East meets West in “Dragon Blade,” an epic new film starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody. The story of a showdown between Roman armies and the tribes of Western China is the most expensive film ever produced in China and after a successful run overseas the $65 million movie is now opening in North America as one of the top grossing Asian films of all time.
Very loosely based on the true story of a legion of Roman soldiers who went missing along China’s Silk Road, the action takes place in a flashback to 48 BC after Roman ruins are found in China. The convoluted story boils down to this: After a corruption charge Chinese captain Huo An (Jackie Chan) is banished to reconstruct Goose Gate, a ruined fortress. When a Roman legion, led by general Lucius (Cusack), shows up in need of supplies Huo An makes a truce, teaming with the general in advance of the approach of the vicious Roman leader Tiberius (Brody) and his army of 100,000 men. The murderous Tiberius plans on taking control of the Silk Road, the country’s main artery for trade and culture.
“Dragon Blade” has the grand feel of “Gladiator” and “300’s” respect for the past, which is to say it is a large scale humanistic epic with virtually no regard for the history books. It’s a sword and sandal spectacle with hundreds of extras, big battle scenes, pure hearted good guys and an over-the-top villain. Add in a culture clash, some bizarro casting—Lloyd Dobler as a Roman general? Really?—and you’re left with a loud-and-proud movie that puts the ‘O Man!’ in Roman. It occasionally sags under the weight of the story, but a charming performance from Chan and Brody’s pantomime villain keep things interesting.