"Dragon Wars": Made in South Korea

A globalization goodie: Either the best, or worst, Korean fantasy epic set in modern Los Angeles, ever.

By Andrew Leonard
Published September 17, 2007 11:39PM (UTC)
main article image

WARNING: Under no circumstances should the following post be interpreted as a positive review of the movie "Dragon Wars: D-War." By reading any further, you absolve How the World Works from all potential liability for psychic pain suffered, in this universe or any other, as a consequence of viewing "Dragon Wars."

"Not the best movie I ever saw," said my almost 10-year-old son, as we exited the theater Sunday afternoon. His equally fantasy-and-video-game obsessed friend agreed. Which is not to say they were disappointed. Any film that features Los Angeles getting brutalized by an all-out battle between a giant serpent, the U.S. military, and hundreds of thousands of computer-generated medieval Asian warriors accompanied by a horde of vaguely dinosauric beasts of burden, can't be all bad. It's "King Kong" meets "The Lord of the Rings" meets "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" meets "The X-Files." OK -- it's the worst parts of all those iconic offerings. But still, that's quite an achievement, even if badly executed.


"Dragon Wars" wasn't screened for critics in advance, which is rarely a good sign, but the New York Times' Andy Webster wrote on Saturday that "it is such a breathless, delirious stew, it's impossible not to be entertained, provided -- this is crucial -- you have a sense of humor." Which is why I agreed to take my son and his friend to it. That, and the South Korean angle, of which more in a moment.

But first, our consensus review. Animated scenes, very watchable -- especially the aerial dogfights between military helicopters and evil raptor/dragons. But any scenes involving human actors wrestling with their malign fates -- well, let me just say that when you see a 10-year-old boy wincing in pain at badly written and badly delivered dialogue... "Casablanca," you know it ain't. Or, as Variety pithily put it: "A-grade f/x married to a Z-grade, irony-free script."

As for me, I will be the first to confess that my exposure to some forms of art has been sorely limited, but I can still say with total authority that "Dragon Wars" is the best South Korean fantasy set in contemporary Los Angeles that I have ever had the pleasure to witness. And if the bilateral Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and the United States is ultimately ratified by Congress, I have no doubt that we will see even more such priceless artifacts of globalization. From swords and sorcery in 16th century Korea to a cheesy bar in L.A. in a single bound! With dragons and a murderous U.S. secretary of defense! I love the global economy!


After all, if New Zealand's Peter Jackson can conquer the world, why not South Korea's Shim Hyung-rae? Globalization gets a bad rap, but when you consider that in addition to rising income inequality, poison toothpaste, and Mexican trucks it also means that any auteur with his own CGI studio and access to $70 million can make his horrible dreams come true for anyone, anywhere who has 10 bucks to spend, then really, what are we complaining about? Dragons are cool. Giant South Korean dragons rending each other by the throat as part of an eternal battle between good and evil, while reincarnated Korean heroes trapped in the bodies of Hollywood B-movie actors run for cover -- all I can say is, I'm not asking for a refund.

But I do think the Times might have been a little overenthusiastic. Since there is, of course, a South-Korean based blogger obsessively monitoring the critical reaction to "Dragon Wars" -- it is safe to say that the more common critical appraisal of the film does not share my appreciation of its significance as a milestone of the emerging global economy.

From Dustin Pittman at The MovieBoy.com:


"Dragon Wars" is destined to go down in history as one of cinema's most blunderingly, catastrophically bad big-budget films of the last few decades. Only worth seeing with a large group of friends and a bottle of hard liquor by your side, the movie bypasses the barest hints of behind-the-scenes sanity and enters a realm where the viewer legitimately wonders if what he or she is watching was made by homo sapiens."

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew LeonardFOLLOW koxinga21LIKE Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization How The World Works