So-bad-it’s-nearly-good cultural mishmash starring Jackie Chan and John Cusack
The explosion of interest in the Chinese film market in the last few years has led to a number of ambitiously themed productions hoping to capitalise on this booming territory, while throwing a bone to international audiences. Few will be as obvious as Dragon Blade, a farcical mixture of po-faced historical balderdash, 300-style gore, uneasily imported Hollywood stars, silly Jackie Chan comedy and ill-judged musical interludes that scores only on the so-bad-it’s-good scale.
Writer-director Daniel Lee begins his story with splendid inappropriateness in outer space, where modern satellites have recorded the discovery of the location of a momentous battle on the Silk Road circa 48 BC. After this pointless bookend, Lee’s narrative skips back in time to find Jackie Chan as Huo An, benevolent leader of the anachronistically-named Silk Road Protection Squad. Huo An teams up with Roman general Lucius (John Cusack) to bond the locals together to build incredible Rube Goldberg mechanical defences, rendered in expensive-looking CGI, to stand up to power-mad consul Tiberius (Adrien Brody).
Pitched primarily at the Chinese, Dragon Blade gives Chan, also a producer here, a chance to do his comic thing, with the pratfalls giving way to faux-solemnity once the massacres and crucifixions begin. These abrupt changes of tone regularly siphon the drama out of Lee’s film, leaving audiences to make their own fun marvelling at the incongruous performances of Cusack and Brody. Sporting costumes in a manner that suggests a suburban fancy dress party more that imperial duty, Cusack does a good impression of an estate agent having a midlife crisis, while Brody adds to his gallery of eye-rollingly awful performances by going full Tony Montana.
Complete with a random dance-off scene, Dragon Blade feels more like watching a variety show than a historical epic; a big hit in China, it’s far too obviously tailored to one specific market to find any common ground internationally.
Limited theatrical release and on demand from Fri 15 Jan.