Of all the faded action stars from the 80s and 90s Jean-Claude van Damme remains the most interesting one still working the DTV market. Despite his aging and lower budgets for his movies, he still makes the most interesting choices. Though most of his movies are simple action movies he doesn’t shy away from playing second fiddle to a younger lead, playing a villain or even step away from his comfort zone and do other genres like drama or even voice work for movies like Kung Fu Panda 2. Dragon Eyes is his latest movie and his face is plastered onto the cover with his name, but mind you, Van Damme only plays a bit part in the movie; a mentor character to the lead played by Cung Le.
Dragon Eyes is the new movie by John Hyams who has found his muse in Van Damme. He’s the son of Peter Hyams, responsible for two of Van Damme’s better movies: Time Cop and Sudden Death. John is one of those directors who seems to be confined to DTV movies and there is a reason for that. Studio’s can’t simply live on all the visionary directors delivering a blockbuster every two or three years. They also need directors without any vision or specific style to churn out at least two or three movies made for under $5 million. These are the workhorses of Hollywood responsible for filling up those bargain bins with new movies. Directors like this can only hope that one day they will be handed a script that will receive a bigger budget and will be their launchpad to the A-list.
Dragon Eyes is a movie about a Mr. Hong. we don’t know much about Mr. Hong just that he was incarcerated through flashbacks and that he’s now in town with an agenda. The contents of this agenda is unknown to us, but will be revealed throughout the course of the movie. At first it seems he’s a lone gunman rolling into a town he going to clean of drug dealers, but then it seems he’s in bed with them and might even be a new rival dealer. Another character who’s agenda is vague is Mr. V played by RoboCop Peter Weller. He’s the main villain of the movie, though it isn’t always clear how much of a villain he really is.
It’s a movie with a lot of little twists, and that could be a good thing, but Hyams isn’t (yet) the director who can pull such a story of in a decent manner. The movie, which next to the twists also consists of a lot of flashbacks to confuse you more, is therefor a bit hard to get into. It jumps too much on whether Hong is a good guy or not. A better script would have led you to believe one thing at first, then twist it at the end. But this movie isn’t made by Christopher Nolan and Hyams’ movie feels a bit lost and uneven…
What I did appreciate was the choice too make the lead character not some superman. The fights are brute and he’s got a tough time taking opponents down taking blows in one on one fights, backing out of another fight and eventually getting beaten almost to a pulp. This isn’t a Seagal or Schwarzenegger movie who defeat entire armies without breaking a sweat and be home in time for dinner.
Sadly for every good remark I can make about this movie there’s a bad one. The small budget is very visible as the movie is set in a small town which seems to be completely deserted other than the main cast. Little to no extras were used and so the town feels like a ghost town. As with all DTV movies nowadays the movie is given a distinct look by the use of color filters on post production. The movie has a very brownish color probably to make the town look more southern and hot but I simply hate these color filters. They’re also used a lot to mask the fact that a movie was shot in eastern europe. Hyams also tries to give the movie some flair by having all the characters be introduced through flashy title card, a gimmick so obviously stolen from directors like Guy Ritchy who did this 14 years ago.
Dragon Eyes is a flawed movie with some good fight scenes. There’s nothing new under the horizon here, but then again I never expected there would be.