Every year, hundreds of low-budget films are released on DVD without having played in theaters first. This is usually due to theaters not wanting them. “Ew,” the theaters say. “A horror sequel with none of the same actors as the original? An action movie with a title that’s similar to a real film that’s currently in theaters? Anything involving the words ‘National Lampoon’? No thank you! BEGONE, VILE OFFENDERS!” (This is a direct quote.) The movies slink away, disappointed at not being allowed to play on cinema screens, and then turn up in video stores, where they are rented by inebriated college students.
I can only imagine how jealous those straight-to-DVD movies were when one of their own kind — a Korean-produced travesty called “D-War: Dragon Wars” — somehow sneaked into actual theaters. They must have been enraged at the injustice of it all. “I am every bit as incompetently made as ‘D-War: Dragon Wars’!” yelled “Jeepers Creepers 4: The Creepening.” “Why couldn’t I play on the big screen?”
“Yeah!” echoed “Teenage Werewolf Sex Seducers.” “Have you seen how nonsensical and unintentionally funny I am?? ‘D-War: Dragon Wars’ has nothing on me!”
“D-War: Dragon Wars” — which is the actual onscreen title — played in more than 2,000 American theaters in the fall of 2007, grossing almost $11 million. This means well over a million people paid eight or nine bucks apiece to see a film that, by all rights, they should have been able to see for three or four dollars, or whatever Blockbuster charged for new releases back then, in 2007, when Blockbuster still existed.
The plot of “D-W: DW” concerns an ancient Korean legend that the filmmakers made up, in which every 500 years a girl is born with the “spirit power” necessary to turn a serpent into a DRAGON! A good serpent will use its newfound dragonness to promote peace throughout the universe — it will become a wuss dragon, in other words — while a “bad” serpent will become a mean and angry dragon and do awesome stuff like set knights on fire with its breath.
Now, you might think there are no dragons in the 21st century, but “D-W: DW” will set you straight. “Everyone believes the time of dragons has passed,” says the narrator. “But the time of dragons has just begun!” There, see?
So there was this weird explosion in Los Angeles that happened before the movie started (filming one of those suckers is expensive!) and all we know is that now there’s a crater in the ground, and in this crater is a large reptilian scale, such as might have fallen off the back of, say, a very large lizard. OR MAYBE A DRAGON!!
TV news reporter Ethan Kendrick (Jason Behr), a floppy-haired, college-intern-looking dope, arrives on the scene and notices that the scale looks just like this big, bulky pendant that he wears around his neck at all times. This realization causes a flashback to 15 years ago, when a weird man at an antiques store, played by Robert Forster — Forster plays the man, I mean, not the store — gives the pendant to a very young Ethan. The man, whose name is Jack, tells Ethan the story behind the pendant, resulting in another flashback, even though we weren’t finished with the first flashback yet.
In this second flashback, we’re in Korea in 1507, and a girl is born with a dragon-shaped birthmark on her shoulder. This can only mean one thing: She is impure and must be thrown down a well.
No, I kid. It means she has the Yuh Yi Joo inside her, the spiritual power that will ripen for 20 years and then turn a serpent into a dragon. This is when we learn what the movie means when it says “serpent.” It means GIANT SNAKE THAT IS 100 FEET LONG AND AS WIDE AS A HOUSE. A bad one of these “serpents,” called Buraki, wants to get the Yuh Yi Joo from the girl before the good serpent, Imoogi, does. The girl grows up and is protected by her boyfriend, and then the two of them commit suicide rather than let Buraki get the Yuh Yi Joo, as a Buraki with Yuh Yi Joo would be the most dangerous thing in the universe. (Obviously.)
Jack the antiques dealer says he’s the reincarnation of the old man who took care of the girl in the 1500s, and that Ethan is the reincarnation of the girl’s boyfriend. The girl herself has been reincarnated in the form of Sarah (Amanda Brooks), who luckily also lives in Los Angeles and is easily identified by her dragon birthmark, which everyone in the movie calls a “tattoo,” even though it isn’t. It’s a birthmark. She was born with it. Even the most disreputable tattoo artist wouldn’t etch a dragon on a fetus that was still in utero.
Anyway, after like 15 minutes of flashbacks to tell us what the story is going to be about when it finally starts, the story finally starts. To wit: Buraki, which used to be in Korea, is now in Los Angeles, and has awakened and is looking for Sarah. Ethan’s job is to find Sarah and protect her from Buraki. Buraki, you’ll recall, is a GIANT SNAKE. Buraki first stops at the local zoo to eat the elephants, an event that is witnessed by a zookeeper who can’t get anyone to believe it happened. In fact, they put him in a straitjacket. Seriously. No one bothers to check the zoo for elephant carcasses, broken fences, huge swaths of broken trees and bushes from where the 100-foot snake slithered through, etc.
Having had its fill of elephants, Buraki gets down to its real task of locating Sarah and taking her Yuh Yi Joo by whatever means necessary. The film doesn’t even hint at what those means might be, or how one locates the Yuh Yi Joo inside of a person, or what the Yuh Yi Joo even looks like, but Buraki seems to know what it’s doing. The question I have is why a giant serpent that is apparently immortal and virtually indestructible wants to become a dragon anyway. What additional benefits are there? Is it worth this kind of trouble? Eh, I guess you get legs, which is probably a bonus.
Despite being a giant snake, Buraki seems to have no trouble getting around Los Angeles undetected. It even shows up at Sarah’s house and kills her roommate. Wait: unstoppable killing machine; ravages L.A.; looks for a woman named Sarah; murders her roommate. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this movie before, and I’m pretty sure the Buraki character spoke with a thick Austrian accent.
Sorry if I seem to be focusing a lot on the giant snake, but it’s by far the most interesting character in the movie. Meanwhile, Ethan locates Sarah, who’s been having weird visions lately, and fills her in on what’s happening, i.e., that a giant snake wants to eat her Yuh Yi Joo. Sarah accepts this without argument. Also meanwhile, some FBI agents are investigating the weird destruction that’s been happening all over L.A. today, and are quickly coming to the very obvious conclusion that an ancient Korean dragon prophecy is being fulfilled. Also meanwhile, Darryl from “The Office” is Ethan’s co-worker and sidekick, and he usually shows up in a car just in time to rescue Ethan and Sarah from Buraki. Buraki can move pretty quickly (for a giant snake) and has no problem eating or smashing bystanders, but whenever it gets close to Sarah it slows down and allows her to escape, as if Buraki were a huge, hissing James Bond villain.
Oh, and apparently Buraki has an army of human followers, like the orcs in “Lord of the Rings.” I do not know where these soldiers materialize from, nor do I know why they have — wait for it — armor-wearing dinosaurs. But for whatever reason, Buraki’s warriors and their battlesaurs march through L.A. to fight off the U.S. military, which has finally gotten wind of the “giant snake destroying everything” situation and is taking action. Inexpensive, barely convincing CGI action.
Ethan and Sarah escape the mayhem but are captured by Buraki’s warriors and taken to Buraki’s temple. (Oh, apparently Buraki has a temple. This was news to me, too.) The movie literally gives no indication where this temple is. It’s surrounded by dark, ominous skies, and there are no recognizable landmarks. It could be another dimension; it could be France. Wherever it is, Buraki is present, despite having been knocking down buildings in downtown L.A. just moments ago. Ah! So Buraki’s temple must be close to downtown L.A. Maybe it’s in the Valley somewhere. Stay with me, we’ll figure this thing out yet!
The reason we’re at the temple is that, as it turns out, Buraki requires that Sarah be tied to an altar and sacrificed before it snatches her Yuh Yi Joo. Buraki is old-fashioned that way. All those times it was chasing her through the city and you thought it was about to devour her, well, it wasn’t. It was just going to … abduct her? I guess? It doesn’t have any legs or claws, though. Maybe pop her into its mouth and carefully transport her back to the temple?
OK, I don’t know what Buraki’s plan was, or why it took so long for its minions to arrive and do the actual capturing, or why Ethan’s life was spared when he’s of no use to Buraki, or what that pendant Ethan’s been wearing all this time has to do with anything. All I know is that now, at the temple, Imoogi the good serpent FINALLY shows up to fight with Buraki, after having been absent for the entire movie. I guess this is our “dragon war,” though Imoogi and Buraki are both specifically NOT dragons. The whole point is that they want to BECOME dragons, remember? Look, movie, if you’re not going to keep track of your own mythology, I’m not going to do it for you. You’re stupid and I hate you and I would rather watch “Hostel 3: Canceled Reservation” — which, for the record, probably has as many scenes of dragons at war as “D-War: Dragon Wars” does, i.e., none.