Friday, October 4, 2019

Green Phoenix - D-War Review

Image result for d-warsLet me tell you all the story of a film that I have grown to love, despite its awful plot, graphics, and characters. This is my absolute guilty pleasure movie.

Developed by a South Korean film production company, by a director who spent years of time, money, and energy with the hopes of creating a South Korean blockbuster film, Dragon Wars (sometimes just abbreviated to D-War) was the highest budgeted South Korean film at the time of its release and received a mostly negative response from viewers and critics.

Despite this, I happened across this film in a Walmart bargain bin probably 10 years ago and just thought "Why not?". And from that impulse buy, I was introduced to a work that is one part passion project and other part international Syfy film.

While not at all a good film, the love and ambition is clearly seen and I enjoy watching this movie just as much for its few good parts as I do for its many, many, many, many bad parts.

***
  • Directed by Shim Hyung-rae
  • Produced by Younggu Art
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 99 Minutes

***

SUMMARY

Long ago in ancient Korea, two giant snake monsters called Imoogis fought a war in our world for a sacred heavnly light that, when consumed, would allow an Imoogi to transform into a celestial dragon. This heavenly light is periodically reincarnated into the body of a young woman to be sacrificed to a good Imoogi.

However, an evil Imoogi named Buraki coveted the light for himself and waged a war to capture it. A great hero was made a protector of the young woman and, when the two fell in love, they gave their own life to prevent Buraki from obtaining the light, but also prevented the good Imoogi as well.

Centuries later, an American named Ethan discovers that he is the reincarnation of the hero and is chosen to find and protect the reincarnated light, housed in the body of a young woman named Sarah. Together, Sarah and Ethan must avoid Buraki and his evil army as they seek out the light, try to discover the whereabouts of the good Imoogi, and come to terms with the fact that one of them must invariably die for their mission to be completed.

***

REVIEW

As much fun as I have watching this film in all its stupid glory, it really is a bad movie. But its bad in a very special way. This movie is bad in the way a college students first film is bad, all the passion is seen and appreciated but the quality is still something to be desired.

On just about every level, this film is a mess. Visually and narratively, D-War somehow manages to both show its money and come off as hilariously cheap and cheesy. This is a film that so desperately wants to be a cinematic epic, but falls just a little too short, through little fault of its own.


VISUALS - 5/10

Have any of you guys watched a SyFy Channel movie? Those incredibly cheap, Asylum-style B-movies?
Yeah, D-War reminds me of those cheap made-for-TV B-movies in its looks throughout maybe 85% of the entire run-time of this film. Now, Buraki and the other Imoogi actually look incredible throughout the majority of the film, especially in the final fight scene (which looks like something out of a real cool video game cutscene), but then you will get scenes like the Los Angeles battle which, while looking cool, also looks super fake.

Image result for D-War
Wow, its almost like they are really there, isn't it?


It's really nothing special when taken in isolation, but I give so much credit to the creators simply because I understand the challenges that they were going through and the very unique circumstances behind this film's production. To put it simply, a fantasy film of this caliber and scope is exceptionally rare in the South Korean film industry and the director Shim Hyung-rae worked for many years to gather the finances and the talent to bring this work to life.

It really is some of the best that the South Korean film industry can accomplish so while it would be easy for me to simply call it terrible and give a below average score, I have to recognize and acknowledge the sheer level of effort put into its creation.

Does it show? I think so.

Is it good? That's a much more subjective question and one that I can really only answer by giving it an average visual score. I recognize the effort and will hold it up as a well-meaning labor of love and passion, but still must acknowledge its quality leveled against films of a similar nature and it really is on the lower end of fantasy in terms of visuals.

SOUNDTRACK - 4/10

The soundtrack to this film is, unfortunately, rather unremarkable. In that I can barely recall it at all. The majority of the music is either generic as hell fantasy music, or nothing at all. It adds flavor to scenes but you really don't notice the music like you might in other fantasy films or monster movies.

What I mean is; think of The Lord of the Rings and the Ride of the Rohirrim. I'm willing to bet if you are thinking of that film and all the scenes of Rohan, it is very likely that you have the Rohan theme in your head as well. This is an aspect of film known as a motif, a auditory shorthand that allows an audience to understand the context of a scene through audio cues rather than narrative explanation. An example might be if Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings mentions that they need help and someone asks who, the Rohan theme could be used to imply an answer to the audience without explictly stating the answer. This kind of narrative storytelling is complex and vital towards effective and clear storytelling and, for the most part, D-War does not really utilize it.

There are some good songs though, mostly the songs which make use of the unique Korean settings, especially the Celestial dragon piece which concludes the film. But when I think of other Korean and Asian film in general, music is such a quintessential and vital element that this film seems kind of hollow in comparison. I give credit to the few good elements, but its just too sparse to give it even an average score.

In terms of sound design, its mixed rather well and the sounds of the dragons and other creatures is actually quite good, but again, its just not enough to give it anything more than a below average score.

CHARACTERS - 4/10

The characters are really goofy. Certainly enjoyable in their goofiness to be sure, but still incredibly, stupidly goofy. The main character and his love interest are generically good and rather bland, with almost no personality to speak of and a romance that seems there because...fantasy and tragedy make for an epic story, right?
Related image
Our heroes everybody.

There is the very common comedic foil black guy who disappears about halfway through the film with no real explanation and who has zero bearing on the plot and the stereotypical wise mentor who Obi-Wan Kenobi's right the fuck out of nowhere right at the beginning of the movie and doesn't really do all that much beyond reminding the hero of what he already knows and how he is setting himself up for a tragedy.

As far as bad guys go, beyond the giant snake monster which really has no personality beyond "RAWR! I'm a snake monster!", the primary human antagonist is something right out of a Power Rangers TV show, and they are defeated just as easily. I'm not joking. The main human bad guy has no personality beyond looking intimidating and gesticulating underneath a really restrictive costume.

And then there are the two CIA agents who do...nothing. I mean it. I will cover them more in the story section, but they contribute nothing and drop in and out of the story whenever they fucking feel like it. It's kind of amazing how much of a mess these characters actually are, because it actually improves the overall quality. I spend my time laughing at how shallow and pointless so many of these characters and their "arcs" (if you can call them that) really are.

STORY - 3/10

I feel bad for this movie. I really do. Because I feel like it so desperately wanted to be this amazing three hour epic on the level of Lord of the Rings, with action, romance, and drama. But a deficit of funds and talent really stifled this film, and what we received is the best they could do with what they had.
 
So many plot points and elements are just dropped out of nowhere. I wonder if the film, had it been allowed a longer run-time and a bigger budget, would have been much more of a slow-burn, with greater chances to expand on minor characters. Buraki is reawakened out of nowhere because of a random terrorist bombing that is never explored or explained in any greater detail, although it seems at first glance that it might play a role. The hospital where Sarah is residing feels like it should be more important, as does the wise mentor who just sort of disappears after his necessary exposition dump.
 
Image result for D-War
This movie wants to be an emotional tragedy and its really not.
But the worst of all the dropped plot lines has to be the CIA agents. From the very beginning of the film, it seems like this pair might play a very important role. Whether that role is positive or negative is left ambiguous. However, during the giant Los Angeles monster fight, the two manage to capture the hero and romantic interest and a really confusing heel turn occurs where the nice CIA agent turns out to be bad, the mean agent is actually good and the entire subplot is resolved with one dead agent and our leads just leaving an unknown location to be immediately captured again.
Even the final fight takes place in a random Mordor looking location that is never explained for visited previously. We never learn where this place is or how it got there. Somehow this super complicated plot manages to explain absolutely nothing of importance at the same time. It really is kind of extraordinary how contradictory this film is. For such a complicated plot, with the potential for so many subplots, it does almost nothing with the ones presented, creates brand new subplots, and then leaves those unfulfilled too.

Looking at this film, I am awash in a feeling that this film desperately needed more money, more time, and more attention to make sure that its story was complex and fulfilling where it needed to be and concise where it could be. It's definitely the worst (and yet somehow best) part of the film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This really is a terrible movie. I'm not going to beat around the bush. It is probably the worst film I have reviewed thus far (though it won't keep that forever, I can assure you). The story is a mess of contradictions with plotholes the size of continents, the characters are goofy as hell, and the visuals would not be out of place in a SyFy movie.

And yet, I have so much fun watching this movie. I think at some level, the actors in this movie know its bad and they have fun with it. The story is bad, but its bad in a way that is confusingly humorous, and the effects are laughable whilst still being enjoyable. Add that to a really fun and exciting kaiju fight that is, obviously, a foregone conclusion, and you are left with a mess, but a thrilling guilty pleasure of a mess.

I don't recommend buying this movie, but if you want to have an enjoyable bad movie night with friends, I can think of few better candidates than D-War. Grab it from your library, gets some drinks and snacks and go ape with this well-intentioned disaster of a monster movie.


VISUALS
  • 5/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 4/10
CHARACTERS
  • 4/10
STORY
  • 3/10

 FINAL SCORE - 4/10

No comments:

Post a Comment