Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dragonball Evolution

Look Ma No Hands!

Hollywood plundering Japanese pop culture isn't something new. From "Americanizing" television series for the kids from Power Rangers to Ultraman, and adapting famed characters from Japanese film, games and manga to frequent disastrous effect, it still wouldn't stop the studios from going after one property after another. This time round it's the well-loved Dragonball series, because the assumption is that the built-in fan base would translate to instant dollars at the box office. Not.

You have to give the filmmakers a little bit of credit though, being either foolhardy, or just plain ballsy. It's a given that they cannot condense and distill the rich content into a surprisingly less than 90 minute movie, and live in the hopes of producing a sequel, or to generate a franchise (i.e. don't leave the cinema hall when the end credits start to roll). But what they successfully do, is to super-summarize the entire mythos by throwing out everything except the main gist of the entire manga, making it extremely simplistic in poor lazy-man standards in adaptation.

For the uninitiated, the film would serve as a quick launchpad to the original manga. For those with a wee bit of knowledge of what it's about (like myself), the film just treads along the same lines and doesn't offer you new information. For the fanboys, I guess you'll only get some kicks at seeing some of your favourite characters come alive, only that they look more Caucasian, and have a head full of hair when they're not supposed to (someone forgot to insist that in the contract?) That's all you're gonna get. Period.

As far as filmmaking and story-telling techniques go, you can see cliche after cliche being thrown at you, with the poorly and cheaply rendered special effects offering no consolation. Justin Chatwin's Goku is your typical teenager who possesses innate potential yet to be realized, and in his frustration he gets treated by peers as a loser geek. He lives with his grandpa Gohan (Randall Duk Kim in stereotypical know-it-all like in Kung Fu Panda), and develops a crush on school hottie Chi Chi (Jamie Chung). Goku's calling in life is to prevent an apocalypse from happening with the return of chief cardboard baddie Lord Piccolo (an instant shoo-in as one of the worst cinematic villains, ever!) and his temporary sidekick Mai (Eriko Tamura) who attempt to collect 7 dragonballs to fulfill an ancient myth. And of course Goku needs a Fellowship, in the form of irritating tech-wizard Bulma (Emmy Rossum last seen in the sinker Poseidon), mercenary Yum Cha (Joon Park who probably copied Rain's uninspiring cinematic turn in Speed Racer to a T) and Chow Yun-Fat the biggest name of them all here trying his darnest best to act cute as Master Roshi, who imparts skills in double quick time to Goku.

Speaking of time, or the lack thereof, everything is compressed. From two weeks to two days and the day of the blood moon shielding the yellow sun (OK so I made that up), everything moves at so fast a pace, that all you get are cheesy lines of dialogue, and an excuse to paste some action sequences together. And James Wong certainly can't direct action (despite being at the helm of Jet Li's The One, which was of course bland and bad), opting to pay homage to Zack Snyder's slow-mo technique, and midway changing the style to having the camera being too close to the action, in the dark, coupled with quick MTV cuts that you don't get to see a thing.

And the rush job just doesn't stop at the narrative or the action. Special effects wise, they look really cheap, and I wonder whether Producer Stephen Chow would roll his eyes at what would be extremely pale when put side by side with his Kung Fu Hustle done many years ago. Ayumi Hamasaki's contribution of the theme song Rule sounded really bad as well (I may get flak from her fans), and I guess having some Asian participation doesn't legitimize what is essentially a poorly done movie. Not even Chow Yun-Fat's star status could save this, and you wonder what figured when this is the movie that he gave up Red Cliff for.

This is basically a movie that only children below the age of 5 will enjoy tremendously, despite having to see 6 half-balls, contributed courtesy of the 3 lead female characters, being continuously flashed on screen, thanks to some neck plunging wardrobe (where's that malfunction when you need one?) Totally bland and really uninteresting, I would suggest sticking to the manga instead.

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