Tackling such a profound historical event that the majority of a Hollywood audience would be ignorant towards, Dragon Blade offers a big budget fantastical foray into the politics of family heritage and different civilisations crossing paths.
General Lucius (John Cusack) defects from the Roman Empire with his legion of men in an attempt to protect the chosen, although not rightful, heir to the Roman Empire. In doing so they flee to the east and encounter Huo Ann (Jackie Chan) and his people (the defenders of Silk Road, a famous trading route that the Han dynasty maintained for two hundred years). This section of the film offers a heartwarming insight into the building of relationships between two wholly different cultures with Lucius’s men using their advanced building techniques to aid Huo Ann rebuild the Silk Road defensive walls.
Roman leader, and the rightful heir, Tiberius stalks Lucius in an angry bout to kill the chosen heir, whom he blinded when discovering that his father had bestowed the empire on his brother and not him. It is then down to Lucius and Huo Ann, and the surrounding nations that Huo Ann calls upon, to defend the chosen heir and the Silk Road.
The film works excellently as a fantasy driven, although loosely based on truth, martial arts epic. The fight sequences are perfectly coordinated with many brutal killings and wonderful displays of acrobatics and martial artistry.
The set design is also a real treat for all to behold. Memories of an Asian The Devils (1971) come to mind with the sets being large and monolithic in their depiction of the Chinese kingdom that Huo Ann protects.
In saying this, while being loosely based on historical events the film lacks realism in its costume and prop design. The armour that the central characters (and many of the extras) wear resembles the protective clothing from a fantasy video game more than from a retelling of epic events. The swords that Tiberius and Huo Ann use look as if they were stolen from the Lord of the Rings leftover stock but while being absolutely ludicrous do provide an interesting aesthetic.
In terms of the acting quality that takes place, Cusack’s performance is below average, not because of his abilities but more due to poor casting on Daniel Lee, the director’s, behalf. Adrien Brody, while being a powerhouse of an actor, struggles to play a convincing Tiberius and Jackie Chan offers nothing out-of-the-ordinary from his usual poor character interactions but mesmerising action scenes (especially impressive due to his age now).
In terms of recommending the film to anyone I wouldn’t say it’s worth watching for its historical content or for its profound themes but if you’re a fan of films like The Mummy (1999) and 1000 BC (2008), the sort of B-movie esque Hollywood period adventure, then it’s definitely worth a watch. This being said I recommend everyone to watch the film for a scene when Lucius’s men and Huo Ann’s men are in the process of buddying up and Jackin Chan frontmans an ancient rendition of a pop rock act in which the Roman soldiers revel in. Is very entertaining.
Director: Daniel Lee
Writer: Daniel Lee
Stars: Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody
Runtime: 127 mins