In 53 BC, the Parthians inflicted a major defeat on their Roman enemies at the Battle of Carrhae. Legend has it that some of the Roman captives wound up working as mercenaries for the Parthians and that they may even have made their way to China. Although there’s no concrete evidence for this theory, it keeps coming up. I think this is mainly because it’s a cool, romantic idea rather than because of any actual evidence, but it’s not my area or period.
Aaaaaanyhow, Dragon Blade claims to be inspired by true events, but only in the loosiest, goosiest manner. Jackie Chan plays Huo An, a Hun who was orphaned at a young age and raised by a Chinese army officer. Now he’s head of the Silk Road Protection Squad, a band of tough but loveable blah blah blah. He runs into Lucius (John Cusack, presumably cashing a welcome paycheque), a Roman officer who is protecting a young Roman noble from his evil brother Tiberius (Adrien Brody).
From this point you can probably figure out how this goes. Although Lucius and Huo initially find themselves in opposition, they learn to respect one another and work together. In between, there’s montages, fight scenes, chases and a big old battle or two. You know how these things go.
So is it any good? Well … it’s certainly spectacular. Big armies, cool sets, fancy costumes and plenty of lively fight choreography (I believe Jackie Chan was action director on this one). But insofar as it has human elements, they manifest in that weird Chinese-cinema combination of sentimental glurge and cheerful bloodthirstiness. There’s also a certain corny propaganda-ness to it; one of the big messages is that peace is possible if all the nations on the Silk Road will work together — under Chinese leadership, of course. It’s not very subtle.
Historical nonsense allied to colourful pageantry and plenty of big, nonsensical fight scenes: it’s basically a 1950s Technicolour epic catapulted forward 60 years. It’s good fun, but I wouldn’t really think about it too hard if I were you. In fact, it’s so silly in its history that that becomes part of its charm, at least for me.