The elevator pitch for Dragon Dynasty is very simple: Marco Polo (Federico Castelluccio) fights dragons. And er, that’s it. He’s in China to negotiate a considerable trade deal with the Emperor (James Hong) when his jealous advisor, Shang Sel (Peter Kwong), takes a dragon stone and summons a couple of dragons to wreak a bit of havoc, as they often do. You should be able to tell instantly that Shang is a bad guy, if not for him sneering at Marco or for him dressing entirely in black, then for causing havoc for no discernible reason within five minutes of us meeting him.
Bearin in mind this is your average, Direct-to-DVD production, it goes without saying that the CGI dragons look terrible. That the boat Marco and his companions travel on looks even worse. That the performances are, for the most part, so wooden they are likely to give your wardrobe a run for its money in the “quite mahogany” awards category. That the story itself is little more than a by the numbers “travelling from A to B” narrative, with a little bit of family strife and dragon based death thrown in for good measure.
Relegated to a brief but entertaining supporting role, James Hong is by far the classiest performer. Once he’s off our screens – and it doesn’t take long for him to pack his bags and leave the production – it’s all downhill from there.
That isn’t exactly a surprise when you’re presented with Marco and his roaming posse of American surfer dudes as they hunt stock footage of deer roaming in the forest. Not actual deer – blatantly obvious stock footage that is in a much lower resolution than the rest of the film. Castelluccio is the best of a bad bunch as Marco, although any emotional connection to his travels is strangely absent. It’s as if all the life was removed from the film when they desaturated the film’s colour palette.
Even Stana Katic, best known for her longstanding role in the Nathan Fillion TV series Castle, is poorly used and actually quite bad in her role as the obligatory love interest Ava. At least the flames and explosions look half decent. That’s not nearly enough to save it, of course.
The biggest issue is the script and the choices the characters make. Rather foolishly Marco decides to head home despite knowing that the dragons are following him and his brother. If you want to avoid your loved ones dying, it’s probably best to not lead the dragons directly to them. But then perhaps that’s just me thinking too logically.
Dragon Dynasty is another example of a low budget production that suffers because it maintains a serious tone rather than embracing the inherent daftness of the story. A couple of good shots – a dragon swooping around a large field and a small crane shot when Marco’s brother Giovanni (Aaron Hendry) returns to visit his wife – aren’t nearly enough to save it from its own mediocrity.