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Bridge of Dragons (1999)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

BRIDGE OF DRAGONS (1999)

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rachel Shane, Gary Hudson, Jo Kendall

Written By: Carlton Holder Directed By: Isaac Florentine

The Short Version

This is probably the weirdest Dolph movie ever.

Asian hero fantasy + medieval hero fantasy + modern military = just get a drink.

For all of its weirdness, though, it’s interesting… or infuriating.

I know it’s not great, but I like it anyway.

Bridge of Dragons is a flick for eclectic tastes; don’t expect standard action.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CO-JACK.

An amalgam of cheeses mashed into one block; slice it up and serve it on crackers.


Pairs Well With...

SMIRNOFF ICE RASPBERRY.

It’s not vodka and it’s not a wine cooler, though it feels like it ought to be one or the other.  Some call it an abomination, but I like it.

“From this distance I’d say the scope won’t be necessary.”


Hey there, Dolph fans.  Are you looking for the strangest movie that Dolph Lundgren ever made?  For most people interested in the question, the first answer that comes to mind is Johnny Mnemonic, but I’m guessing that those people have yet to try Bridge of Dragons.

Bridge of Dragons is the direct-to-video action equivalent of a casserole made from a week’s worth of leftovers and given a flamboyant name to disguise its true nature.  The plot is straight out of medieval heroic fantasy.  The title and directorial vibe invoke Asian heroic fantasy.  The characters and set pieces are pulled from all over the map, sampling from roughly a thousand years of military history being dumped somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s.  The dialogue is cheesy action flick fare (with a nod to Fairy Tale Theatre) that doesn’t quite fit any of the molds.  And no, there are no bridges in this movie, and there are no dragons.  There aren’t even any pictures of bridges or dragons.  It’s almost as if the writers (some of whom are uncredited) came up with the premise and screenplay while playing a particularly funky game of “Mad Libs” that may or may not have involved doing mismatched shots.

It is not the screenplay that either Dolph or the director happened to be looking at when they originally signed on to do the picture; what you see was finalized later.  It is something that stands so far outside of the box in defiance of all standard classifications and pigeonholes that it all but dares any audience to hate it within the first fifteen minutes.  And I’m certain that many have.  As for me…

…I’m getting ahead of myself, I think.  First, let’s have a look at the premise of this oddball story.

Our tale begins with a screen crawl that imparts the following information:

“Someplace… Where the future meets the past…

“The untimely death of the King left the Kingdom with a Princess too young to rule.  The ambitious General Ruechang assumed power, and the land plunged into darkness.”

Untold years have passed since then, and now, finally, Princess Halo (Racehl Shane, Futuresport) is of respectable age to get married… and General Ruechang (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Showdown in Little Tokyo) has made it clear that he will be the groom, after which he will finally be able to claim the throne by full right rather than through tenuous regency.  But Halo has no love for the evil, abusive Ruechang, and when she learns that Ruechang in fact murdered her father in order to gain power all those years ago, she runs away, hoping to find the rebel forces hiding in the woods so that she may join them and inspire them to finally make a run against the capital.

Ruechang, of course, wants his Princess back, so he sends his most trusted soldier, Warchild (Dolph Lundgren, Universal Soldier), to get her back.  What he fails to consider, however, is that once Warchild finds the Princess, the two just might fall in love.  But what are the chances of that happening, right?  A million to one?  Yeah; might be time to buy a lottery ticket, folks…

I’m not going to lie, folks: Bridge of Dragons is a mess.  It knows only that it wants to be different – which is a good thing in and of itself – but the powers that be have no idea how to weave all of the vastly disparate elements of the thing together into something that’s coherent instead of wacky.  Sure, they give it a good go, but honestly, the moment they decided to put the number “666” on all of Ruechang’s vehicles, their high concept pretty much went straight out the window, and some of this dialogue… let’s just say that you may have a hard time believing that this script went through several passes and still came out this unpolished.

Watching this flick, I suspect that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa had a hard time believing it, too.  Oh, he does the best he can with the role, and makes it look far better than the screenplay would have allowed by itself, but for those who’ve seen his other work, it’s obvious that he’s not “diving in” like he usually does.  (Of course, if the hair and makeup crew saddled me with that stupid haircut, I think I’d have a hard time “diving in,” too.)  He says his lines, and he does a credible job in combat sequences, but that badass/mischievous spark that he usually brings along for the ride?  Just not there.

Doing a credible job in the combat sequences here, by the way, is no easy task.  Even though the film is loaded with gun battles and people falling from fatal bullet wounds – often acting as though they’ve been riddled with lead, in fact – there is exactly one squib used in the entire movie.  One.  Everything else is pantomime.  One may see a wound dressed afterward, but on impact?  Nope.  Same with slashes – the action occurs off camera, with a streak of makeup left as a souvenir after the fact.  As for the pulled punches and mistimed falls… well, I think you get the idea.  Like I said; Bridge of Dragons is a mess.

And yet…

Partly because of the “Asian hero epic” atmosphere that director Isaac Florentine (Ninja) tries to impose on this casserole, and partly because Dolph Lundgren looks to have accepted the absurdity of everything around him and just rolls with it, Bridge of Dragons manages to work anyway.

Think of it as a kind of Zen exercise.  As soon as one chooses to stop saying “WTF?” every two minutes and just accept the strangeness and the cheesiness of it all at face value, Bridge of Dragons turns out to be kind of fun.  Yeah, it’s silly when a group of medieval looking highwaymen are wasted by a guy who looks like he just stepped out of the jungles of Vietnam, but it’s also cool.  Ren Faire peasants getting gunned down by Russian helicopters plays at one of those silly grin strings that every true 80s/90s action fan has inside.  And come on, if you can’t laugh at names like “Warchild” and “Princess Halo” in a movie that takes itself so seriously that no real jokes are ever cracked, then you just don’t have a sense of humor.

But beyond the amusement factor – which would be worth more than enough on its own to earn a pass from me – I also very much appreciate what this movie wants to be.  Everyone always says that they want to see “something different.”  If Bridge of Dragons isn’t “different,” I don’t know what is.  And though on a technical/critical scale it doesn’t come close to reaching the shores of its lofty ambitions, it sure as hell tries, and in the world of art (which, in case you’ve forgotten, filmmaking is), effort, if made visible to an audience, can count for something.  The director goes for it.  Dolph goes for it.  The cinematographer goes for it.  And though they don’t get where they wanted to be, they do get somewhere, and for all of its oddity, it is indeed somewhere interesting.

And so, despite its many flaws and if anything because of its strangeness, I have to say that I like Bridge of Dragons.  In fact, not only do I like Bridge of Dragons, but I also have a decent amount of respect for it.  It’s a pretty bold experiment, and there just aren’t enough of those out there.

Bottom line, Bridge of Dragons isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste – either within the mainstream or even within the core group of Dolph Lundgren fans – but for anyone who is the least bit curious, it is worth seeing.  No, it’s not your standard Dolph flick, but sometimes it’s good to see your heroes try something a little different, even if the results are a bit messy.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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