Sunday, 15 April 2012



You know a movie's in trouble when the first thing that springs to mind is that Jean-Claude Van Damme isn't in it enough, because in all honesty Jean Claude is just about the best thing on show and he's barely in it. Despite his prominent above-the-title billing, he's only on screen in a handful of flashback sequences training the movie's real star, Vietnamese kickboxing champion Cung Le; sadly, this is a film that would have benefitted substantially from having a lot more JC and a lot less in the way of incomprehensible drugs gangsters. And maybe it's just the make-up and hair but JC's looking surprisingly elderly - he's only 51 but frankly looks ten years older.

Dragon Eyes concerns the ongoing drugs wars between the various ethnically diverse gangs - black, latino, Russian - and the corrupt cops led by Peter Weller, the only one in the movie who looks to be having any fun. Into the downtrodden, miserable and crime-ravaged neighbourhood comes Hong (Cung Le) who sets about cleaning up the town and taking out the trash by setting the gangs against each other before seeking to bring down the whole system. And that's pretty much it for content.

It's also not great on a technical level. For a start, much of the heavily accented dialogue is unfathomable and I ended up watching much of the movie with the English subtitles on. More damagingly, it's drably and darkly shot on digital in dull locations, so it doesn't just look boring, but it looks cheap as well. True, this isn't a movie that warrants a $50m budget (the IMDb gives an estimate of three million) but there's no excuse for it looking as shoddy as it does. It's surprising since director John Hyams' previous movie, Universal Soldier: Regeneration (attempting to reboot the Jean-Claude and Dolph double act from the 1990s) looked pretty good - but that movie was shot by his dad, Peter Hyams, who doubled up as cinematographer on a dozen of his own films and knows how to make these things look good. By contrast, Dragon Eyes just has an air of generic DTV blandness about it.

And Cung Le may not be much of a leading man or much of an actor (though this may have to do with the uninteresting character), but he can certainly handle the action sequences and they're actually not too bad. If they'd been better photographed, and if Jean-Claude had been on screen a bit more, this might have been a half-decent and undemanding rental. But Weller's colourful villain and the occasional thumping kick to the head aside, it's a dull and dreary plod. Incredibly, there's a Dragon Eyes 2 in the works.



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