To review "D-War" (sometimes called "Dragon Wars" or "Dragon Wars: D-War") with any real depth would be an exercise in utter futility. I mean that, really. The film is a big, loud special effects bonanza the likes of which have been seen plenty of times on United States soil, but "D-War" is unique in the fact that it is not an American production, but an Asian one, specifically of the South Korean kind.
But just because it's a South Korean movie with American actors, does that really make it good? It's a yes/no/maybe so type of answer. "D-War" comes to us from South Korean import Hyung-rae Shim, who announced the project back in 2002 and has spent the last five years getting it off the ground. It's received mostly negative reviews here in the U.S. and in South Korea (where it set box office records for an opening week with an estimated five million viewers within a nine-day time-span), but the movie's special effects and action sequences are undeniably stunning. But it's a shame about the story and characters.
Supposedly based on an ancient Korean legend, a 200-meter-long Imoogi (a giant serpent) called Buraki is denied a chance at immortality when two young lovers who are destined to perform the ceremonial rights run away and perish in their escape. 500 years later in Los Angeles, the man is reincarnated as American news reporter Ethan (Jason Behr), who as a child was given a powerful pendant by an elderly antiques dealer named Jack (Robert Forster) and now has to find the reincarnated woman, Sarah (Amanda Brooks), before her 20th birthday.
Sure enough, in special effects sequences that seem right out of any Asian monster flick made in the last 50 years, the dragon Buraki reappears with his seemingly invincible army of demonic warriors to continue his 500-year pursuit of what is rightfully his. Lots of explosions, guns, and destruction as ancient slams head-on into 21st-century military technology, and Ethan and Sarah try to find a way to stop Buraki and his army before he destroys the city.
"D-War" is a film that looks and sounds amazing, in theory, but the execution is so poor that you'll rightfully feel that you've been cheated by the time the credits roll. Make no mistake, Buraki and his minions look pretty cool and plenty menacing, and the destruction they bring about in their action sequences is nothing short of breathtaking. In this regard, Shim has surely done his job in presenting "D-War" as a no-holds-barred sci-fi/fantasy action epic.
On the other hand, the film's human players are drastically short-changed and given cheap, hokey dialogue and scenes that rarely connect. It seems that the only reason they're here is to give us something to root for, which is not in any real way genuine. "D-War" unfortunately comes off as something a lot closer to the poor American adaptation "Godzilla" (1998) than anything that is uniquely Korean. Another problem is that the story seems to take itself a little too seriously, with cheap humor that doesn't get anything greater from us than a weak little laugh. The acting and direction seem mediocre at best (so that you do feel a little sorry for the hokey performances of American heavyweight Robert Forster and up-and-coming Jason Behr), which is a real shame because Hyung-rae Shim is obviously a capable talent who knew what he wanted to do here and surely enough had the means to do it. His head seems full of ideas but the problem is with the execution of those ideas; maybe he was trying to do too much without really working out the material in greater detail. And the ending, a would-be "Raiders of the Lost Ark" special effects showdown, seems pretty cheap too.
I really wanted to like this movie, believe me, but "D-War" is a mediocre attempt at something that really had potential to be spectacular. But maybe it's because I'm an American. Maybe you'd have to be Korean to understand the mythical themes about that classic battle between good and evil. It's just too bad that the finished product of "D-War" appears to be like any other "B"-grade monster movie than the extraordinary idea that the director had in mind.