace in the fact that it mercifully doesn't attempt to back up its absurdly grandiose story with an equally absurdly grandiose run time (a tolerable 100 minutes).

Despite all that I can guarantee you that I'll see it.

There's one lone overriding reason that I'll throw away over an hour and of half of my youth watching this chore of a movie: Korean pride. It's that inescapable part of me that despite a lifetime of living in America and completely immersing myself in American culture that still stubbornly compels me to go. It's a hardwired nationalism within every Korean that has developed from a millennium of defending our barren little rocky peninsula against the surrounding superpowers of the ancient and modern world. It's an inner pride that rises within us every time we see people buying Samsung LCD flat screens, or our national teams racking up worthless gold medals in archery, or Sun and Jin on "Lost" (not so much Sandra Oh people seem split on her). So when an international Korean achievement of this magnitude comes up I have to do my part regardless, it's the very definition of nationalism. My parents are set to go despite the fact that there's technically nothing Korean about it except for the production credits (kind of like a Simpsons episode) and they won't even know half of what's going on.

And don't think the filmmakers aren't counting on national pride for success. Critics in Korea think the movie sucks just as hard. As one Korean reviewer so succinctly put it "they want it to be successful in the US because it's Korean, not because it's good". The way I see it though is if you want see an acclaimed Korean film you can watch Cannes Grand Prix winner "Old Boy" in a tiny arthouse somewhere, if you want to be part of the big, ugly mainstream and help leave its pop culture footprint on the masses you watch "D-War". Apparently the Korean print of the film even ended with a direct message from the director to the audience proclaiming that "D-War and I will succeed in the world market without fail" set to the national folk anthem. Imagine if Michael Bay or Sam Raimi came out like that at the end of a summer blockbuster with the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" playing in the background, it'd double the weekend gross!
So as you can see it's more duty than desire that I enlist myself and support this effort and as any true blind nationalist I will march without question, unwaveringly, and full of senseless pride straight into the horrors of "D-War".


  1. just another example of korea's renowned cheapness. color?

  2. still, can't be worse than Dragonheart.


  3. I think Sean Connery has a list in his private journal of films he really regretted doing. I suspect "Dragonheart" to be right at the top, edging out "The Avengers"

  4. by "list in his private journal" do you mean the last dozen entries in his imdb filmography?

  5. Wow, talk about stumbling at the finish line. I think it's for the best he retired, lest we suffer through "Playing By Heart II".