Dragon Wars

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NEW YORK -- Unlike his countryman Joon-ho Bong's "The Host," which revived the monster movie genre with wit and style, South Korean helmer Hyung-rae Shim applies a strictly grade-Z sensibility to "Dragon Wars." Belatedly receiving a U.S. release after it became a huge hit in its native country (under the title "D-War"), the film boasts superior CGI special effects for a movie of its type. But it's unlikely to erase anyone's fond memories of the original "Godzilla" and its ilk.

Set in present-day Los Angeles, the film depicts the mayhem that ensues when a giant dragon wreaks destructive havoc throughout the city. Immersed in the story is telegenic television reporter Ethan Kendrick (Jason Behr) of CGNN, who seems to feel that the phenomenon has something to do with his childhood encounter with a mysterious antique store owner, Jack (Robert Forster).

Jack explains in a subsequent visit, via much narrative exposition and a lengthy flashback set in ancient Korea, that Ethan is the reincarnation of a warrior who was charged with protecting a young woman who was the key to the powers of the giant dragons, or Imoogi.

Now Jack must search for her modern equivalent, Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who possesses the mark of the dragon on her shoulder. Unfortunately, the dragon, named Buraki, also is trying to find her, doing no small amount of damage to greater Los Angeles in the process. Also trying to track her down is the U.S. government, with the secretary of Defense ordering that she be eliminated. (And some people thought Donald Rumsfeld bent the rules!)

The film kicks into gear in its second half, with Buraki and its minions laying waste to entire city blocks. Resonances of past films of its type abound, particularly in the drawn-out battle between Buraki and a legion of armed helicopters at the top of a skyscraper that recalls "King Kong."

While the CGI effects are undeniably impressive, the laughable story line, risible dialogue and cheap humor (most of it involving a hapless zoo security guard) seriously detract from the fun. Neither Behr (who starred on the WB Network's "Roswell") nor Brooks adds much interest to the proceedings, and Forster delivers what might be the first bad performance of his career. Even such normally reliable supporting players as Chris Mulkey and Elizabeth Pena don't come off well.

DRAGON WARS
Freestyle Releasing/Showbox
Younguu Art
Credits:
Director/screenwriter/executive producer: Hyung-rae Shim
Producer: James B. Kang
Director of photography: Hubert Taczanowski
Production designer: Pamela Warner
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Costume designer: Niklas J. Palm
Editor: Timothy Alverson
Cast:
Ethan: Jason Behr
Sarah: Amanda Brooks
Jack: Robert Forster
Brandy: Aimee Garcia
Bruce: Craig Robinson
Agent Frank Pinsky: Chris Mulkey
Agent Judah Campbell: John Ales
Agent Linda Perez: Elizabeth Pena
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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