If you happen to gravitate toward a movie about legions of resurrected dragons smashing their way through California because of its innate, pleasurable simplicity, Hyung-rae Shim's Dragon Wars has a nasty twist in store: It is really difficult to follow. The convolutions of this movie are almost a practical joke; imagine how stupid you might feel if you were forced to admit, regarding a movie called Dragon Wars: "I found it confusing." Anyone who actually sees the movie, though, would sympathize; several onscreen characters even interrupt the torrents of exposition to ask, and I quote, "what are you talking about?" Never let it be said that this movie doesn't ask the right questions.
Let me recap what I could glean about the story, primarily from the Internet Movie Database and secondarily from actually watching the film: There are creatures of Korean legend, a Good Imoogi and a Dark Imoogi, who both want to become more heavenly dragons. The legend isn't well-clarified by the film's visualization of the non-dragon Imoogis, which bear a striking resemblance to a) giant snakes, b) each other, and, to a lesser but still confusing extent, c) dragons.
Anyway, this dubious transformation can only be achieved by spiritually bonding with and/or eating a woman who bears the mark of a dragon. Every 500 years, such a woman is reincarnated, along with a young man who must protect her and/or sacrifice her to the correct Imoogi, along with an older man who must train the young man to perform this vague task. In other words, this legend's chain of command is sort of a mystical game of telephone: Tell the old guy to train the young guy to make sure the young girl allows the good dragon-like creature to become a good actual dragon.
It makes sense, then, that we learn (or, more accurately, are told) all of this information through a long series of flashbacks within flashbacks: modern-day journalist and/or chosen one Ethan (Jason Behr) flashes back to a childhood encounter with the magical junk-shop owner Jack (Academy Award nominee Robert Forster), who in turn flashes back to tell of the Imoogi legend, which for good measure has its own two-second flashback during which the chosen dragon girl remarks to the chosen warrior, "I've been having good dreams lately." I'm paraphrasing; Internet Movie Database couldn't help me with the dialogue.
During this extended flashback -- which also covers some sort of dark lord and a Star Wars-ish army of troops and creatures, including smaller, presumably non-heavenly dragons, who seem to be throwing their political support to the Dark Imoogi party -- the movie becomes lost in a sort of reverie of stupidity; for about twenty minutes, it is blissfully awful in a way that recalls the heyday of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It defies all logic, features atrocious acting from its young romantic leads, and thoroughly embarrasses Robert Forster.
But unlike the low-budget D-movies on Mystery Science Theater, some amount of money was spent on Dragon Wars (more on that in a minute), manifested in a dopily impressive sequence -- at least as smash-happy as its equivalent in Transformers -- in which the two Imoogis and a ton of the mini-dragons lay waste to a vaguely defined section of Los Angeles. The filmmakers even build upon the innovations of the 2002 dragon movie Reign of Fire, which featured a sequence in which a dragon does battle with a dive-bombing helicopter. Dragon Wars, shrewd high-stakes player that it is, sees that dragon and helicopter and raises them both by about a hundred.
If Reign of Fire left you wanting more -- more dragons smashing into helicopters, I mean, not more Christian Bale or Matthew Matthew McConaughey -- then Dragon Wars is a godsend of fiery awesomeness. In that sense, this is the apotheosis of the big-budget B-movie phenomenon: one sustained special effects sequence that will awaken your inner 13-year-old, wrapped up in direct-to-video everything else (which, at least, is pretty hilarious).
The movie itself deserves its own origin story. Dragon Wars, released elsewhere as D-War, is actually a Korean film, and an expensive one by those standards, though relatively cheap for the realm of Hollywood bloat in which it apparently wants to compete. The bulk of it was shot in the U.S., and in English, with the finest television actors that money not spent on dragons could buy, in an attempt to give it some box-office life on these shores.
In an ironic twist worthy of a convoluted movie called Dragon Wars, the movie's attempts at Americanization actually increase its resemblance to an overseas monster movie lost in translation. Instead of bad dubbing, we get English dialogue that sounds like the screenplay was run through Babelfish. At its best, Dragon Wars is like an old Godzilla movie minus personality, minus nuclear dread, plus dragons, plus helicopters, in mid-air.
Don't miss Bruckheimer's office.