Cinema-Maniac: Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins (1989) Review

Before Hollywood got their hands on “Dragon Ball Z” and pissed off nearly every fan imaginable with “Dragon Ball Evolution” there was “Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins”. A live action Taiwanese film based on the popular “Dragon Ball” series. Not only that, but it’s also an unofficial live action remake of the first “Dragon Ball” animated film “Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies”. It doesn’t take very long for me to find a small error in the film that foreshadows what to come my way. Before even reaching the opening credits, the film own production company couldn’t spelled it own name correctly. If the production company can’t even get its own name right what makes you think they’ll know how to make a live action “Dragon Ball” movie.

Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins follows Goku and his band of misfits in search for seven magical dragon balls before they fall into the wrong hands of King Horn and his evil alien army. Now the film opens by showing alien ships heading towards Earth. Cutting to a peaceful village where an abridged ceremony is being held to signify the importance of the dragon ball (or “dragon pearl” in the English dub.) Then out of nowhere, the aliens come to blow up the village by way of cheap knock off of storm troopers blasting their way with twenty something explosions (I lost count) in the opening three minutes. The whole film is over the top and pulls out cheap writing techniques to make sure you don’t care. After the whole village gets filled with explosions, it cuts to Goku and his grandpa talking about how important protecting dragon ball is. This introduction exemplifies every problem with the writing; everything is over the top, everything is said to be importance without much explanation towards to why, and if it’s not a discussion about dragon balls it exposition and humor related to how someone in the group is a pervert.

There’s nothing connecting the whole plot aside from conveniences. Goku goes fishing and bumps into Bulma, the two join forces to look for the dragon ball and that’s how the journey is started. Oh yeah I forgot to mention the part where Bulma shoots Goku with a machine gun upon introduction. Another convenience is the location of the last dragon ball which one of the members of the group had the whole time without knowing it. Not only that, but it has pacing issues as some moments it go way too fast and other moments it go way to slow. It rushes when Goku finds his home destroyed and learns his grandpa has been kidnapped by King Horns aliens, but takes it sweet time when the characters are discussing how to get Bulma to show her breast to Master Roshi to get a dragon ball. There’s nothing established in this world for newcomers. We never learn where the aliens came from, why they want the seven dragon balls, why King Horn swallowed six dragon balls, if the characters can fly as made apparent by their fighting styles, and a number of other things. If there is one good thing the film does contribute that would be Master Roshi “Moonwalk Magic” technique.

Now for the technical aspects which fares a bit better. Firstly the over the top fight scenes are entertaining. The overused of wireworks favor the nature of the fight scenes as fighters can take multiple bullet shot and jump around all over the arena. Sadly part of the fighting is done with some tanks, machine guns, alien ships, and blast energy which isn’t quite as exciting. Although the digital effects do raise eyebrows. Especially in a scene where Goku fights his grandpa and while guarding himself with a magical pole, grandpa leg goes through the magical pole hitting Goku. Even when Sheron (a dragon that appears when all the dragon balls are collected) looks hideous with bulgy white eyes and undetailed golden colored body. Costumes look cheap while hairdo scream too much hair gel was applied to make it stay up. Acting is bad from the young cast. Charles Chen Zi-Jiang shouts every line he reads while making silly faces, Jeannie Hsieh blankly stares with stiff line delivery, and Cheng Tung-Chen is also shouts all of his lines. The adults in the film fares no better either due to goofy costume that makes it difficult not to laugh or resort to making to two kind of faces, silly and serious to show their limited range of human emotion. Editing is bad especially the sound mixture in which music, effect, and dialogue drown each other out.

Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins is never boring because how over the top and odd technical direction it takes, but at the same time without anything decent to latch onto its goofiness loses it novelty. Once you become accustomed to the odd nature of its existence you’ll be desiring more than just a series of goofy scenes and poor production values.

2/10

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