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Japanese anime involving martial arts action has a tendency to go through a live action version now and again. From FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (1995) with Gary Daniels to the recent Takashi Miike film YATTERMAN (2009), the latest live action anime to hit Stateside is the most beloved of Japanese anime, DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION. However, the results are nothing but disastrous.

DRAGONBALL, created by Akira Toriyama, revolves around a young martial arts warrior named Son Goku, who joined forces with the teenage Bulma, desert bandit Yamcha, pig character Oolong, and the elder Master Roshi, to find the seven magical Dragonballs, which when brought together, summons the eternal Sheng Long, giving the founder the perfect wish.

DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION, written by Ben Ramsey, follows Goku (Justin Chatwin), a martial arts warrior who has just turned eighteen years old. His grandfather, Gohan (Randall Duk Kim), gives Goku a Dragonball to keep sacred. A legend has foretold of an alien warrior named Piccolo (James Marsters) who returns after 2000 years to find the Dragonballs and make his wish to take over the world.

The first twenty minutes of the film look like a bad version of your basic teenage fight film in the vain of NEVER BACK DOWN (2008). Goku is seen as a martial artist who made a vow never to fight and has eyes for the high school beauty, Chi Chi (Jamie Chung). However, he is seen as a nerd who gets bullied by your average high school bullies. Chi Chi, on the other hand, learns of Goku’s martial arts and shares with him her knowledge of inner energy, or “Qi”.

The film picks up somewhat with the arrival of Bulma (Emmy Rossum), a no-nonsense biker chick who uses heavy artillery and capsules that turn into vehicles. When Bulma learns Goku has a Dragonball, the two embark on a quest to find the rest after Gohan is killed by Piccolo and his new henchman Mai (Eriko Tamura).

The duo soon find Master Roshi in the form of Hong Kong film legend Chow Yun-Fat. It is a good guess that Chow decided to do the film to break away from his usual serious fare. The script somewhat did an injustice to Chow’s performance as Roshi. In the anime, Roshi is seen as the martial arts mentor of Goku and it shows in the film, but Roshi’s fun side was a major part of the manga and anime and there isn’t much of that here in the film. Chow is meant to have a serious role here, and he does his best to work with the script.

Sadly, the character of Yamcha, played by Joon Park, wasn’t given any ample time and therefore, does not participate really in any action. Like his anime counterpart, he does what he does for the money, but his foremanner is completely the opposite of the anime. In the anime, Yamcha is deathly afraid of women yet in the film, he flirts like Bulma as if he tries to act like Stephen Fung’s character of Match in GEN-X COPS (1999).

As for the villain Piccolo, James Marsters, best known for his role of the vampire Spike on the television series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, should have been the perfect villain. However, it is sad to say that Marsters was completely wasted as all he did was mostly smugged and talked. Even in the climatic battle, he wasn’t given much to do as he took on Goku.

The fight scenes, choreographed by Jared Eddo and Jonathan Eusebio, had the potential to be the redeeming factor of the film. Like most Hollywood productions, there is the required quick cuts and close ups as well as some wirework. However, one of the biggest problems with the fight sequences, notably in the fight where Goku takes on his bullies at Chi Chi’s party, was the overuse of the slow motion technique. It felt too much like Peter Parker’s Spidey Sense in the 2002 SPIDER-MAN film, but done in overkill fashion.

Many fans saw the trailer and had the feeling that the film would truly do injustice to the DRAGONBALL name, and sad to say, those who felt that way will feel the same way about the movie. The DRAGONBALL anime fans will have a field day. Akira Toriyama felt a little uncomfortable with the film version and he should have stuck with that feeling. It is even more sad that Stephen Chow is credited as producer of this really bland version of one of the most famous Japanese anime in the past few decades.

REVIEW: Dragonball Evolution (2009), 3.9 out of 10 based on 46 ratings Related Topics:
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  • http://www.myspace.com/rawtee Rawtee

    Reminds me of Charlie’s Angels….

  • Rhythm-X

    CHARLIE’S ANGELS was a fun movie that succeeded at meeting its modest goals. DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION looks like a cinematic violation of the Geneva Convention.

  • Anonymous

    For God’s sake has everyone suddenly become illiterate when they were supposed to be reading that this movie s for 7-13 year old boys. Boys of this age will be perfectly staisfied with this movie. An action mvoei that does not have so much, fould language, extreme violence, and nudity as to not make it suitable for those under 15. I have gotten so tired of hearing grown men complain about amovie that was never intended for them in the first place. Considering how childish that is I use the term grown men loosely.

  • Daniel Zelter

    “For God’s sake has everyone suddenly become illiterate when they were supposed to be reading that this movie s for 7-13 year old boys. Boys of this age will be perfectly staisfied with this movie.”

    Actually, I heard even child fans of the series were unimpressed by the trailer.

    “I have gotten so tired of hearing grown men complain about amovie that was never intended for them in the first place.”

    The problem is DB: E is not intended for anyone but the executives who ok’ed it. Anyway, that’s a total bs argument, since Forbidden Kingdom is also a kiddie movie, and still manages to appeal to adults.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad this movie bombed in the US. Maybe it’ll teach them to try and get right next time.

  • Rhythm-X

    “I’m glad this movie bombed in the US. Maybe it’ll teach them to try and get right next time. ”

    Not bloody likely.

  • Rhythm-X

    “For God’s sake has everyone suddenly become illiterate when they were supposed to be reading that this movie s for 7-13 year old boys. Boys of this age will be perfectly staisfied with this movie. An action mvoei that does not have so much, fould language, extreme violence, and nudity as to not make it suitable for those under 15. I have gotten so tired of hearing grown men complain about amovie that was never intended for them in the first place. Considering how childish that is I use the term grown men loosely.”

    Starting that paragraph with a challenge to the literacy of others is simply wonderful. Kudos, sir or ma’am.

    More to the point, if 7-13 year old boys actually wanted to see this film, that desire clearly did not translate into them showing up at theaters to do so. Why is there such a disconnect between the desires (seeing DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION) and actions (not actually showing up at theaters to watch DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION) of this demographic? Our feeble, sub-literate minds are mildly curious at best.

  • beatit

    hahaha you watched Dragon Ball Evolution.

  • inframan

    Personally I think its a waste of cyberspace to even acknowledge crap like this on kungfucinema dot com

  • http://www.kungfucinema.com Mark Pollard

    I’m just grateful to Albert for taking this one on. I’m still recovering from STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI.

  • Albert Valentin

    Thanks for the comments guys. I only have this to say about tackling this movie:
    “It’s a dirty job…but someone had to do it.” :) It took the whole weekend for me to recover but yesterday I watched Project A with my kids and I am finally recovered from this blandness.

  • RIK

    I agree w/ this article.
    At the beginnig I always support this movie and I was thinking its going be huge sucess and a great movie.

    But I was worng, this is a medium movie.
    I think FOX dont give the rigth respect that the DRAGON BALL diserve:
    A WEAK budjet,
    really BAD publicity,
    BAD director (James Wong)

    this movie should be tretan w/ BIG respect and atention!! this is a worldwide famous series for the last 20 years!!
    e.g. FOX care more atention w/ WOLVERINE movie (big budjet, huge publicity etc…) and DRAGON BALL was left for 2place or….10place…..this is not rigth for DB fans.

    I hope DRAGON BALL 2: REBORN will be produce by Wachowski Brothers, im gonna prey for that to happen, or Warner Bros could take the sequel of DB.

    well my friends lets hope the sequel will be produce for an diferent director

  • BruisedLo

    no no don’t hope for a sequel at all. fox or funimation or who ever that wanted to make this movie in the first place butchered the anime enough. don’t let advertising get to ya. anyone who thought this film was gonna be a success, needs to comment. goku isn’t british, he doesn’t do school, he doesn’t think dirty (no wonder they didn’t add the nimbus cloud), the fights aren’t even dragonball or dbz standards, everyone looks wrong just like the legend of chun li, if they had a big budget the movie would of still sucked anyway, although i could be wrong. but if you look at the chinese live version of dragonball, its so obvious that they used little money to make the film, and its 10 times better than dragonball evolution in my opinion. the chinese version ain’t the best, but if they had evolution’s budget, it might of been 100 times better. now for goku’s hair in evolution, they were funded enough to make justin’s hair to look like goku’s, but they didn’t even do that. look at final fantasy VII, it went from 3D game to CGI movie, and even though it was computer animated, everyone looks real, and the hair is right. if they went for live action, the look/hair/everything would of still looked right.

    i heard evolution first premiered in japan…. japan! lol, and no one was digging it. japan is like the home of high tech shit, anime, video games. you expect them to jump for joy for this film? now i don’t know if evolution was shown in hong kong, i’m sure it wasn’t. fox wouldn’t dare, cuz HK is where all the best martial art action films are at, and evolution’s action doesn’t even match the work of jackie chan, donnie yen, tony jaa, jet li, yuen wo ping, lau kar leung, bruce lee, on and on, and on, and on.

  • Jen

    This was the worst movie I saw in a while. The only reason I saw it was because my girlfriend wanted to see it . I thought I was die hard DB fan however she knew it would suck big time after i told her it even bombed in Japan. I have been watching DB to DB GT and I owned all of GT. However I still was very disapointed in this film. If this was created for younger veiwers I would have had a problem with some of the secens in the move. However all aninme that I have seen from Cowboy Bebop, DB, Bleach, Naruto, Rioni Kinshin, Black Lagoon Gundam and on have always had many elemements that appealed to adults. So please lets keep things real.

  • laudia sierra

    well you no i like the movies dragon ball evolution

  • FootOfFury

    It sucked as a stand-alone movie and it sucjked increadible ammount of ass as Dragonball movie.

  • Lupin

    I saw the preview and I vow never to watch this movie. For those of you who watched this movie.. All I can say is that you are brave.