Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Son of the Dragon: the Thief of the Silk Road

Fantasy relic quests are rotten way to choose husbands. They favor the ruthless, like the tyrant, or the deceitful, like the thief. At least, they rule out the stupid, like the dithering royal twit. Still, those three suitors represent some pretty slim pickings for a soon-to-be-betrothed Chinese princess. Nevertheless, she will find a way to pick a white guy in Son of the Dragon (trailer here), a two-part mini-series that releases today on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment.

The governor of our fair city is not a bad sort and his daughter, Princess Li Wei is both beautiful and dutiful. Unfortunately, his appointed regent Lord Shing is cruel and corrupt. To alleviate the people’s suffering, D.B. (or “Devil Boy”) frequently commits acts of Robin Hood-ish daring. Discovered as a foundling, D.B. learned his thievery craft from Bird, a former mercenary who now raises cast aside orphans in his picturesque sewer retreat to alleviate his guilt.

When the governor announces an ancient reality show-style competition for nobles hoping to win his daughter’s hand in marriage, the thief styles himself “Prince D.B. of the Seven Seas” (I mean seriously, give us a break), in order to gain access to the palace—and its jewels. Much to the disgust of Bird, Devil Boy is rather taken with the Princess, deciding to play for her heart in earnest. This does not sit well with his foster sister Ting Ting, either. She now works as the Princess’s maid and carries an inexplicable torch for D.B. She knows the big dummy is in over his head, especially when he starts antagonizing the brutal Prince of the North.

Directed and edited by the Hong Kong-born, Canadian-naturalized David Wu (known for the Bride with White Hair franchise), Dragon has some impressively large-scale sets (befitting a Halmi production) and a rip-roaring concluding battle. However, despite its riffs on the Thief of Baghdad (there will be the odd flying carpet here and there), the teleplay is burdened with consistently clunky dialogue and an excess of slapsticky shtick.

Of course, there is something fundamentally problematic about an adventure set entirely within ancient China that features three white dudes on its cover. We can grandfather in David Carradine. After all, he was Caine. He walked the earth. Not surprisingly, he fares the best, smirking his way through the mini as the wiser-than-you Bird, until it is time to get busy in his big fight scene with Bird’s old nemesis.

The less said about John Reardon as D.B., the better. However, the casting of the ordinarily quite fine actor Rupert Graves (Lestrade in the Cumberbatch Sherlock) as the Prince of the North (which certainly implies Mongolia through simple geography, as well as by costuming) is pretty darn baffling, especially when Emma Stone would have been so perfectly suited for the role. Still, he glowers rather menacingly. At least Desiree Ann Siahaan looks the part of the Princess and flirts quite coyly. However, only Theresa Lee deserved breakout recognition for the vulnerability and action chops she demonstrates as Ting Ting.

Despite its flaws, you can definitely see plenty of Carradine’s roguishness shine through. It would have been much better if Dragon had tacked a darker course, like Netflix’s Marco Polo, but that probably would not have worked for the Hallmark Channel, where it premiered. Enjoyable at times for some nicely choreographed fights and its goofy mysticism, Son of the Dragon is an old fashioned, light-weight, inconsequential, occasionally groan-inducing time-filler, now available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment.