Who would have thought that Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger would appear together in a movie again? Last time they shared a screen together, it was in the remake of Around the World in 80 Days—the latter’s final movie before his gubernatorial duty. Strange but true, the latest collaboration between the two action heroes from the bygone era is in a bizarre Russian-Chinese adventure flick, Mystery of the Dragon Seal, even when their involvement is a little too minuscule.
Unbeknownst to most, this movie is a sequel to a 2014 Russian fantasy blockbuster, Viy (also known as The Forbidden Kingdom), directed by Oleg Stepchenko. The story is loosely based on a story by the enigmatic Nikolai Gogol, whose Gothic satire has always been influential in Russian literary history. Notwithstanding, The Mystery of the Dragon Seal barely needs a thorough understanding of neither the source material nor the predecessor. A brief recap opens this sequel with a montage of the previous movie’s important plot points and some glorified CGI spectacles. Before long, we’ll meet Chan and Schwarzenegger fully-clothed in their comical costumes. Chan is a prisoner with a sorcerous background; Schwarzenegger is the jailer that looks like a mashup of Captain Hook and Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. Yet, sit still, they won’t be the main attractions of this movie.
The story still follows an English cartographer, Jonathan Green (Jason Flemyng) as he escapes to the 1700s China where he encounters Chen (Xingtong Yao), a serious Chinese guy who, in fact, is (wait for it!), a warrior princess. Her homeland is raided by an evil sorceress who wants to conquer a mythical trapped dragon. In a desperate attempt to take it back, she has no choice but to welcome every available help; that includes Jonathan’s and Peter the Great (Yuri Kolokolnikov), Russian’s true czar imprisoned alongside Jackie Chan’s character who, as it turns out, is the princess’ master. Peter, intercepting Jonathan’s pigeon intended for his lover, Ms. Dudley, attempts to coerce Lord Dudley (Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance) into setting them free.
In around two hours, The Mystery of the Dragon Seal packs itself with exaggerated CGI bonanzas covering up not only the action spectacles but also the environment. In an extravagant attempt to seam two narratives (the one in the West and another in the East), Stepchenko who also co-writes the sequel with Dmitry Paltsev and Aleksey Petrukhin diverts the attention with series of wild actions that almost felt like pageantry. The spectacles, alongside the acting, can sometimes be overwhelming with enough comical moments and campiness. With Chan and Schwarzenegger involved, the expectations for a spectacular showdown soar high; but, that’s not the case. Both action icons only share one pivotal action sequences together that, even with its grit, is muddled with overused special effects—which practically becomes this movie’s hit-and-miss feature.
The narrative experiment, syncretizing some Chinese lore with Western views, meets with mixed results. Yet, that doesn’t hinder Mystery of the Dragon Seal from delivering a campy, B-movie-styled entertainment for those looking for a simple joyride, even when Chan and Schwarzenegger’s portion doesn’t quite live it up. The whole shenanigans remind us of how The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor brings a Western blockbuster from Egypt all the way to China along with Jet Li in a dire attempt to get the second wind. That’s just the nature of blockbuster.
Mystery of the Dragon Seal, also known as The Iron Mask in the US and UK or Viy 2: Journey to China in Russia, is a Russian-British-Chinese production. At least 9 production companies, including Jackie Chan’s Sparkle Roll Media, are involved. Oleg Stepchenko reprises his directorial duty in the first movie with Ivan Gudkov and Man-Ching Ng (director of photography; Infernal Affairs 2 and 3) as the cinematographer. In Indonesia, The Mystery of the Dragon Seal is exclusively available for streaming on Bioskop Exclusive Mola TV a special entertainment program by Mola TV.
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