“I keep trying to understand, but none of this is making any sense.”

So states Sarah (Amanda Brooks), a character who is more of a plot device than anything else, expressing her exasperation at the strange circumstances she finds herself enmeshed in. And the viewer can sympathize, because the plot of Dragon Wars makes as little sense to us on the outside watching it as it does to the people in the film itself.

To wit, five hundred years ago Heaven, or at least someone in charge up there, decides to bestow a boon on one of the spirits known as Immogi in the form of the Yuh Yi Joo, which will transform the spirit into a powerful oriental dragon which watch over the Earth and usher in an era of peace. Or something. The Yuh Yi Joo is born as part of the spirit of a girl and will only manifest itself on her 20th birthday. Growing up, this chosen girl is assigned a young protector and as often happens in these situations, the two fall in love.

Unfortunately, an evil Imoogi wishes to take the Yuh Yi Joo for itself and sets a legion of armored warriors and assorted giant beasties upon the village where the girl lives. The girl and her young protector flee, and rather than surrender to the evil Imoogi, leap off a cliff into the sea and their deaths.

Fast forward to present times where journalist Ethan (Jason Behr) is investigating a strange catastrophe for his employer, a cable news outlet. In the course of his investigation, he discovers two things- that the mysterious devastation has been caused by a giant, snake-like monster and that the tales told to him 15 years earlier by a mysterious antiques dealer (Robert Foster) that Ethan is the reincarnation of the Yuh Yi Joo’s protector, which will manifest itself in Sarah in just a few days.

The above information is all imparted to the audience in the film’s opening reel. While epic in scope, the exposition is imparted rather clumsily, through a series of flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks. But all of this is merely prelude to the film’s big moment, a huge battle sequence in downtown Los Angeles between the police and army and the evil Imoogi’s forces. It’s a sequence done with a lot of gusto, though there are distinct echoes of Peter Jackoson’s Lord Of The Rings battle sequences. Given the care devoted to this section of the film, one can’t help but wonder if a crazy battle between the military and a group of mystical beasts wasn’t the starting point for the film, and the rest of the movie’s plot line reverse engineered to setup the conflict.

The script also has its fair share of just plain unbelievable lapses in logic. While giant monster movies by their nature ask the audience to suspend a lot of disbelief in order to go along with the ride, Dragon Wars definitely asks too much of its audience. Just the fact that the Evil Imoogi, big enough to wrap itself around hospitals and landmark Los Angeles high rise office buildings, managed to move about the city for a number of days and the better part of the film’s first half without capturing anyone but its victim’s attention or even once being photographed by someone with a cellphone strains even the normal rules that films such as this usually work under.

It’s a shame that the script, and by extension the performances, are so weak because there is a feeling that a lot of heart and soul went into the movie. Essentially a South Korean production, director Hyung-rae Shim has ambitiously cast his film with American actors, numerous faces that you make you think “Oh, it’s that guy,” and shot it entirely in Los Angeles. The result is a giant monster film that outdoes the 1998 American attempt at Godzilla in its attempt to provide thrills and does so on a fraction of the budget as well. Unfortunately, for all the thrills Shim provides, the underlying foundation of the film, in the form of its screenplay, is just not stable enough to support the structure of the movie.

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About Rich Drees 6949 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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