Kung Fu Fighting
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce reviews Warner Bros.’ latest animated feature Batman: Soul Of The Dragon, out now…
Batman: Soul of the Dragon
Director: Sam Liu
Voice Cast: David Giuntoli, Mark Dacascos, Kelly Hu, Michael Jai White, James Hong, Josh Keaton, Jamie Chung
An extended homage to ridiculous Kung Fu movies of the 1970s, Batman: Soul of The Dragon tries to mash a never ending supply of era-specific clichés with a number of lesser-known DC superheroes from the 1970s who themselves were originally designed as a cash-in for the Kung Fu phenomenon. The end result is a sometimes entertaining wallow in high collars, big hair, consciously ‘funky’ music and a whole host of over-the-top action sequences.
Secret agent Richard Dragon has discovered that an ancient artefact – known simply as ‘the gate’ – has gone missing at the behest of millionaire Jeffrey Burr. Dragon proceeds to search out old colleague Bruce Wayne to help aid him in his search for the artefact. As he and Wayne reconnect – and Dragon discovers Wayne’s nocturnal activities – we flash back to their past together at the monastery in Nanda Parbat. There, under the guidance of O Sensei, they – and a number of other students – learn the secrets of the martial arts. But one secret is kept from them: the nature of what is behind the mysterious gate in the monastery grounds.
Back in the present, Wayne and Dragon now must team up to find their old colleagues as they realise that their current predicament harks back to their past in the monastery. As they gather a new team, they find themselves on a collision course with Burr, his deadly henchpeople and an ancient demon older than time itself.
There’s no doubt that the team behind this have a lot of love for the Kung Fu movies of old, and do their best to channel the spirit of Bruce Lee, The Shaw Brothers, et al. While the animation is similar to the majority of the films in the DC Animated Universe (slick if sometimes rather soulless, rather at odds with the beautifully designed film poster for the project) it’s spiked with the ‘eastern mysticism’ accoutrements of many a Martial Arts movie and the attendant design of Chinese monasteries, underground clubs and wood panelled apartments. While the Kung Fu sequences are slightly less exciting due to the very medium (one of the reasons Kung Fu movies were so popular was seeing real humans engage in impressive feats) there is a gleeful ‘over the topness’ here from the central conceit concerning demons and ancient curses to the kinetic action sequences. The entire enterprise has a certain amount of tongue in cheek, including the casting of B Movie and martial arts action stalwart Mark Dacascos in the role of Dragon.
Hardcore Batman fans will find this disappointing as – aside from a few references to Dark Knight lore – his presence is rather superfluous. More general hardcore comic fans will enjoy the return of characters who originated in the 70s such as Dragon, Bronze Tiger (whose voice is provided Michael Jai White who also played the character on TV in Arrow) and Lady Shiva.
The Blu-ray release comes with Raw Groove, a making-of-doc, which is entertaining enough and two episodes of the always brilliant Batman: The Animated Series with a martial arts theme. ‘Producer Jim Krieg’s Far Out Highlights’ examines more of the production process whilst there’s also a sneak preview of the forthcoming DCAU effort Justice Society: World War II.
Batman: Soul Of The Demon is out now