Dragon Wars, the biggest blockbuster in the history of Korean cinema, is likely to be the most preposterously entertaining movie of the year. It shares something of a kindred spirit with the straight-to-DVD industry’s love affair with giant snakes—movies with titles like Boa vs. Python (2004) or Snakes on a Train (2006). And what is maybe most amazing about this movie is also what makes it beautiful: the fact that anyone thought it was a good idea to make.
Dragon Wars—or D-Wars to those in the know—is an unmitigated, completely unironic cheese-a-thon. It’s a perfect storm of Ed Wood “suspension of disbelief” peculiarity and Michael Bay “I’ve never seen an inanimate object I didn’t want to see explode” bombast. What other movie has such edge-of-your-seat action as a car chase involving a giant snake and a Geo Metro? Or Robert Forster as a wise, shape-shifting mage? Or a giant stone castle located somewhere in Southern California as one of its locales? The film is just one “What were they thinking?” scene after another. Any movie with a mutilated rubber elephant is worth the price of admission for that reason alone. And when you add a character who gets electrocuted and then shows up in the next scene with just an oversized Band-Aid on his forehead, you know you’re in rarified air.
The plot is inconsequential—a good thing considering how convoluted it is. The film opens with cable-news reporter Ethan (Jason Behr, Skinwallkers) showing up at some unexplained disaster area. He has a sudden flashback to his childhood, in which he’s told by an antiques-shop owner (Forster) that 500 years ago in a past life he was a great warrior who had been in charge of protecting a woman who had the Yuh Yi Joo—some mystical orb inside her that could turn normal, everyday giant serpents (called Imoogi) into full-blown dragons. Through the power of storytelling—and a sublimely awkward and cheesily edited kung-fu sequence—it is conveyed that Ethan, while he kept the Yuh Yi Joo safe from the evil Immogi, also prevented the good Imoogi from getting it and ascending to heaven. Because of this, both the good and bad Immogi will return shortly, to Los Angeles of all places, and it’s up to Ethan to find the new holder of the Yuh Yi Joo, a girl named Sarah (Amanda Brooks, Flightplan). The only problem is that since the evil Imoogi has returned, the big lizard is in his backyard and hot on Sarah’s trail.
Again, what’s so amazing about this movie is that it’s more ridiculous in practice than that last paragraph even begins to let on. It hardly matters, though, because everything is just an excuse to get from one set piece to another. The film’s real draw is supposed to be its status as a special-effects extravaganza, and while the movie’s definitely special, the CGI is on the whole (aside from the admittedly impressive hot-dragon-on-snake action of the climax) completely pedestrian. Most of the action consists of the giant reptile destroying different parts of L.A.—such as the film’s nod to King Kong, where the bad Imoogi fights a group of military helicopters on the top of the U.S. Bank Tower. However, in addition to one giant snake, you also get an army of various reptiles, consisting of pterodactyl-like creatures and large missile-launcher-toting quadrupeds. And if evil reptilians aren’t your cup o’ tea, there’s also a leather-trench-coat-wearing, sword-wielding baddie (Michael Shamus Wiles, Transformers, credited here only as “Evil General”), who’s impervious not only to bullets, but to being repeatedly run over by various automobiles.
I could never wholeheartedly call Dragon Wars a must-see. But if you have 90 minutes to waste and an appreciation for camp, have at it. The movie perfectly nails so-bad-it’s-good filmmaking, and accidentally manages to capture what Snakes on a Plane (2006) wanted to do so badly but ultimately never delivered. And even if you miss it in theaters, rest assured that this is a movie that is just begging to be shown in constant rotation on the Sci-Fi Channel. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and creature action.