I should begin this review by stating that D-War, the '07 CGI-heavy action fantasy Korean import had a major strike against before I clicked the "Watch Instantly" button. Prior to that, it was implicated, through no fault of its own, with one of the least pleasing video shop customers I ever had the joy of encountering.
I crossed paths with this dude may nearly three years ago at the my neighborhood video shop. Before he lumbered in, there were three folks in the shop. I'll set the scene.
The clerk is thin. Maybe in her late twenties. She's got dark hair – almost black – and large brown eyes. Pale skin. She always wears purple. It isn't something you'd notice on your first trip, because her clothes are always very nice and you don't get the sense she would wear something ugly just because it was her signature color. Still, after a couple of trips, that's what she does. I've never asked her about it. Once you do realize it, the odd fact can't be ignored and it gives you the sense that she's got some kind of uniform. It contrasts with the otherwise casual atmosphere of the place. This curious formality combines with her quiet manner and always seemingly alert eyes to give her this unshakable aura of slumming it. She should be behind the reception desk of a fashion magazine, or discussing Stoppard with her younger sister over brunch at Five Points, or in some sort of situation where she could say, without a hint of irony, "You ride with such audacity, Miss Tennent."
But no. She's not being told "Darling, Karl never has to wait" or picking at tea-smoked trout with orange, red onion, frisee, mint and lemon pressed olive oil while her sister discusses the passions of Vissarion Belinsky or riding with the Margot Asquith. Instead, she's here, waiting for you to decide whether you feel more like watching Good Luck Chuck or revisiting Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.
We'll call her the Duchess.
I hasten to add that the Duchess is never anything but polite. She never comments on the obvious lameness of your selections or acts as if you're bothering simply by being there. She's quite nice and polite. The feelings of inferiority are the product of something pre-behavioral. She's got class and you don't. And you're more aware of this than she is.
I've realized that I actually upmarket my choices when the Duchess is chief officer on deck. My familiarity with modern Norwegian cinema is almost entirely due to the fact I don't want to be the recipient of the tolerant and graceful pity shown people who drop Torque on the Duchess's counter.
Anyway, that's the Duchess.
The other guy, Stawberry, is searching the shelves. He wears a light brown winter coat and an olive drab jeep cap.
I don't know him.
And me, you know me.
So around 8:00, this couple walks in. The man's big – in all directions. He's got a shaved head, and his pear shaped body is constrained by a pair of jeans and a black leather jacket covered in punk band patches. He looks like he just busted out of an anarchist fat camp.
The woman who is with him is slightly less plump, but she makes up for it by wearing the clothing of her pre-teen cousin. The faux valor jogging suit and black-and-pink-with-sparkles Baby Phat winter coat strain and cut into her ample form, giving her the shape of a helium balloon on its last legs, when touches leave irregular dents and lines across its surface.
"Hey," says the man in a loud voice that fills every corner off the rental joint. "You guys got that dragon movie?"
"Are you the guy who keeps calling?" asks the Duchess.
He walks past her without answering and goes to the new release shelf. "Shit. Where's the dragon movie?"
"It's checked out. And late. Like I said on the phone. Many times."
"What's wrong with the guy?"
"He's usually very good about due dates."
"Well he's not now. Can I call him?"
"'Cause I'll be like, 'Man, what's up with the dragon movie, bitch? I'm trying to see it, man.'"
"Man," he says dejected.
"We don't need a movie," says his female companion. Her voice is nasal and flat, and she pushes her words through what sounds like a deep reservoir of mucus in her throat. It sounds like somebody trying to plow a vat of Vaseline with an electric razor.
"What else is new - that's good?" The man adds the last bit with a touch of wise bitterness, as if he wants her to be well aware that he knows a tsunami of DVD are "new" simply by accident of time-space, but he is demanding something that lives up to the aesthetic standards of the dragon movie. You won't be able to shovel any crap off onto him, Duchess.
The Duchess, not willing to be implicated in this man's selections, gestures to the new release shelves and says, "Anything labeled new is new."
By this time the Incredible Bulk has been joined by his lumpy lady.
For the next fifteen minutes, the Bulk and Bumpy will alternate between the following three actions:
Thing the first. With her voice like a desperate insect trying to fly out of a pitcher plant, Bumpy will suggest a movie and the Bulk will shoot it down by stating that they've already seen it. He will then try to remind her of the flick by recounting choice details.
"What about this one?" she gargles.
"We've seen that one, remember? It's got the guy and he's got a car. And there was a cop who saw a guy die."
Or . . .
"You remember: the house and the girls like you did this and he goes there and she gets killed later. Remember?"
Or . . .
"That's the one with screaming 'Daddy! Daddy!' while that guy's chopping up guys in the woods."
Or, most cryptically . . .
"That one's got a face."
That last one makes him start up in this strange braying laugh. His companion starts yelling at him to stop. For several minutes the sounds, like a donkey being tortured with a band saw, fill the shop.
Thing the second. The Bulk is also fond of holding a DVD box high above his head and then shouting to the Duchess, "Have you seen this?" Then he lowers the box again, as if he'd already forgotten what he's held up, then hoist high the box again, and shout out the title.
Whether she answered in the affirmative or negative, he'd ask if it was any good.
"Hey! Have you seen this? . . . um . . . The New Adventures of Old Christine, season 1."
"No, I haven't."
"Is it any good?"
"I couldn't say."
Thing the Third. Occasionally, the Bulk stumbles across a movie so good, so important, so crucial that he just has to have it for his own collection. After determining that he can order movies from the shop, he would simply shout his orders to the Duchess.
"Holy shit," the Bulk says.
"What?" strangles Bumpy.
"This is Caligula. It's like the greatest movie of all time. It's go that guy who played in Clockwork Orange only this is better cause its got like porn in it."
"You want to watch it?" Bumpy says, her words rising from the muck like the undead Nazis of 1981's Zombie Lake.
"You don't watch this! You've got to have this, to own, for yourself. Hey!"
"Yes," the Duchess, still tolerantly reserved, says.
"Can I order Caligula?"
Apparently he has a two-flick cap because he finds a new movie and then swaps out one of the two films he's just ordered with the new one. It is a slow process involving what seems like thousands of titles. Eventually he manages to narrow it down to National Treasure II and Freddy versus Jason. The latter actually beats out The Big Lebowski which, while quite humorous, lacks the archetypal resonance that FvJ delivers.
"Wow," says Bumpy, congealingly. "You know a lot of movies. How can you remember all these movies?"
"I'm like a cinimaste [rhymes with fin-eh-paste - CRwM], you know? Movies are important."
As is good lighting. Before leaving the store he asks the Duchess if they could also order him a lamp like the one the shop had at the clerk's counter. She says she'll look into it.
Finally, movies ordered and rental selection in hand - The Dark Crystal as it turns out – the Bulk approaches the counter.
"I might get a job here," he says.
"Really. Did you leave a resume?"
"Yes." Pause. "No. But I talked to somebody. You know, I can always use a night gig, right?"
"Was it the owner? Sabine?"
"Is she a big fat chick?"
"Then it wasn't her. And it was a guy. And I really didn't say anything about it. Not until I get
my resume together, right?"
"Maybe we'll work together."
As he is turning away from the counter, he notices a small plastic figurine with a bright yellow push button in its base. When he presses it, the figure repeats one of a trio of phrases. I know there are three phrases because he pushes the button seven times before Bumpy gasps, "Let's go."
He pushes two more time after she leaves.
"See you later."
"Goodbye," says the Duchess.
So I watched D-War fully aware that it was the kind of movie this gentleman was all about.
And I saw nothing to change that grim assessment.
However, because I watched this fully aware of the level of suck I was most likely getting into, I feel it is uncharitable and slightly disingenuous to hassle the flick. So, instead, I'm going to focus on an aspect of the film I actually enjoyed.
About two-thirds of the way through this flick, a giant dragon, a squadron of mini-dragons, and an army of magical knights on lizardish steeds goes up against the U.S. Army. The scene plays out like a particularly nifty cut scene in a sadly unreleased video game.
What I liked about this scene was the hastily assembled military resistance to the magic dragon army is hopelessly outnumbered, but not useless. The film shows that modern military hardware, wielded by competent soldiers, is devastating. Too often, filmmakers assume that big monsters (I'm looking at you Clover) reach some sort of magic size where they simply shrug off the effects of conventional weapons. This ignores the fact that large-scale conventional weapons are capable of obliterating an unbelievable amount of mass. So if your monster has mass, it isn't just shrugging off tank shells and air-to-ground missiles as slight inconveniences. Even if we assume these weapons are mere pin pricks to outsized beasts, with modern rates of fire, we're talking about potentially thousands of pin pricks a second. That's gotta hurt.
It makes what would normally be the perfunctory "it's winning" scene into a genuine fight.
And that's the one good thing I have to say about that.