[Review]D-War is a dog with no bark and no bite
Director Shim Hyung-rae should have known better. While promoting “2001 Yonggary,” his previous sci-fi flick about a giant destructive reptile, Shim went overboard, proclaiming it would be the first Korean film to meet widespread commercial success in the United States. But Yonggary bombed, big time, and D-War appears to be little more than Yonggary version 2.0.
For one, this new release seems to be suspiciously similar to its predecessor. Mammoth, nefarious reptile? Check. The D in the title stands for dragon. Major metropolitan setting? Check. Random ancient backstory? Check. Poor special effects? Check, with a caveat. I have to give D-War some credit for managing to snag a computer graphics team (Shim’s own Younggu Art), which is far better than the embarrassing hand puppets and rubber masks Yonggary used, but the effects still fall short compared to current cinematic counterparts.
The plot of D-War appears at first to have some potential ― if you’re a pre-teen boy who likes Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Dashing young TV reporter Ethan Kendrick (Jason Behr) stumbles upon a mysterious archaeological find in Los Angeles, which conjures up memories of his childhood. While visiting Jack (Robert Forster), an antiques merchant, Ethan learns that 500 years ago he was a Korean warrior named Haram under the tutelage of Bochun, Jack’s 500-year-old alter ego. Sworn to protect Narim, a maiden born with the yeouiju, or power to change a serpent into an all-powerful celestial dragon, Haram dutifully served his mistress. Of course, the two fall in love but end up leaping to their deaths to escape mauling by an imugi, a type of serpent with the potential of turning into a dragon.
This legend takes place in a flashback to ancient Korea, in a time where hanbok reigned. The scenery is pretty, as are the costumes and freshly-scrubbed faces of the Korean actors, who strangely aren’t listed in the cast. The dialogue, however, gets mind-numbingly maudlin ― even with my limited grasp of Korean, I still rolled by eyes at the harried “Saranghae”s (“I love you”s) exchanged before Haram and Narin died.
All the cheesiness of the ancient Korea flashback, however, is eclipsed by the ridiculously implausible present-day action. Apparently no one notices the giant radioactive cerulean and gold amulet that Ethan perpetually wears around his neck, even as he reports on camera for CGNN, a totally ripped-off version of CNN, logo and all. And apparently Narim’s 21st century self, Sarah (Amanda Brooks), doesn’t think it’s weird that she was born with a perfectly formed dragon tattoo on her shoulder ― which the audience knows is (gasp!) the yeouiju.
Ethan’s quest in the movie is to find Sarah among the thousands of 20-year-old Sarahs in the greater Los Angeles area.
Unfortunately, he’s tailed by a growly, gurgly-voiced villain in “Battlefield Earth” garb, as well as the imugi, which has somehow magically found its way from across the Pacific.
If the hackneyed dialogue isn’t enough to make the audience’s ears bleed, then the actors’ butchered pronunciation of Korean words will.
Perhaps the most embarrassing aspect of D-War is Shim’s unabashed patriotism and ego, fully on display.
Brace yourselves ― “Arirang” is featured prominently in one scene. In a JoongAng Daily article last year Shim said,’Lord of the Rings’ and ‘King Kong’ are no match for D-War, in terms of special effects.
With his big talk, Shim makes himself out to be the best Korea has to offer ― clearly not the case.
I hate to think what foreign audiences will think when they watch incongruous CGI serpents jerk around amidst trite dialogue uttered by flat, paper doll characters.
So please, for the sake of the country, your wallet or even just your own mind, skip D-War.
Sci-fi / English
By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]