"While it does not take full advantage of its rather interesting premise, the film’s plot of is enjoyable enough to hold the viewer’s curiosity"

With his lightening fast moves and his death defying stunt work; Jackie Chan has established himself as a true icon of film for nearly 40 years. However, as he has gotten older, Chan has gradually moved towards much weightier and dramatic work in which he is allowed to test his acting abilities, as well as his martial arts skills. Dragon Blade, a Chinese historical epic, is one such venture, showcasing a Jackie Chan that is far more nuanced and deeper than the high-kicking genius that we have seen countless times before.

Dragon Blade centres on the heroic Huo An, a member of the Protection Squad, a group of warriors who guard the Silk Road trading route in Ancient China circa 50BC. When sent to build up the defences of a ruined fortress, Huo comes into contact with a fleeing Roman Legion led by Lucius on the run from the villainous Tiberius. This meeting of East and West soon sets the scene for a partnership between Lucius and Huo, as they work together to build up their forces and confront Tiberius in a final battle that will decide the fate of the Silk Road.

As Huo, Chan gives a fine performance, showcasing his skills in a manner not normally seen by Western audiences. Performing his dialogue primarily in Mandarin, Chan creates a character that feels and acts like a heroic warrior, but beneath this noble exterior lays a guilt ridden orphan whose tragic back story motivates his desire to preserve peace at all costs. Chan brings this character to life with a modest helping of his usual comic persona, but with a greater amount of humanity and dramatic flair. It’s the sombre quiet moments in which the character really comes to life and it’s not every day you see Jackie Chan cry on camera.

If only the same kind of praise could be given to the film’s English speaking stars whose performances are, at their best, laughably bad or, at their worst, John Cusack. Cusack’s performance as Lucius is easily the worst thing in this film, mainly because he just doesn’t seem to be trying. Cusack spends most of his scenes robotically delivering his dialogue with an expression of either tiredness or boredom on his face. Even in what are supposed to be emotional scenes, he seems to be just putting in the minimum of effort to justify his probably hefty paycheque. Quite simply, he is possibly the worst Roman in cinematic history.

Adrien Brody on the other hand, as the villain Tiberius, is at the very least entertaining. He performs his part mostly with a smirk plastered on his face, adopting a very inconsistent English accent. But he seems to be aware that his performance won’t win any awards, and he looks to be having some fun with the character delivering his dialogue with a charismatic hammy flair that is enjoyably bad. As opposed to Cusuack who performs his role with all the charismatic flair of a used bathmat.

However, let’s be honest with ourselves, we rarely watch Jackie Chan films for the acting. We watch them for the action, and Chan is, as always, on phenomenal form in this department. Filled with expertly choreographed, lighting fast fight scenes and huge sprawling battles, the film has some truly great sequences. With a particular highlight being the sword battle between Lucius and Huo, with Chan having lost none of his agility and speed despite his advancing years.

The film’s presentation is mostly excellent; with some truly amazing cinematography that showcase the film’s elaborate and mostly practical sets. From packed villages to the huge walls of Wild Geese Gate, it is really impressive stuff to look at. However, there are several editing decisions which become increasingly irritating, such as the unnecessary fades to black and the infuriating near constant flashbacks to scenes that, in most cases, ended seconds before.

Overall, Dragon Blade is a decent historical epic. While it does not take full advantage of its rather interesting premise, the film’s plot is enjoyable enough to hold the viewer’s curiosity. It’s the action sequences that offer the best moments and once again show off Chan’s mastery as both a fight choreographer and performer.

The film is, quite simply, not bad and should prove an enjoyable viewing experience for long-time fans of Jackie Chan. I’ll be happy as long as John Cusack vows to never play a Roman again.