The recent Korean monster movie “The Host” was a surprise hit on these shores, a picture that successfully mixed state-of-the-art sci-fi effects, suspense, poignancy and laughs in one smart package. Its success was presumably what encouraged the release of “Dragon Wars” (originally “D-War,” a title still on the U.S. release print), about flying lizards and other mythic beasties and Storm Trooper-type soldiers attacking contemporary Los Angeles, here. But this effort delivers on only one of its predecessor’s elements, since the effects stink, it’s not at all exciting, and one couldn’t care less about the human characters. All it offers are the laughs—and in this case, unfortunately, they’re completely unintentional.
Written as well as directed by Hyung-rae Shim, which apparently means Uwe Boll in Korean, the picture begins with about twenty minutes of exposition delivered by Robert Forster as a junk dealer named Jack, the Obi-wan Kenobi figure here—an ancient fellow who explains, with helpful inserts, the myth that supposedly underlies the narrative. It all has something to do with dragons, one good and one evil, that are unleashed every five hundred years, a virgin carrying some treasure they both want, a hero (the seventh son of a seventh son) destined to protect her from the evil dragon, and a villain serving the wicked beast (along with an army of his own) trying to capture the virgin and sacrifice her so that his master can claim the treasure she carries and be turned into a celestial dragon. At least that’s what I thought I gleaned of the nonsense spouted by Forster and dated to 1507 Korea; the young boy to whom he’s telling the story can be forgiven for saying at one point during the harangue, “What are you talking about?” since most in the audience will be thinking the same thing—it’s awfully hard, after all, to keep your thoughts clear (or your laughter suppressed) when you’re listening to stuff that involves distinguishing between creatures called Imoogi and Yuh Yi Joo—and this in a movie in English! (Later on, the heroine actually says, “None of this makes any sense”—which you’ll probably not in agreement with, too.)
Anyhow, the plot takes up as the dragons are unleashed anew in 2007, and the destined hero Ethan (Jason Behr, looking—with his long hair and odd outfits—like he stepped out of “Saturday Night Fever”), who’s the grown-up version of the kid to whom Forster told the story fifteen years earlier, moved by memory to search out the twenty-first century virgin, Sarah (Amanda Brooks) and save her from the evil lizard and its compatriots. Meanwhile a bunch of Keystone Kops-quality FBI agents (Chris Mulkey, John Ales and Elizabeth Pena) are attempting to track the duo down while they, in turn, manage to keep one slither ahead of the lizard, which leaves a good deal of L.A. and much of the American military in ruins in its wake. It all ends with a big confrontation and some sort of apotheosis, including a snako-a-snako smackdown between Good Imoogi and Bad Imoogi.
Perhaps in Korea, where dragons apparently have some special significance, all this twaddle might hold some interest, but here it goes well beyond ridiculous, especially since Shim’s script makes things even worse with its ludicrous dialogue and inane situations—what’s with the idiotic digressions involving a zoo security guard (Billy Gardell), and the whole business at St. George’s Hospital (which the dragon attacks—get it?) where Sarah is briefly quarantined for—I kid you not—having an unusual birthmark? Add to all that the atrocious acting—Forster looks simply bemused, but veterans like Mulkey and Pena are really embarrassing, and Behr undistinguishes himself for the second time in as many months by following up “Skinwalkers” with this turkey)—and sub-“Power Rangers” effects (although I did rather enjoy the creatures that look like giant slugs that some of the villain’s soldiers ride), and you have a movie so campily awful that it’s “Mystery Science Theater”-ready.
Steve Jablonsky’s score consists of variations on “Dies irae.” Thar’s part of the old funeral service, and it’s certainly appropriate for a movie that deserves a quick burial.