Well, I’m reviewing a new release for once. While it’s still in theaters even. The live-action adaptation of Akira Toriyama’s classic anime and manga Dragonball is now in theaters, will this be better than the last adaptation of Dragonball? Will it better than the live-action adaptation of Fist Of The North Star? Or will this be one really big stinkburger.

Cast and Crew Information

Justin Chatwin as Son Goku
Chow Yun-Fat as Master Roshi
Emmy Rossup as Bulma Briefs
Jamie Chung as Chi-Chi
James Marsters as Lord Piccolo
Joon Park as Yamcha
Randall Duk Kim as Grandpa Gohan

Based on the manga serialized in Shonen Jump by Akira Toriyama
Written by Ben Ramsey
Produced by Stephen Chow and Tim Van Rellim
Directed by James Wong

Premise

Son Goku travels the world with his small band of companions to seek the 7 Dragonballs to save the world from total destruction at the hands of alien warlord Piccolo.

High Point

Chow Yun-Fat is a Very Large Ham in this movie. I have come to the conclusion that while his career made him famous as, basically, Hong Kong’s answer to Bruce Willis (as far as action movies are concerned), he has decided to become, in his current stage of his career, Hong Kong’s answer to Bruce Campbell. This is not a bad thing, because he can pull it off, and to be honest he’s playing a character that this really works with. Some purists may and have complained that Roshi in the movie is not as perverted as he is in the anime. I feel the more subdued approach here is more appropriate – particularly considering that to be as perverted as Roshi is in the anime, he’d have to try and grab Bulma’s boobs, and do so often (and that’s not funny, that’s creepy and annoying, which isn’t the intended response).

James Wong shoots fight scenes very well. For all the faults with The One, the last martial arts film he directed, bad fight scenes were not one of them, in my opinion. The sole exception is in my low point. For that matter, every one involved in martial arts anything tries hard, and in general it looks pretty good. Chatwin’s Tai Chi looks a little clumsy and awkward, but otherwise it’s okay.

James Marsters performance, while we don’t get much of it, works very well. My sole complaint with Marsters as Piccolo, is that if we ever get to Dragonball Z, we can’t have him play Vegeta, which is a bit of a shame, because Vegeta chews the scenery almost as much as Spike (from Buffy).

Low Point

The sparring match between Goku and his grandfather on the ropes doesn’t work well at all, which is a shame, because a lot of Shaw Brothers movies had fight scenes like that and made them work excellently with much less of a budget that they had. For that matter, the camera tricks that they’re using in this movie in the fight scene to “make it more interesting” only make it worse – including an upside down camera bit in the fight.

Akira Toriyama’s pun-names he gives to some of his characters don’t work when spoken aloud in English. It’s not that the puns don’t translate – the names are meant as an English pun. However, take Bulma Briefs. Bulma is an Engrish version of “Bloomer” – as in an outdated term for women’s underwear (and possibly referring to Japanese schoolgirl’s gym shorts – which also makes the name creepy).

All of the high school bits in this film don’t work at all. We don’t have to deal with it often, but it’s worse than the high school bits in Transformers, because they’re trying to get across the difference between this world and our world, and it’s absolutely painful to watch. If it weren’t for the fact that we need those scenes to lay the groundwork for the Chi-Chi/Goku relationship (and get Goku out of the house when Piccolo attacks), they could be cut entirely from the film. Also, Joon Park’s performance doesn’t quite work for me. It’s awkward. He can’t project the attitude he’s trying to project, at least not in English. He may be able to do it just fine in Korean.

The Review

Originality: It’s an adaptation, so it loses some points right there. It does take some liberties with the source material, but stays close in others. 4 out of 6

Effects: Piccolo’s makeup is decent, though the head doesn’t quite work right. The ki blast effects work very well though, as do most of the leaping/flying effects. While no one gets blasted through mesas (that doesn’t happen until DBZ) they do get blasted into rock formations and through some rock spires, and those look kind of iffy. The Ki attacks are the best handled. This movie definitely isn’t on par with Superman: The Movie, but it does have guys shooting Ki blasts from their hands and they don’t look stupid and the Ki blasts don’t look stupid. 4 out of 6

Story: The story is fairly weak, which is to be expected for a movie that’s a truncated adaptation of an arc from a shonen fight manga (which will usually get stretched out over a year). 3 out of 6

Acting: Joon Park’s acting isn’t too hot, but Chow Yun Fat, Randall Duk Kim do a very good job in their roles. Emmy Rossup is okay as Bulma, and I have to say she pulls off the character’s attitude fairly well, and nobody (particularly) snickered at Bulma’s name. 4 out of 6

Production: The score was good, the sound effects were good, but nothing really blew me out of the water. 4 out of 6

Emotional Response: Master Roshi was appropriately funny. The romance between Chi-Chi and Goku was appropriate sweet. Goko gearing up (or gi-ing up as the case may be) was appropriately awesome. In general, the best word for it was “appropriate”, in the sense that the humor in the anime was somewhat over the top, to the point that it wouldn’t work in live action, but taking everything too seriously doesn’t work either. So, they tried to strike a Pirates Of The Caribbean style balance, and it kind of worked, in that they achieved the balance, but it overall isn’t as good. The response though is appropriate and acceptable. 3 out of 6.

Overall: This is, thus far, the best live action adaptation of a martial arts anime or manga, which isn’t saying much because the only competition is the live action version of “Fist Of The North Star” starring Malcolm McDowell as Kenshiro’s father. Speed Racer is probably the best live action adaptation of an anime I’ve seen thus far (which isn’t saying much), and surpasses the original source material (which also isn’t saying much). Whereas this… is passable. Yea barely. If Chow Yun-Fat’s performance was more subdued, if they tried doing shakey-cam for the fight scenes, or if the American actors couldn’t pull off the fight scenes, and if the film tried to be more serious this film would be getting some 1s and 2s. There were a lot of little things that could have been done to turn this film into a steaming pile of crap. Those things did not happen. 3 out of 6.

Total: Dragonball: Evolution gets a 25 out of 42