All fighting, all grimacing — though sometimes all smiling, weeping and singing — "Dragon Blade" is the kind of nutsy entertainment that isn’t content merely to tap a handful of influences. Instead, it stuffs an entire encyclopedia of dicey ideas (visual, narrative, political) into a blender to create a wacky, eyeball-popping and -glazing extravaganza that suggests a Cecil B. DeMille Bible epic, a Chinese military parade and a Busby Berkeley musical, at times all at once. And while it can be tough to find the human pulse amid the spectacle noise, Jackie Chan, John Cusack, Adrien Brody and a trillion horse-riding extras are also part of the very big picture.
Opens Friday at Mililani and Ward Stadium 16
The least interesting question to ask about a movie like "Dragon Blade" is whether it’s any good. Of course it isn’t, not especially, but questions of quality pale next to the greater headscratcher: What is it? For starters, it is a Jackie Chan vehicle, a period story, a Chinese production and a huge 2015 box-office hit in the People’s Republic. (It opened in China in February.) Written and directed by the genre-smashing Daniel Lee, who has epic DeMille-level ambitions, the movie takes place in the first part of the Han dynasty, when the court, supported by its elites, ruled its far-flung empire with military muscle and bureaucratic administration. So the movie, which involves a government squad protecting the Silk Road, may be a resonant, topical metaphor — or not.
Whatever it is, it is also about putting on a really big show with your pals, who here include both the fantastically outfitted constituencies of 36 nations who swirl around the Silk Road and a legion of Roman soldiers who materialize on it one day, having apparently taken a wrong turn on the Appian Way. The clotted story involves how these different groups are juggled with a broad smile and some fancy footwork by Huo An (Chan), the leader of the Silk Road guard. Huo insists on giving peace a chance, even when dodging arrows shot by Cold Moon (Lin Peng), one of the few women in what is otherwise an enormous brotherly be-in.
Chan has slowed considerably since his glory action years, even if he still dodges and darts with elastic grace. His character is on the dull side and is mostly a hub for all the swirling parts that Lee puts into motion. There are many of these.
Other than women, "Dragon Blade" has a whole lot of everything, including armies of extras, herds of horses, truckloads of feathered-and-furred costumes, bushels of strikingly styled hair, innumerable crane shots and choreographed fights. There’s also a blind Roman boy who sings a nationalist ditty and brings the multitudes to collective tears.
There are special effects, too, though none as jaw-slackening as the performances from Cusack and Brody. Cusack plays General Lucius, who has ended up on the Silk Road in an effort to protect Publius (Jozef Liu Waite), the warbling babe, from his older brother, General Tiberius (Brody). Brody either took his role seriously or can keep a straight face better than Cusack, whose contortionist expressions tend to suggest someone desperate not to let loose either laughter or bowels. Brody, by contrast, takes to his villainous role with old-fashioned Basil Rathbone hauteur, swaggering and twirling while leading with his profile. At one point, Brody even runs his tongue over his bloody hand, as if to acknowledge just how finger-licking good his role is.