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Movie Review

'Wars' is absurd action fantasy

A giant snake and prehistoric dino-birds invade Los Angeles in 'Dragon Wars,' a movie written and directed by Shim Hyung-Rae. A giant snake and prehistoric dino-birds invade Los Angeles in "Dragon Wars," a movie written and directed by Shim Hyung-Rae. (FREESTYLE RELEASING)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / September 15, 2007
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You don't have to hand the folks behind "Dragon Wars" much (the acting, directing, costumes, editing, props, music, etc: They're all off). But when they decide to sic that giant snake and those prehistoric dino-birds on downtown Los Angeles, the movie turns shockingly watchable. Until that sequence, there was no evidence that anybody involved with this laughable fantasy knew what he or she was doing.

The computer-generated birds breathe fire on people. The helicopters empty round after round on the relentless snake. The snake lunges at cars and slings them 200 feet. The cameras whoosh between skyscrapers and plummet with burning helicopters and dying birds. It's not quite Michael Bay gangbusters. But it's exclamatory, anyway. The seasoned sci-fi/ action writer and director, Shim Hyung-Rae, should sell Bay the sequence of the movie's boy and girl caressing on a rooftop while bullet casings rain down on them. That is truly special.

Nothing else in "Dragon Wars" - or "D-War" as the film's opening titles announce - is as preposterously fun. In the opening minutes, a narrator explains that 500 years ago a girl was born who can turn a serpent into a dragon. The first girl, a Korean lass in the 16th century, has been reincarnated as a dull Southern Californian named Sarah (Amanda Brooks). The snake and some crypto-medieval army are after her; yet, as befits some certain pretty Los Angeles girls, she's clueless. Her dreams of doom get her institutionalized, but a young reporter named Ethan (Jason Behr) - reincarnated himself, maybe from the 16th-century Korean Tom Cruise - knows what's up and tries to keep her alive. Beachfront make-outs and mysterious clothes changes ensue.

Presumably, Shim was going for an adventure with a "Godzilla" feel. The arbitrary final sequence - good serpent versus bad - bears this out. But the camp panic and mock seriousness are marred by a woeful lack of professionalism. Meanwhile, that action sequence is way too professional for anything "Godzilla"-esque. And some of the dialogue suggests a John Hughesversion of "Lord of the Rings": "The fate of the world rests on your shoulders," says wise old Robert Forster to Ethan. "Deny this. And you will deny yourself everything. Even the girl." Aww. Cue the Psychedelic Furs.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/movie nation.

Dragon Wars

Written and directed by: Shim Hyung-Rae

Starring: Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, and Robert Forster

At: Fenway, Boston, and suburbs

Running time: 90 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and creature action)

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