Devil Boy is a thief who decides to sneak into the royal castle under the guise of a prince to steal a gem. While there what he steals in the princess’ heart and now must complete three tasks in order to win her hand in marriage.
For everything Son of the Dragon does right there are places it seems to stumble. When we first open the movie we meet “The Thief.” This mysterious man is a Robin Hood character, a point the script wants to make sure we do not miss. At one point he actually says “I steal from the rich and give to the poor.” He races through the city and steals gold from an evil tax collector. How do we know the tax collector is evil? He bullies a man who already paid his taxes to pay them again. Lucky for the people of the city, The Thief is there to steal the tax collector’s purse and redistribute the money to the poor people on the streets.
Subtlety is not of importance in this script.
We then witness a fight between The Thief and the soldiers that accompany the tax collector. The battle is filmed in the fantastical style of movies such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero. The fight sequences choreographed here do not reach the level of those superior films nor feel exciting. When The Thief finally escapes to his home under the city we meet his mentor “Bird” (David Carradine). Bird takes in street urchins and feeds, clothes and teaches them. The Thief, who is named Devil Boy, was one of these children and now steals to help feed and clothe them.
The Robin Hood similarities end there. Devil Boy (John Reardon) learns that the princess is about to be married to a prince of her father’s choosing. When the rival princes show up with all their treasure, Devil Boy decides to impersonate a prince to gain entrance to the castle to steal a jewel that would insure that his “brothers and sisters” would never go hungry again. Taking the name D.B., he enters the competition for the princess’ hand in marriage and soon falls in love and changes his goal to winning her hand.
The obvious problem in this logic is glaring. Even if D.B. wins the hand of the princess, what will happen once his ruse is discovered? Ignore that question and you are left with an epic fantasy, almost an Arabian Knights legend. It is an adaptation of The Thief of Baghdad, a story that is often confused as part of Arabian Knights lore. The Thief of Baghdad (1924) was a Raoul Walsh film that told the story of a thief who falls in love with the Caliph of Bagdad’s daughter. The Caliph will give her hand to the suitor that brings back the rarest treasure after seven moons. The thief sets off on the quest while another suitor refuses to play by the rules.
The first change in this adaptation is relocating the action to China. This brings the large action pieces of wire work martial arts fighting that, while pretty, were not up to par. What the movie tries to rely on after that is the fantastical elements of the film, a very important part of the original story. The princes are sent to find three magical objects in a contest to win marriage to the princess. The first object is a pearl called The Dragon’s Eye which allows the owner to see anything he wishes. The second is a flying carpet. The third object is something known as The Fruit of Life, a magical elixir.
The quest for these three objects brings about fantastical action scenes on a television budget. When D.B. locates The Dragon’s Eye, he must do battle with a real dragon that was so poorly designed that I thought I was watching a Power Rangers cartoon. When he finally finds the flying carpet, he must do battle aboard the carpet in a very bad green screen sequence. Finally, when he finds The Fruit of Life, there is a twist in the movie that really made little sense. I just sat scratching my head trying to figure out who comes up with this stuff.
Despite the ineptitude in both the fight sequences and special effects, the story was good enough to hold my interest. D.B. was an arrogant boy at heart. He felt he could come to no harm and believed he was the best at anything he put his mind to. Bird was the older mentor who dished out advice like a human fortune cookie. The two shared a chemistry that ranked miles above any other actor in the movie. The wise man sayings grow old in time, and when D.B. begged Bird “please, no more fortune cookies”, I agreed wholeheartedly. The core stories were D.B. growing up and Bird coming to grips with his mysterious past. Both are done well.
The problem is a script littered with so many clichés and mind numbing dialogue that it makes you want to throw up. How the actors can recite some of the dialogue with a straight face is beyond me. Most characters are pure evil or virtuous and good, there is very little middle ground. The Prince of the North (Rupert Graves) is pure evil with only bad intentions, everything he says is to prove how bad this man really is. The King is a good man, who wants the best for his kingdom and his daughter. You know at the end he will come around to the side of D.B. and Bird.
The one character truly conflicted and straddling the line between good and evil is Ting Ting, a girl who was raised by Bird and now resides with the princess. Her love for D.B. drives her to inadvertently betray her own people. She is the one tragic character of the film and it is through her that we are finally meant to mourn. Unfortunately, the script does not allow us to care about her throughout the movie as she comes across as impertinent and blind to what is going on around her. She sees only her own hurt feelings and never understands what is best for everyone involved. It does not help that she is portrayed by one of the lesser actors in the film.
The final fight scene in the movie really improves on everything that came before it. Instead of relying on flying around with wires, the actors are allowed to swordfight and battle each other on solid ground and makes for a more visually pleasing experience. However, the movie seemed to be slight when it should have been fantastical. With such an great story it could have been an amazing adventure tale. Instead it is a clichéd, overlong movie (almost three hours) with some of the worst dialogue you will ever hear. Great acting by both Reardon and Graves were wasted when surrounded by a mixed cast of lesser actors. I won’t even go into how ridiculous it seemed to have a cast of English speaking people in a movie taking place in China. The movie remains a mixed bag that just borders on bad.
The movie is presented in widescreen, preserving the aspect ratio of its original television exhibition. It is a little flat and the colors are not as dazzling as you would expect with the scenery we are given. The sound is better than the picture but still only average quality.
There are two featurettes, Epic Stories in a Fabled Land and Getting Candid with David Carradine. Both are short, the first a waste of time where the cast just talks about how great making the movie was and how much they love it. The second is much more interesting but only consists of Carradine giving tidbits of trivia about the actual shoot. Neither are anything great.