Dragonball Evolution: A Surreal Mess

Manga adaptation will utterly confuse and confound all but hard-core fans

By Luke Y. Thompson Apr 09, 2009 7:31 PMTags
Dragonball Evolution, Chow Yun- FatTwentieth Century-Fox

Review in a Hurry: The inexplicably Caucasian (and eternal bad-hair-day victim) teenage martial-arts master Goku (Justin Chatwin) must collect seven mystical Dragon Balls before evil green-skinned alien Piccolo (James Marsters)—who has somehow been freed from eternal imprisonment—can get to them first and bring about the apocalypse. If this makes no sense to you, you're not alone. Only fans of the source material have any hope of figuring this film out.

The Bigger Picture: It always seemed like a strange idea to adapt the super-stylized Japanese comic/cartoon characters of the Dragonball series into live action. Much like, say, Dr. Seuss drawings (and we saw where Jim Carrey and Mike Myers took us with those), the caricatured martial arts fighters of the manga never looked much like real humans, and the ever-convoluted storylines always seemed to boil down to badly drawn kids with awful hairstyles throwing energy balls at each other.

If the above sounds like a gross oversimplification, maybe you will get something out of this bizarre live-action movie, but the average filmgoer is likely to be baffled. Set in some nondescript country that incorporates American and Japanese characters (while actually being shot in Mexico), this is the story of young Goku, a white kid raised by his Asian grandfather Gohan (Randall Duk Kim) to never use his crazy fighting skills...at least until the day Piccolo comes calling! Then Goku must find the mysterious Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat, overacting like never before) to gain the snazzy orange uniform and extra powers he needs to prevent himself from becoming a giant evil were-ape (again, if this makes no sense, you're not the target audience) and gaining the skills to beat Piccolo and use the Dragon Balls to grant his fondest wish.

If this were an Asian movie, you'd understand the oddness of the tale—surely something must be lost in translation? But no. In English, released by a major studio, this is somehow expected to appeal to the masses.

Admittedly, it's never boring...but nor is it ever logical, coherent, rational, etc. It's fun in a train-wreck kind of way, and possibly makes sense to those who know the source, but recommending this to anyone else would be a bad idea.

The 180—a Second Opinion: For connoisseurs of cinematic oddities—those of you who feel compelled to seek out every Crispin Glover movie ever made, for instance—this is a must see. No attempt whatsoever is made to interpret this stuff for the casual viewer.

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