Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Back in the day, this day being whenever dragons ruled the skies in China… let’s go ahead and roll with the concept that dragons are real… an emperor under assault called upon the help of one of these dragons to turn the tide of the war in his favor. Alas in the heat of the battle the Dragon’s Pearl was lost, and the pearl is what gives the dragon all of its firepower. So sick was this emperor that he lost the pearl that he died of heartbreak because without the pearl the dragon cannot go home. It’s all sad and stuff. But that’s only part of the story. To get the rest of the story we will need to play close attention to this cross cultural tween adventure ‘The Dragon Pearl’.

Our film opens in the China based studio / museum / apartment of one noted archeologist Dr. Chris Chase (Sam Neil) who is awakened on this evening to find a couple of ruffians attempting to steal the Sage Scroll of Something or Another. Dr. Chase completely puts these thugs down and keeps his stuff. Why these two strapping young men who know kung fu couldn’t beat up old Sam Neil is beyond me, but later in this movie these same two worthless thugs will have even more problems with a couple of slight adolescent children. Why did these criminals want this sage scroll? Hmmm…

Switch to the airport where we meet our two main protags in this movie in Dr. Chase’s thirteen year old son Josh (Louis Corbett) and the young daughter of Dr. Chase’s colleague Dr. Li (Wang Ji), Ling (Li Lin Jin). Josh is a maestro at solving puzzles as we can clearly observe watching him work this funky Rubik’s cube that has like 800 squares per side as opposed to the traditional nine, and young Ling hears flute music playing in head that nobody else can hear. Crazy. So first we endure a little family tension since young Josh is all upset about his parents impending divorce, then it’s off to the dig where Dr. Chase, Dr. Lin and their other associate Phillip (Robert Mammone) are on the verge of unearthing the find of a lifetime. Don’t worry about what this find is because it’s not all that important.

What is important is that Ling isn’t as crazy we thought she was with her special flute ears but instead is the ‘Chosen One’ as declared by the nutty Wu Dong (Gordon Chan). It is Ling’s responsibility to return this dragon’s pearl to its rightful owner. What dragon? That dragon right there hanging out in the cave scaring little kids. But it’s a good dragon and like E.T. it has the ability to grant little kids the gift of flight. And it has the ability to tell the Rest of the Story because that original story about the dragon and its pearl wasn’t exactly the stone truth.

Now getting this dragon his pearl isn’t all that simple. First this pearl needs to be found, and this is where the kid that can solve puzzles comes in handy. Second these kids parents are convinced their children are nuts so that has to be dealt with, and third there are some evil people around who want the pearl all to themselves so they can do evil stuff with it. I do hope this dragon appreciates what these silly kids are going through for his benefit.

Billed as the first official co-production between China and Australia, a feat I thought was accomplished by one of my personal favorites ‘The Man from Hong Kong’ some thirty years ago – but I guess that movie wasn’t ‘official’, director Mario Andreacchio’s fantasy adventure was… well… it was an okay movie. You see ‘The Dragon Pearl’ isn’t a bad movie, it’s well acted, it’s competent in the way it goes about it business, it’s completely inoffensive, and I think it does everything that Adreacchio wanted his movie to do, that being entertain, but it does this in a very benign, marginal and predicable way. I’m thinking the younger the viewer happens to be, the more this viewer will be exponentially entertained by this movie because the run of the mill sheen that covers this film will start to fade away a bit, but the movie doesn’t offer up anything all that original that most of us haven’t seen before.

That being said young actors Louis Corbett and Li Lin Jin have no problem carrying this rather lightweight film, plus the kids have a little chemistry together and play off of each other quite well. The set design is absolutely gorgeous, the dragon is painfully CG looking but we did like the way it was animated, and while you will probably see better kung fu action on a Saturday afternoon episode Kung Fu Theater, there was still plenty of action sequences in this film and they were reasonably well done.

As family films go ‘The Dragon Pearl’ certainly fills that bill as it is harmless, safe, inoffensive and presents us with semi-respectful kids doing some amazing things. It certainly isn’t revolutionary, evolutionary, or game changing in any way, but is solid and safe family entertainment.

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