Dragonball: Evolution – DVD Review

This film offers further proof, as if any were needed, that Western filmmakers cannot do justice to their Easter counterparts when it comes to retooling anime and/or Fant-Asia for Occidental consumption. DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION is loaded with special effects and stunts that look good in the trailer, but when stitched together they do not add up to much of a movie, and anyone unfamiliar with the DRAGONBALL Z franchise is like to come away shaking their heads and wondering how there could be a fan-base for this kind of thing.

The basic problem is blandness that leaves DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION about as zesty as leftover tapioca – not bad, exactly, but lacking any real zing. This manifests most obviously in the character of Goku (Justin Chatwin). We are supposed to witness his growth into the familiar hero of the anime franchise, but for some reason, these family-friendly fantasies equate ”heroic” with “boring.” (Check out THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM for another example.) 

The rest of the cast does little better, although Jamie Chung (in the thankless role of the girlfriend, Chic Chi) shows a flash of talent. Chow Yun-Fat shows up eventually, making us wonder why Hollywood cannot find something better to do with one of this generation’s greatest movie stars.

There are some virtues on display. The cinematography is gorgeous, and an occasional scene fires on all cylinders. Although most of the martial arts work is by-the-numbers (competent but not inspired), there is at least one great non-fight, wherein Goku, who has promised not to fight, outmaneuvers two bullies by dodging all their blows, humiliating them without every raising his own fist in retaliation.

There is also a brief, cute moment when Goku sits in his classroom, fantasizing about Chi Chi: the special effects melt away the wall behind her, revealing a field full of blossoms, evoking a touching sense of spring romance. Unfortunately, director James Wong allows the scene to go on too long, until it starts to feel like a bad perfume commercial. (Is this really Goku’s idea of a romantic fantasy?)

Wong brings little life to the rest of DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION; he tells the simply story competently enough, but the requisite Sense of Wonder is sadly missing. Wong is one half of the team, along with Glen Morgan, who wrote and produced some of the best X-FILES episodes. Unfortunately, between the two of them, they are amassing a rather dispiriting filmography, including BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006), WILLARD, THE ONE.


The DVD release presents DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION in a lovely widescreen transfer with audio tracks in English 5.1 Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, and Portuguese Dolby Surround; there are subtitle options for English, Portugues, and Spanish.

Special features consist of Deleted Scenes; Goku’s Workout; a Brian Anthony music video titled “All Worked Up;” a Gag Reel; “Making a Scene,” a Fox Movie Channel featurette; and “Life After Film School,” a Fox Movie Channel interview with actor Justin Chatwin.

The Deleted Scenes are more like extended scenes, with additional snippets added to sequences that made it into the final cut.

“Goku’s Workout” consist of a couple of stunt men running through some movies in front of an intentionally phone backdrop, intercut with footage from the film, allegedly to humorous effect.

The music video features Brian Anthony dancing around while scenes from DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION are cut in seemingly at random.

The Gag Reel contains few gags and barely any flubs, but there is something sweet about seeing Jamie Chung’s nervousness about performing an on-camera kiss.

“Making a Scene” depicts the challenge of staging and choreographing the sequence in which Jamie Chung’s Chi Chi confronts and fights her evil doppelganger. The behind-the-scenes details are interesting, but more interesting is the extent to which director James Wong seems unaware that the set-piece is plopped into the middle of the film without any impact. (Having gone to such lengths to establish Chi Chi as a formidable fighter, the film leaves her on the sidelines for the climax.)

 ”Life After Film School” gives three students a chance to interview Justin Chatwin about his career in general and DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION in particular. It is a friendly, informative conversation of most interest to aspiring filmmakers. It is also worth noting that, in person, Chatwin displays much more humor and personality than he was allowed to show in his role as Goku.

DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION (2009). Directed by James Wong. Screenplay by Ben Ramsey, based on the novel by Akira Toriyama. Cast: Justin Chatwin, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, Jamie Chung, James Marsters, Joon Park, Eriko Tamura, Ernie Hudson, Eriko Tamura, Randall Duk Kim, Megumi Seki.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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