Director: John Hyams
Writer: Tim Tori
Dragon Eyes is a flat sepia tone glimpse into an exciting drug and crime owned region called St. Judes and highlights the protagonist trying to end the grip of crime in that town. The hero, Hong (Cung Le) gets flack when he first gets into the town but through a couple broken bones and a swift kick he earns the incumbent gang’s respect. By doing this he quickly becomes a person of interest for the main distributor Mister V played by Peter Weller (RoboCop).
The filmmakers try to make the film more appealing by putting scenes out of order jumping through three different times. It forces the viewer to pay attention even if they don’t want to. However only one of the times includes Van Damme (Time Cop), so lets start in the middle to make this review as hard as possible to follow.
Mr. Hong, who is not Jean Claude Van Damme (JCVD), finds purpose with his life after he meets Tiano played by Van Damme (Expendables 2) in a blue toned prison. There we learn Van Damme’s (Blood Sport) reason for being in prison was accidentally killing his son. He attempts to right his wrongs through training Hong to enact vengeance in the town of St. Jude. In a more distant and often out of focus past, Hong’s reason for blue jail during time number 2 is made clear as he accidentally killed a woman during some sort of jog he was taking with his gun. Can’t tell you how many times that’s happened to me when I take my gun to marathons…Which brings us to present time, where Hong moves in, kicks ass, and eventually breaks up the grip of Mr. V.
Many of the bad guys conveniently suffer from the condition where they can’t fight unless it’s one on one, similar to Street Fighter, and thus the manner of fighting can be styled more easily. The camera repeatedly ramps into slow motion to showcase Hong’s ass kicking and baddie bashing ways, which is a highlight in this world. There are a few over dramatized sound effects and record scratches that distracted me from some moments by making them more comical.
The film making looks rather simplified overall, with a great deal of the fights taking place in the same location in day light, very limited digital effects, and no exciting explosions a la Universal Solider III: Regeneration. There is some definite talent behind the lens showcased in more than a handful of well put together shots. Honestly I really enjoyed the camerawork. It culminates in the best shot and a personal favorite of mine; the obnoxiously long steady cam shot with stunts and huge action points featuring Jean Claude (Kung Fu Panda 2).
Peter Weller does give a great performance as the mob leader who is Italian and owns the police and is an unofficial ambassador to its’ growing business district. It’s not easy in this film as the protagonist is unrelentingly flat and unemotional, often delivering lines of two and sometimes even three words. Weller is tough and sinister, doing business with leaders of rival gangs, taking punishment in his own hands and killing without a shutter of remorse. The climax of the film goes from a really fun fist fight complete with unmotivated slushy fist sound effects with former UFC fighter Trevor Prangley to a well choreographed armed stand off with Weller and Le.
Over all this film is lacking that certain cheese that makes an Americanized martial arts film great in my eyes. Though it does make up for it in a great villain, great fights, great cameos from Eddie Rouse and Jean Claude Van Damme (The Quest), and a few great camera moves. If you have a great base and have a few negatives is that better or worse than having a poor base and few positives? Top billing Jean Claude is a great way to get butts in seats, it clearly worked on me, but his minor roll isn’t enough. Dragon Eyes has a bunch of redeeming qualities, however it needs all of them in order to pull off a mostly dull action flick.