Son of the Dragon



8 p.m. Wednesday, April 2
Hallmark Movie Channel HD

This is one of those Far East spiritual extravaganzas that nearly always seem to lose something in the translation. You know the kind I'm talking about. That metaphysical music plays and lots of people say all kinds of seemingly profound things like "The bird will fly before the sea is calm" that resonate as deep until you really think about them. And as is the case with all of these films, by decree David Carradine must be part of the cast to deliver wooden dialogue in a monotone voice.

"Son of the Dragon" is special only in that it serves to kick off the new high-definition version of the Hallmark Movie Channel, which is said to be available at launch to about 40 million subscribers (including Time Warner Cable in the Los Angeles area). However, I'm not sure exactly how HD technology is destined to genuinely enhance the viewing experience of this original made-for-TV flick, which is at once so earnest and inexpressive that it almost looks to have been dubbed. Poorly. It's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as it might be presented through a bewildering fog. Moreover, contrary to the title, we not only don't see the son of any dragon, there's no sign of mommy or daddy dragons, either.

Rife with martial arts combat and ethereal special effects touches, the fantasy film tells the tale of an impossibly handsome street guy named, uh, Devil Boy (John Reardon) and his fighting master Bird (Carradine). Once you start relating the actual story, it sounds almost delusional. But here goes: Devil Boy finds himself vying with evil Prince of the North (Rupert Graves) for the love of the exquisite Princess Li Wei (Desiree Ann Siahaan). Pretty soon we're dealing with an Asian-skewing "West Side Story" ("East Side Story"?) as the triangle morphs into a citywide rumble. But we're pretty sure things are still going to turn out OK because DB has perfect eyes and hair, and in these good-vs.-evil tales it always pays to bet on the best looking to triumph. This is especially true when your youthful hero is being presented in HD, which allows us to see literally inside the pores of his skin. In the absence of a cogent story, unblemished close-ups are what we're left with in the digital age.