Movie Review: Dragonball: Evolution (2009)

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Published on: 2009.10.30

No one was more surprised than I was at how good this movie is. Normally, I can’t stand the entire genre of bubble-gum, cartoon-inspired, hokey martial arts films.

When this movie was first advertised, I immediately forgot about it. But recently, watching another ad on TV for the DVD version, I paid closer attention. It actually looked good.

It was. Dragonball: Evolution was also funny, insightful, and a nice, clean feel-good movie.

Simply put, a teen boy (played by Justin Chatwin) has been trained in the art of fighting by his grandfather for years, and has been entrusted with one of seven “Dragonballs” that — when combined — can stave off the ultimate evil power in the universe.

Early on, his grandfather is killed as the evil power also attempts to collect all seven balls. Chatwin’s character goes on to meet helpful friends, overcome his own self-doubt, and works to save the world through his fighting skills.

A few years ago, fight scenes in martial arts movies took a quantum leap forward, and this movie’s action scenes lives up to the new standard. They’re flashy, fast, and pretty impressive.

The coloring throughout the movie is slightly over-saturated, but that’s to be expected in comic-book style films.

The small cast of characters was skillfully chosen. All of them overact just slightly, but again that’s to be expected in this sub-genre. Chow Yun-Fat carries the movie for the most part; he’s the only one that appeared to play it close to reality, and his years of experience are evident.

But the most impressive fight sequence actually came from Jamie Chung, who’s pitted against her evil counterpart, a woman that’s taken on her exact appearance. Using a stunt double, the scene was filmed several times, with Chung taken each side. The film is cut together so it looks like Chung is actually fighting herself (instead of using CGI for this effect). It was brilliant.

I took off points for some improbable electronic gadgets. I know the world in the movie isn’t supposed to be present-day Earth, and I’d already suspended my disbelief for the outlandish powers of the martial arts used by the characters. But a car that fits in your pocket and unfolds to real-life size? That was a little too much.

There was also one slightly unbelievable character arc. Joon Park plays a desert bandit who waylays the good guys early on, but he’s convinced to join their quest by the promise of money. Within minutes, he’s one of the good guys, helping them out of the goodness of his heart. That swing was a little far-fetched.

But overall, this movie was worth watching, and quite a bit better than I expected.

IMDb: Dragonball: Evolution
Wikipedia: Dragonball: Evolution
Rating: PG
(for intense sequences of action/violence and brief mild language)
Length: 85 min. (1:25)
Director: James Wong
Genre: action / adventure / martial arts
My Rating: 8 of 10
Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, James Master, Randall Duk Kim, James Masters, Joon Park

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