Saturday, January 9, 2016

Review: Dragon Blade (DVD, Blu-Ray and HDX)

A history resource article by  © 2015

Last night I had the dubious "opportunity" to view "Dragon Blade" starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody.
I think the 1/2 star rating I gave this epic misadventure on Vudu says it all - mainly, just a convoluted string of choreographed fight scenes. The villain, Tiberius, played by Adrien Brody, is a fictional son of Marcus Licinius Crassus, the 1st century BCE triumvir, who is chasing down his baby brother Publius, a child of about 9, because the senior Crassus preferred Publius over Tiberius as his heir. (in history Publius, a fully adult cavalry commander, died fighting with his father at the battle of Carrhae).

Perhaps Tiberius is supposed to be a nickname for Marcus Crassus Jr. who was the eldest son of Crassus Sr but was so undistinguished that historians have argued maybe, despite his name, he was not the eldest after all. Anyway, Crassus Jr. never made it to the east as far as we can tell from history. Instead he spent a rather lackluster career serving under Julius Caesar in Gaul then was later appointed governor of Cisalpine Gaul. Marcus Crassus Jr. is mainly remembered as the man who married the Caecilia Metella whose tomb remains along the Via Appia is so popular with tourists. Supposedly he had a fearsome reputation among the Parthians, though. The Augustan historian Pompeius Trogus, of the Celtic Vocontii, said that the Parthians feared especially harsh retribution in any war won against them by Caesar, because the surviving son of Crassus would be among the Roman forces, seeking revenge for the deaths of his father and brother. But, as we all know, Caesar never made it to Parthia and Crassus Jr. didn't either.

John Cusack plays "the greatest warrior in the empire" (a la Gladiator's Maxiumus) who whisked young Publius out of the clutches of Tiberius and, with a small contingent of legionaries, has fled with the child east along the Silk Road to the outskirts of the Han Dynasty.

Jackie Chan reprises his often played role as the wise but good-natured leader of a band of battle-weary warriors charged with keeping the peace along the Silk Road. Chan's character no longer believes that violence settles anything so each time he is forced into fighting someone who is striking viciously at him with swords and other nasty weapons, he fends them off with comical facial expressions accompanied by deft deflections off of his breastplate and a small metal shield worn on his forearm.
After one such encounter, Chan's little troop returns home to find their villainous greedy governor has framed them and sentenced them to forced labor repairing the fortification walls of a Han outpost. There they collide with John Cusack's group, make friends then face off together against the evil Tiberius.

I was hoping this was going to be a more realistic story about the so-called "Forgotten Legion" (of Ben Kane fame) from the Battle of Carrhae that were rumored to have been taken captive by the Parthians and subsequently traded to the Han Chinese and settled in Liqian in the north central province of Gansu. After all, I've seen the History Channel, Nat Geo and PBS programs about the Chinese villagers with European physical traits and the European-looking mummies found in China, too. But, instead we get a ridiculous story with theatrically flamboyant characters wearing totally unrecognizable armor (except for the helmet crest) in slashing battles with short swords (?) like ill-trained barbarians singing soaring arias supposedly in Latin that sound more like the vocals of a Byzantine church choir.

I must admit, the sword fights between Cusack and Chan then later Chan and Brody were impressive. Cusack was even convincing as a physically powerful hero type even though he usually plays characters more adept with their brain than their brawn. But that is about the only praise I can give this historical disaster of a movie. And to think I actually purchased this frivolous fantasy sight unseen when it was offered in digital HDX format on Vudu for only $7.99. It's now in my Ultraviolet library so I could actually watch it again if I should ever need historical shock therapy in the future!

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