Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Dragons and monsters
Where do they come from? Why doesn't Sci-fi/fantasy play well in Asia. A lot of people seem to say that it is too far away from their lives. While I never felt like a Jedi Knight growing up, having seen enough war movies as a child, I was quickly able to adapt the other-worldly Star Wars galaxy.
Maybe the new movie by Korean director Hyung-rae Shim is just the ticket to help properly welcome Asia to the sci-fi/fantasy genre. His story deals with dragons and their origins. By using dragons (very familiar in Asian mythology) Shim gives Asian audiences a foothold in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy film world.
D-War 디워 /US title of the film is Dragon War was interesting if only because it was a an Asian sci-fi/fantasy film, of which there are not that many. The Korean director/writer of the film Hyung-rae Shim has had his difficulties in the past. Overall the film was somewhere decent. The story was a little hokey, but this is fantasy--so, uhhh, ok. The special effects were solid, if not at least very good. The acting left a funny taste in my mouth sometimes, but again, this is fantasy.
Apparently, Shim has a bit of a rough history surrounding his first projects failure, Youngeray (Sci-Fi Japan has the history if you want to read it). At the end of the film a long letter with music scrolls up the screen discussing the woes of the director's earlier projects up to the release of this film.
The result of his early debacle is that he put together his own special effects house. I don't imagine the tag at the end of the film will run in the States.
How to judge this film and be fair. Just gong in cold, my reaction was that it wasn't that great. It required leaps of imagination that are not always easy to make. I remember watching Lord of the Rings (of which I am a big fan). There was a scene where the 0rcs hybrid monsters were being created by cutting down forests and doing something else not clearly discernible, and out of the mud came the monsters. Big leap...
My problem with Sci-fi/fantasy has always been
the out of nothing creation of the large and violent creatures. They need more of an explanation of where things came from, something to hang an idea on. As with LOTR, the special effects might blind people to weaknesses such as these.
The effects are substantial. They look good and are no worse than what is offered in perhaps Godzilla with M.Broderick.
The film is filled with TV and Commercial actors. It is hard to tell if the writing fell short and the actors couldn't express themselves, or if the actors just weren't up to the task.
The film as shown in the Korean theaters has a chunk at the beginning that sets up a lot of the story to follow. This part of the film is done in Korean, and so had no subtitles in English for me (as shown in Korea). The other audience members I'm sure had not problems understanding. They were given subtitles in Korean for all the English and monster speaking parts. Maybe I will have to find a US release version of the film and re-evaluate it.
Very little in the sci-fi/fantasy genre comes out in Asia, so it was pleasing to see this attempt. I always hate when people rate films. It is hard for me to say whether this is something I would recommended to people. If you like fantasy, then you will probably be able to look past many of the problems the film has. If you like a more cerebral film with actors who can act, then you might not enjoy it as much.
A list of successful/noteworthy Korean films includes the spy-thriller SHIRI (1999), the Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner OLDBOY (2004), TAE GUK GI (Taegukgi Hwinalrimyeo, aka THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR, 2004), THE HOST (Gwoemul, 2006).
D-War is a big film, it has a big feel to it. But I don't know if I would want this to sit at the top of the list of my country's best films. If Korean film making is to move to the next level, it will not be done on the backs of science-fiction or fantasy films. I hope the investors make make back there $70 million, otherwise they might not be so willing to back another big project in the future.
Chinese directors often complain, in similar vain, that budget limits stop them from making films of the quality that comes out of Hollywood, and so they just cannot compete. I certainly don't know if this is completely true. If you are talking special-effects blockbusters, then maybe.
Clerks by Kevin Smith cost $30,000 to make--that's thousands, not millions. The acting was poor, the scenes boring, but the film was funny. He found and audience and is now on his 6th film.