Dragonball: Evolution–Directed by James Wong

The American reimagining, if this is the right word, of the popular Japanese manga “Dragonball Evolution” is a mixed blessing, an overly formulaic Hollywood actioner which lacks the unique attributes that made the source material such an endearing, globally successful fare.

In an effort to please its primary target audiences, mostly young males, the movie blends different elements and tones, but it’s neither satisfying as a mythic epic a la “Star War” nor pleasing to the eyes or ears as an adventure. That saidm there’s no doubt that Fox plans seemingly quickly made flick to be the first chapter of a long and popular franchise, and the finale reaffirms that feeling.

 

For those who don’t know, “Dragonball” the graphic novel series first appeared in Japan in 1984, and went on to become a global phenomenon, well beyond the realm of film, with more than 130 million volumes sold.  It’s impossible to estimate the number of the anime features, TV versions, videogames that were influenced or inspired by, or juts imitated the initial work.

 

“Dragonball” has already opened in several foreign markets.  My colleagues in France tell me that the movie got mostly bad reviews (with many noting the irony of a poor picture opening on April 1, Fools Day). Whereas in Hong Kong, the reaction was more mixed, with notices pointing out the weaknesses in the narrative and technical exceution.

 

Penned by Ben Ramsey, the tale begins with a pre-credit prologue, which describes briefly and quickly the battle for the planet Earth by Lord Piccolo (James Marsters) and his cohort Oozaru (Ian Whyte). The story then jumps 2,000 years or so to the birthday of Goku (Justin Chatwin), finding him in a ritual of martial-arts training with his grandfather Gohan (Randall Duk Kim).


A teenager about to become a real man, Goku gets a shining orb dragonball and told of the potential power if it’s united with the other six existingf dragonballs. Committed to this goal, the youngster carries his dragonball around.  Neglecting family duties, such as birthday dinner with his grandfather, he opts for a party thrown by the appealing Chi (Jamie Chung),  for whom he is willing to put himself on the line and fight off some school bullies.

 

Much needed tragic melodrama kicks in, when Gohan is attacked by Lord Piccolo and his companion Mai on their way to find the seven dragonballs. Wounded and near death, Gohan instructs Coku to collaborate with the famed Master Roshi (Chow Yun-fat, well-cast for a change) in collecting the seven balls himself before a major disaster happens, a solar eclipse of global proportions.

 

From that point on, the saga centers on the newly formed group, headed by Goku.  Facing risky adventures, the clique learns a number of morals and life lessons, all about the pursuit of such worthy goals as fame and status in the case of Bulma (Emmy Rossum), and greed and riches in the case of Yamacha (Joon Park).

 

In the manner of the “Karate Kid” films, it falls to the duites of the older, patriarchal Roshi to provide words of wisdom and comic relief, just like Pat Morita did in the 1980s franchise in his interaction with youth Ralph Macchio.

 

“Dragonball: Evolution” is directed in a pedestrian, impersonal mode by James Wong, who did some of the “Final Destination” movies, and may not have been the right choice for this material.  Wong stumbles with the storytelling, which veers from a fable-like movie to a good action-adventure, as well as giving the yarn the right mood, or balanace between the serious and the comeid, the ironic and the campy, some of which is a function of the poorly written scenario. 

 

The fight sequences lack the dynamic energy and kinetic qualities of those in the Japanese versions, but helmer moves things along quickly and, for better or worse wraps up his sage in a running time of 83 minutes!, which is way below the average running time of such fare

(The lack of unifie
d tone might have been deliberate, so that different audiences in different nationalities and cultures would interpret the picture according to their repsective contexts).


I have no idea what the budget of the picture was, but its production values and CGI effects are sharply uneven, leaving much to be desired by standards of glossy mainstream Hollywood flicks of this kind.

 

One of the film’s main problems is the casting.  The central characters are too mature for their parts. Chatwin, who’s in his late 20s, looks too old to play a youngster who’s 18, and ditto for love interest Chung.  To be fair, the casting may reflect the small size of pool of eligible Asian or Asian-Amrican candidates

 

On the other hand, it’s good to see Chow Yun-fat in a better role than those allotted to him in most of his Hollywood movies, but I do miss his iconic appearances in John Woo’ stylish films of the early 1990s.  Eevn so, there’s humor in fun in watching the martial-arts sage, who loves sexy magazines, dispneses words of wisdom, even if his interpretation is a tad too broad.

Too bad that Stephen Chow, who’s credited as producer and is responsible for such polished and entertaining fare as “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle,” didn’t exercise more creative control over the proceedings.

Cast

 

Goku – Justin Chatwin
Bulma – Emmy Rossum
Chi ChiJamie Chung
Lord Piccolo – James Marsters
Yamcha – Joon Park
Mai – Eriko
Gohan – Randall Duk Kim
Sifu Norris – Ernie Hudson
Roshi – Chow Yun-fat
Carey Fuller – Texas Battle
Seki – Megumi Seki
Oozaru – Ian Whyte

Credits

 

A 20th Century Fox release and presentation, in association with Dune Entertainment III, of a Star Overseas production, in association with Ingenious Film Partners, Big Screen Prods.

Produced by Stephen Chow.

Executive producers, Akira Toriyama, Tim Van Rellim.

Co-producers, Rodney Liber, Rich Thorne.

Directed by James Wong.

Screenplay, Ben Ramsey, based on the graphic novel series “Dragonball” by Akira Toriyama, manga published by Shonen Jump.
Camera, Robert McLachlan.

Editors, Matthew Friedman, Chris Willingham.

Music, Brian Tyler.

Production designer, Bruton Jones; art director, Charles Daboub; set designers, Hugo Santiago, Armando Lopez R., Steven M. Saylor, Francisco Blanc, Marco Apolo Torres, Sandro Valdez; set decorator, Roberto Bonelli.

Costume designer, Mayes C. Rubeo.

Sound (Dolby/DTS), Fernando Camara; sound supervisers/designers, John Morris, Chuck Michael; re-recording mixers, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker.

Visual effects supervisor, Ariel Velasco Shaw; visual effects, Frantic Films, Hybride, Zoic Studios, Soho VFX; special makeup effects designed and created by Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr.; creatures, Amalgamated Dynamics; stunt coordinators, Jonathan Eusebio, Julian Bucio Montemayor, Jared Eddo; line producer, Jose Ludlow (Mexico).

 

MPAA Rating: PG.

Running time: 83 Minutes.