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Bridge Of Dragons
(1999)
 

Director: Isaac Florentine    
Cast:
Dolph Lundgren, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rachel Shane


As I was watching Bridge Of Dragons (which has no bridges or dragons in it), I couldn't help but think of an earlier movie I'd reviewed, Fantasy Mission Force. You will recall that Jackie Chan movie was a sheer crazy mix of different genres, different time periods, hell, different insanities. It was all executed with a sense of fun, a kind of self-knowledge that it was ridiculous that somehow added to its enjoyment. Bridge Of Dragons is also a bizarre mix of completely different elements, but it's different in that the movie takes itself seriously. No matter what happens, or whatever element is onscreen at the time, everyone from the actors to the director treats it without the least bit of irony or humor. In fact, it's so serious that at times I wondered if the people who made this movie were more insane than the people who made Fantasy Mission Force, for Chan and everyone else in that movie clearly knew it was a joke. Is the movie stark raving mad? Certainly. Was I bored? Seldom. Is the movie entertaining? I thought so, but like that Jackie Chan movie, I think it's going to be a matter of taste and timing for any viewer who gets the chance to watch it.

The back of the video box says that this is a post holocaust world, though there's no sign or mention of that in the film itself. But there must have been a large dose of radiation somewhere to make this world, "someplace...where the future meets the past," as a title card tells us at the beginning. We are told that in some unnamed country, the king died, leaving a princess too young to take the throne. General Roechang then took power and lead the country in the standard darkness and misery associated with Generals. (How about, for once, a General who takes over in a movie actually improving the state of the country?) After several years, the princess has come of age, and he plans to wed her in order to get possession of the throne.

Okay, that sounds normal. But after the opening sequence where we see Roechang's fair-haired boy "Warchild" (Lundgren) blowing up some sour-minded rebels, it quickly becomes apparent not everything is normal. The architecture and the countryside looks European (the credits mention a Bulgarian crew), and 99% of the population is Caucasian, but the princess and the general are Asian. The General's army has modern helicopters and jeeps (all labeled with the logo "666"), though the soldiers wear uniforms and helmets that look suspiciously like the ones the Nazis used. And though the army's transportation vehicles are modern, everyone else either gets around in 1940s cars, or with horses. The same citizens wear a wide range of clothing styles, including monk-like clothing, modern dress, and clothing from the 1940s. Those are just some of the ways this world is a mish-mash of completely different elements.

It may sound completely unworkable in print, but somehow it's easier to accept when you see it. The playing-it-straight attitude actually does make you almost believe that this world exists. Even if viewers find all of this silly, they will at least be entertained by this potpourri, and will be curious as to what will next be thrown in the pot.

Getting back to the plot: Just before the wedding, the princess finds out (surprise!) that the General had her parents killed. Being now more reluctant than ever to marry him, she takes off into the wilderness, hoping to find the rebels. The General then orders Warchild to go and retrieve her. Just as well, because even though the princess is shown to be an expert at martial arts, she finds herself captured not once, but twice, by assorted drooling cretins, making Warchild having to rescue her each time before she runs off again. Of course, Warchild refuses all this while to even consider the possibility that the princess' claim that General is a real mean guy is real. But as time progresses...

...yes, though the movie may be full of seemingly random stuff put together, at its heart is a fairly predictable story. But so are a lot of other movies, most of which don't at least try to have at least a little originality, like the makers of this movie put in. And Bridge Of Dragons makes the effort to make itself action-packed and satisfying in other ways to its audience, and generally it succeeds. I use the word "generally", because there are several flaws in the course of the movie that prevent it from really taking off.

Aside from a few variations (such as a sudden freeze-frame ending that suggests another ending was originally intended), the flaws generally fall into one of two categories. The first is the almost frequent sluggish nature of the movie when it should be exciting. For example, there is one part of the movie where one helicopter is chasing another, firing on it simultaneously. You think there would be no way this could be screwed up, but the helicopters hang in the air like led zeppelins, seemingly not moving or in very slow motion. And speaking of slow motion, it seems the director was too inspired by the slow motion technique in John Woo movies; if I recall correctly, virtually all the gun battles (and there are a lot) have large, dull chunks of slow motion gun slaughter in them. Anyone who has watched a Woo movie knows that he uses slow motion sparingly, to emphasize particular moments - that is, anyone but the director of this movie.

Also, seeing Lundgren screaming or running around in slow motion brings some unintentional humor. Which brings up the subject of the second problem of the movie, Lundgren and his character. Though Lundgren has improved on his acting abilities (and his accent) over the years, there are still some hurdles for him to overcome. Certainly, he is more expressive here than in the past - you get to see him smile, laugh, and he seems to be more relaxed - but his soft manner of speaking sometimes makes it hard to hear what he's saying, and he is laughable in the scene when he (surprise!) falls for the princess and puckers up. The suddenness of his falling for the princess is also goofy, though that's not Lundgren's fault. His character is written with very little background. He's apparently a top soldier that is despised and held in awe by the population, but this is very poorly explained. His relationship with his best friend, with the General, are also alluded to, but never really shown. If we were shown how he was molded all of these years, and how he deals with the truth when he finds it, Warchild would be a very interesting action hero, also more human and sympathetic, even when he does something we don't approve of.

I'm getting off track by thinking about the movie that could have been, so I'll get back to what the movie is. It's an action movie, and it does deliver several good action sequences. Though Lundgren may still struggle with some of his acting and is given a weak character here, he does at least get a lot of scenes to shoot guns, throw grenades, and use his martial arts skills. An accomplished black belt (Lundgren takes martial arts very seriously in real life), he gets quite a workout here, and seeing this 6'6" Swede giving a wide sweeping kick to someone's head is quite an awesome sight. All the fighting here is well done, managing to be exciting even with the constant cuts from one angle to another - when someone is slapped, or gets a foot inserted into their groin with great force, you feel it.

The fights and various struggles aren't afraid to go over the top, especially in the climax, which is hopelessly silly yet just adds to the sheer fun factor. I guess then the movie doesn't take itself completely seriously then - looking back, I can remember other occasional winks, such as crates with the word "EXPLOSIVES" painted on with big letters. So while Bridge Of Dragons is underwritten and bogged down at times, at least you don't have to wait long after one such instant of those flaws to see something that is either exciting or wonderfully loony - or both.

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Also: Didn't You Hear, Fantasy Mission Force, For Your Height Only

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