Monday, April 13, 2009
Dragonball Evolution *1/2
Director: James Wong
Cast: Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, Chow Yun-Fat
James Marsters, Joon Park, Jamie Chung, Eriko Tamura, Randall Duk Kim
Akira Toriyama's "Dragon Ball" series has spawned dozens of video games, television shows and comic books for more than two decades, becoming one of the most beloved series of all time.
A few live action films have also been made, but due to their bad quality have remained obscure except for die hard fans, this, the first American version seems destined to have the same fate.
Goku (Chatwin) is an introverted young man and martial artist living with his grandftaher Gohan (Kim). On the night of his eighteenth birthday he receives a "dragon ball" from his grandpa, who proceeds to explain him that it's only one out of seven and whoever has all of them receives one wish from an ancient dragon.
Little do they know that someone else has just decided to go after the dragon balls as well; the evil alien warlord Piccolo (Marsters) who has just escaped a 2,000 year old imprisonment and wants to take revenge on the planet.
After his granfather is murdered, Goku travels to prevent Piccolo from destroying the world and picks up some allies along the way including eccentric Master Roshi (Yun-Fat), hi-tech babe Bulma (Rossum), likeable criminal Yamcha (Park) and Chi-Chi (Chung) the girl he has a crush on.
With an agile running time of eighty four minutes, the filmmakers had to drop some famous characters that will be missed by fans, but amateurs will be disappointed just as much, since in this necessity to reduce elements in order to be approachable, the result is something more of a crammed package seconds away from exploding.
Screenplay wise, everything has been extractred from a cliché handbook; Goku is uncertain of his origins and the writers choose to place him in the most facile of metaphorical limbos, a Western high school, where he is bullied by the jocks and has a pervy crush on a girl who never notices him.
Besides taking away the slightly eccentric feel of the original which had bizarre, mythical looking locations, this movie is set somewhere between the New York of the weird "Super Mario Bros." live action adaptation and the well meaning, but stale "Speed Racer" of the Wachowskis.
According to the characters it's supposed to be set somewhere in Asia, but with Aztec influences, American actors and cutting edge technology from who knows where the result is a mish-mash of intercultural correctness and international revenue greed.
And if this wasn't enough the screenplay also drops coherence and rational explanations using prophecies (of course) and fate as excuses, we never know how Piccolo escaped and the filmmakers imply little should we care as long as it serves the plot unfold.
Plot holes wouldn't be noticeable though if the action scenes weren't so dull and cheap looking.
During some scenes the filmmakers achieve a manga-ish look and feel that would've benefitted the entire film, but the special effects overkill makes for slight camp that distracts more than it benefits.
It's ironic that in such a short film by the time of the final showdown the only wish you want granted is for the damn thing to be over and done with.