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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 2009 director John Hyams raised the bar for direct-to-DVD action
films with UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION. Expectations were low and
so was the budget, but Hyams overcame those limitations with some jaw-
dropping action scenes that included a pleasing rematch between Dolph
Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The standard set so high that I
felt disappointed when I saw the trailer for Hyams' follow-up DRAGON
As with the previous film, Van Damme plays a key supporting role but the headlined star is a UFC fighter. While Van Damme was not on screen a great deal in REGENERATION he was still arguably the lead but that is definitely not the case here. Despite what the distributors might want you to think. His character, Tiano, plays a pivotal role but only appears in a string of flashbacks. He is mentor to a prisoner called Hong, played by mixed martial artist Cung Le, who drifts into the town of St. Jude (state unspecified) with a clear but unspoken agenda.
DRAGON EYES is back-to-basics action of the "Cleaning up the town" variety. The kind of thing we've seen in the likes of STREET CORNER JUSTICE (Charles Bail, 1996), Latin DRAGON (Scott Thomas, 2004) and ROAD HOUSE 2 (Scott Ziehl, 2006). It's a storyline that reaches all the way back through the 1980s to the glory days of the western influenced by Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961). There's a heavily retro vibe to the whole film. This is established with a credits font that evokes the blaxploitation era. After REGENERATION I felt sure that Hyams would get a decent budget to show what he can do, but it would seem the opposite was true. The trailer indicated that the locations would be simple (back streets and abandoned buildings) and there was a limited Van Damme presence, but I felt sure any shortcomings would be overcome by great looking action.
While it appeared low budget, I was hopeful that DRAGON EYES would be something akin to the first couple of films starring Tony Jaa. Unfortunately, while Le's character is as thinly written as any of Jaa's and both are skilled martial artists the comparisons between the two end there. Le lacks charisma and isn't given much to say or do apart from the action scenes. While there are inventive action moments there are simply not enough of them. Le shows no promise of being the next big thing. It's not really his fault, Hyams just fails to deliver. There's a notable overuse of slow motion.
Looking like it was shot on video (although with a decent camera), DRAGON EYES is a major disappointment. During approximately 80 minutes of screen time, the plot meanders and seems total nonsense. Exposition is minimal (which is unusual) and the film coasts from one scene to another with no real sense of direction or momentum.
There are lots of pointless scenes involving supporting characters, including one funny one featuring a crackhead called Beech played by Eddie Rouse. Rouse and Le both previously appeared in PANDORUM (Christian Alvart, 2009) and of the two it's Rouse who delivers the most memorable performance in DRAGON EYES. That is apart from Peter Weller, always a great screen presence, clearly having a ball playing villain Mister V. He gets all the best lines.
The simple plot is overly complicated and unconvincing. We are meant to believe that Hong has been able to locate and break into all the main bad guys safes to steal their contents. This is all going on while he runs around like a ninja to make them uneasy and things take a turn when after beating up the local gangstas they seem to respect him for it.
I was confused when some guys he fought in one of the first scenes started to come to his aid when another group show up to fight him. It wasn't until this second group are shown listening attentively as he tells them to stop selling drugs to kids and put away their guns, that I realised the absurdity of what was going on. They are listening to him like he's Jesus. This just allows for more bad guys to take their trade and they do nothing. They just get shot.
As usual this all builds to a big climax (it's no surprise that it's in an abandoned building) in which Hong fights his way through some thugs to confront the villain and rescue a girl. The action's not engaging and I really didn't care. I just couldn't wait for it to be over so I could put this all behind me. It's not that it's a really bad film, it's just that it's bland and poorly put together and I expected so much more.
If you want to see a film like this with a comprehensible plot and good action, just rent the Steven Seagal movie URBAN JUSTICE (Don E. FauntLeRoy, 2007) or give Van Damme's little seen Yojimbo-influenced DESERT HEAT (John G. Avildsen, 1999) a go.
I was finally able to watch this and I have to say that I enjoyed it. I do agree with some others that the story did have some plot holes, which was the main flaw of the movie. It felt like a lot of the scenes were missing about 5 min that would explain why the next scene plays out how it does. Still, this didn't really affect most of the overall enjoyment factor for me. I thought Cung Le was a cool lead. He has minimal dialog, which is probably a good thing, so he comes off as the strong silent type. As we all know, JC only has a small part...probably about 10 minutes spread throughout the whole movie. His scenes and his performance are both very cool. I didn't really care for how his back story was explained though. The fights do have a lot of slow motion thrown into them but it actually works for the most part. It allows you to feel the brutality of street fighting...plus you see everything clearly, which is great. Hyams knows how to stay on a scene, which I love. As far as the side characters go, they are all clichéd but the acting is actually pretty solid. The guy who plays Beech probably delivers one of the best crack head performances I've seen in a movie. The ending is very abrupt but I felt like it actually fit the tone of the movie. Like Regeneration, I really enjoyed the subtle music score from Michael Krassner too. Overall, the movie isn't great but I thought it was a well made little indie action flick. It totally felt like a late 80's/early 90's beat em up flick like Road House or Perfect Weapon. 3.25/5
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are many ways how to ruin an action/ martial arts film. Dragon
Eyes does it by presenting one of the dullest main characters ever!
Yes I'm talking about Cung Le's character. I've now watched 40 minutes of the movie and he has hardly spoken more than 20 words. (Only John Rambo is allowed to do that!) And his facial expressions range from anger (the fighting) to total detachment (all other scenes). Is that supposed to make him tough and cool? No. It. Does. Not! It makes him dull and boring.
It's always a really bad sign, when the main character could die in the movie and you wouldn't even blink and certainly not care. This is very much the case in Dragon Eyes. And what a shame it is, because every other character does have a personality and is very much 'alive', while our hero just stares holes into the air and fights whenever he has to. Wow!
What I mean is... does Cung Le have no charisma at all? That can't be true, right? So why don't we see any of it on screen? Bad directing? No talent for acting?
Peter Weller on the other hand seems to be enjoying his return to the screen very much. It's a pleasure seeing him work!
The movie is now over. I give it six stars. (That's too much.) It's because the film has many good elements, but they just don't fit together. And the movie doesn't flow. There are scenes that make no sense. I could have been good. Some re-shoots, another editor and voilà: 8 stars. But no....
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am a HUGE fan of Mister Van Damme. Since Assassination Game i was
waiting for his next movie. I tough it would be The Eagle Path but well
it was Dragon Eyes. OK so i watch trailer first i knew Van Damme was
not the lead. Fine by me... didn't saw any problem with it as the main
character seem to kick ass.
Problem is, its the only thing he do... the guy have hardly 10 lines in the movie... he show no emotion, thanks god the fights are good...
The plot is a mess, honestly i was like "wtf" during most of it. Its not because you beat some thug you can then decide what they do... I mean street gangs have no sense of honor...
When i say the plot was a mess, it was even more than just a mess, it was terrible. But again i said above fights where good and they are indeed well choreographed. They feel brutal and stiff.
So what can i say? I had fun watching it for the fights. I also enjoy seeing Van Damme on screen, even in a support role... Oh and i didn't mentioned Peter Weller... damn robocop sure aged too :P but he did a fair job in his role.
But that mess of a plot prevent me from giving this a good score. I mean i have no problem if the plot if simple, not that much creative, but here its a different thing, it feel just IMPOSSIBLE... period...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Dragon Eyes" is ugly, implausible, and infuriatingly convoluted. Here
is a film that's not only an eyesore the colors muddy, the lighting
perpetually dim but also so badly structured and so poorly developed
that it's next to impossible to follow along with. In attempting to
cross a contemporary crime drama with classic martial arts, writer Tim
Tori and director John Hyams have diluted the waters, leaving neither
genre with enough substance or style to please any potential audience.
Characters are introduced and disposed of with such haphazard regard
that one wonders why anyone bothered to give them dialogue or
personalities; they would have been much better off just standing there
silently like pieces of scenery, waiting for their cue to get knocked
out, shot at, or both. This movie is a mess the likes of which a mop
and bucket are required.
We meet a mysterious man named Hong (Cung Le), whose one piece of back story is slowly revealed via intermittent flashback sequences, ones that somehow manage to show so much and yet say so little. It seems he was arrested, tried, and convicted for a crime he didn't commit but in fact bore witness to and tried to stop. In prison, he was taken under the wing of an equally mysterious man named Tiano (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who teaches him in the ways of some martial arts discipline in their surprisingly spacious cell. Curious that they were never once seen by a security guard, whose job it is to make rounds on a regular basis. Anyway, when Hong is released, he goes to the crime-infested city of St. Jude, presided over by a corrupt police chief who prefers to be called Mr. V (Peter Weller). For reasons not adequately explained until the end of the film and even then, the details are sketchy at best Hong interjects himself into the affairs of several rival gangs, each of which he tries to pit against the other.
At least, I think that was what he was doing. He's soon taken in by Mr. V, who's initially impressed by his fighting skills. If I've gotten your hopes up that the film is wall-to-wall martial arts choreography, I must apologize. Martial arts do sneak their way into several of the fight scenes, but not in a way fans of that genre are likely to find entertaining. Most of the action is just plain brutal, with a lot of body slamming and punching and lightning-quick edits that confuse every shot into an indecipherable jumble. Strangely enough, most of the fight scenes are punctuated by split-second slow motion shots, which were included perhaps in an effort to make them seem like mindless video game stunts. But I stray; after a time, Mr. V soon loses his trust in Hong and vows to fight back. But as luck would have it, Hong has made an alliance of sorts with the Hispanic gang and the black gang. The same cannot be said of the Russian gang, the leader of which he fought with in yet another suspiciously large jail cell.
When Hong first enters St. Jude, he moves into an apartment building overseen by a distrusting man, whose granddaughter (Crystal Mantecon) is largely responsible for entering a scene, delivering one or two lines that are half-cryptic and softly sarcastic, and then leaving. To say she contributes absolutely nothing to the plot would be a massive understatement. Perhaps I should be thankful that the filmmakers didn't go the expected route and make her Hong's love interest. I'll bet they came close, though. Their precious few scenes together hinted at something flirtatious. In the granddaughter's case, at least; Hong is a man of so few words and facial expressions that it's rather difficult to tell how he's feeling at any given moment. Nevertheless, he's compelled to clean up St. Jude, and indeed, one scene shows him and the rest of the neighbors painting over graffiti, planting flowers, and picking up trash.
The motivation of the Van Damme character is not made clear to us until the last possible moment, at which point it's too late for us to care. That doesn't stop the filmmakers from inserting yet another flashback sequence, this one completely unrelated to Hong's story. His inclusion is primarily for tradition's sake, since movies like this require a wise elder who can not only fight but also speak in annoying proverbs. Even here, the filmmakers went only halfway; when Tiano speaks, it comes out as an awkward mix between Eastern philosophy and contemporary street talk. You can tell this movie was written and directed by people who have either never seen a martial arts movie or have completely forgotten everything they learned from one.
When the end credits start rolling, I was tempted to yell at the screen in sheer frustration. It would not be enough to say that there's no resolution; the final scene goes so rapidly and finishes so abruptly that it felt like it was cobbled together at the last minute in the editing room. You know when sometimes a film has to be hastily reedited when one of its stars dies before principle photography wraps? In such cases, you can always tell that something is missing. No one died during the making of "Dragon Eyes," thank heavens, but the ending does give off that vibe of being tragically incomplete and hopelessly salvaged. Some stories are beyond saving. This one should have been put out of its misery like a rabid dog. To watch the film is to witness just under ninety minutes of incompetence.
-- Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)
'DRAGON EYES': Three Stars (Out of Five)
International Kickboxing champion and UFC star Chung Le stars in this crime drama action film. It co-stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, Peter Weller and Kristopher Van Varenberg (Van Damme's son). The film was directed by John Hyams (who also directed the last two 'UNIVERSAL SOLDIER' films, also featuring Van Damme) and written by Tim Tori (who also wrote the low budget B horror films 'PROWL', 'HYSTERIA' and 'TRESSPASSERS'). It was produced by After Dark Films, who had primarily been known for releasing horror films but has now turned to martial arts action films as well (they also produced the recent Scott Adkins action film 'EL GRINGO'). The film is about what you'd expect from your average martial arts B movie but it does showcase Le's talents well; as an action force to be reckoned with.
Le plays Ryan Hong, a mysterious loner who rolls in to a town, rife with gang violence, known as St. Jude. He turns the two ruling gangs there against each other before falling under the attention of corrupt police chief Mr. V (Weller). Mr. V first sees Hong's skills as an asset and uses him to help control the gangs but then finds him to be more of a menace than an ally. Hong turns to the skills he was taught in prison by an old resident of St. Jude, known as Tiano (Van Damme), and attempts to clean up the town once and for all.
Le has had a lot of cool supporting turns in action films like 'TEKKEN', 'PANDORUM', 'FIGHTING' and most recently 'THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS' but this is his first chance to show off his leading man chops. His fighting skills are very impressive and he has an acting style similar to the likes of the greats; like Jackie Chan and Jet Li (in my opinion). It would be nice to see him get better movies with higher production values but this is a good start for him. Hyams is a good action film director and it doesn't get much better than having Van Damme and Peter Weller supporting you in your first starring role. Van Damme plays little more than an extended cameo in the film but was given top billing in all the marketing (including posters and the DVD cover) in order to sell it (his name is pretty marketable these days, despite being seen as washed up just a few years ago). He doesn't really have enough screen time in this film to make much of an impression but just his presence gives the film some extra cred. Weller is great as the movie's villain and it's nice to see him popping up in films still as well. The movie is really just an action vehicle for Chung Le though and at that it does it's job pretty well.
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Storywise this really aims high. Something that people might not really
be into that much, but whatever the case, you have to admire the
filmmakers for trying at least. There are some very fine ideas in this
movie (loyalty, friendship, respect amongst them), but none get
explored too much. Not to mention that the emotional connection between
the viewer and the main character unfortunately isn't the strongest.
And that has nothing to do with the storyline, but has more to do with
the way the movie is handled.
The action scenes are decent enough (some are even spectacular), but hopefully you're not renting this to watch van Damme fight. He's playing a major part, but is a supporting player. But Cung Le knows how to fight. In the charisma department on the other hand ... One really good coup the movie made is installing Peter Weller as the main bad guy. He is terrific and shows what Charisma really is!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After leaving jail, Hong (Cung Le) travels to St Jude where he
encounters a whole host of new problems which threaten to either send
him back to the joint, or stop him breathing permanently.
The story is built up quite slowly and it's only until later on in the film that things start to click into place. The action scenes are introduced and filmed very well, you can feel the kicks and punches as they land. Cung Le did a terrific job of choreographing those action scenes.
Great fights (and quite a number of them too), interesting story with the whole master/mentor element being used, solid direction for the most part and pretty good acting for a martial arts flick by all the prominent actors. Van Damme and Peter Weller play their parts well and are a great addition, while Van Damme doesn't get a great deal of screen time but his presence is certainly still felt.
So why did I end up giving this a 7 and not a higher score? Well, and this may be considered a >>> S P O I L E R >>> It's the ending of any movie, the way things are concluded which can often leave the most lasting impression on you, no matter how good the movie was before it reaches the final few scenes. And this is where the problem lies. The last 15 minutes of the movie just seem extremely rushed, forced and clichéd. Such a shame that not more time was taken with the ending and that the fights at the end could have been introduced in a superior, more logical way. While the fights themselves were still entertaining, it seems by the end of the film they just wanted to get it over with and bring it to a close. <<< END SPOILER <<<
All in all, worth watching for the good fight scenes, interesting story, solid direction (for most, if not all of the movie) and decent acting for a film of this type. 7/10
This film is entertaining.
The bias we hold coming into a film will always steer our opinions of it. Mine was the foregone conclusion this would be boring and low budget and I was wrong! Well, I was wrong about boring.
Most people on here seem to rip the story line and the main actor's demeanor but I don't watch fight films for character development. Does anyone really do that? The fight scenes are pretty cool and at times sweet. I enjoyed the use of camera angles throughout the film and wasn't ever bored.
In the end it was entertaining and that is what I look for with fight films.
Call me lame, but I still love me some Van Damage. Every time he has a
new film coming out, I go out of my way to see it. I can't help it. I
grew up with the guy, and he means a lot to me, but this was so
disappointing, it's not even funny. Cung Lee certainly has some movies,
there is no doubt about that, but he needs to start picking better
scripts, so he can utilize his talents for maximum effect. For big Van
Damme fans like myself, prepare to feel slightly ripped off and
ultimately disappointed. Despite his top billing, he is barely in this
film, and is reduced to a glorified cameo as a mentor to Cung Lee in
prison, and the scenes between them are quite forgettable. When the
fighting scenes happen, they are actually fairly exciting and violent.
Cung Lee is terrific when it comes to action, but he needs work on
charisma and personality as well. He is not yet able to carry a movie
on his own. Peter Weller makes for a solid villain. He's usually
dependable and here was no different. We also get Kristopher Van
Varenberg (Van Damme's real life son) and he is proving to be quite the
Final Thoughts: It's too boring for its own good. It does have some good action sequences, but the boredom that frequently comes in between all that kills any momentum. Cung Lee has potential. I just hope he chooses a little more wisely in the future
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