Cast: Jackie Chan, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, Sharni Vinson, Si Won Choi, Lin Peng
Director: Daniel Lee
East meets West in Dragon Blade which makes an impassioned plea for peace which is what the world needs, has needed, from time immemorial. I like to think though (and I’m not alone here) that what the world needs and wants, always has, is, love. Then the peace that surpasses understanding will follows, actually, everything else follows, as naturally as night follows day.
There’s very little of romantic love but loads of bromance in writer-director Daniel Lee’s (Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon) historical epic which charts the life and times of disgraced Chinese commander Huo An (Jackie Chan) who makes an unlikely alliance with Roman general Lucius (John Cusack) and gets drawn into his (righteous) struggle with power-mad Consul Tiberius (Adrien Brody, The Darjeeling Limited) who emulates the villainous Aurangzeb and assorted Roman rulers in his zeal for infanticide and patricide.
History buffs know the fabled Silk Road was the main artery on which goods – especially Chinese silk – were ferried across Chinese, Kushan and Parthian fiefdoms before finally reaching the Roman Empire. It may be noted the Silk Road was pre-dated by the Persian Royal Road, which was established during the Achaemenid Empire (500-330 BCE) and ran from northern Persia to Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).
Smaller alternative roads crossed the Indian sub-continent, across Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Egypt. (Chan wants to produce a Bollywood remake so we figure India will get more spacetime in the reboot) Rome and China connected only in the 2nd century after the Romans defeated the Parthians and wrested control of the Persian Gulf.
Lee’s Dragon Blade is set during the Han dynasty (exalted in reel as in real life by the Chinese) and alternates court intrigues and glorious music (solos, chorals) with visceral scenes of hand to hand combat and mighty phalanxes in battle formation. In real life, the Romans built Hadrian’s wall in northern England to keep out the Scots; in this film, they help the Chinese build a wall. Interestingly, the Romans sing of victory, while the Chinese sing of peace. If only China practised this in real life! Don’t we know just how aggressively expansionist it is with India, Japan, Viet Nam and the Philippines, not to speak of poor Tibet.
That said, let us add, we’re not knocking the noble sentiments (certainly, the ignoble ones) in this well-executed action adventure. We weren’t impressed by the art design (and for that matter, the landscapes), but the battle scenes are noteworthy as is the acting by Cusack and Brodie, and of course, our man Chan.