The latest offering from the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series (which, as I’ve mentioned a number of times before, I’m a big fan of), Soul of the Dragon is a loving tribute to 1970s Kung Fu movies. In fact, one character is drawn to look like Bruce Lee, and another to look like Jim Kelly from Enter the Dragon. It also features prominent martial arts stars Mark Dacascos, Kelly Hu, and Michael Jai White in the voice cast—not to mention the inimitable James Hong. And all throughout, the film relishes a distinct 1970s flavor which makes it enormously fun to watch.
We open the film not with the Caped Crusader, but with another lesser-known DC hero: Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos). An elite fighter and Bond-esque super spy, he’s on the trail of a notorious crime lord; however, when he discovers that this crime lord has stolen something incredibly powerful and dangerous, he needs to call on his old friend Bruce Wayne to help him recover it. No, not Batman. Bruce Wayne.
It seems Dragon’s acquaintance with Bruce predates the cape and cowl. In flashbacks, we see that the two of them trained together at Nanda Parbat alongside such talented martial artists as Shiva (Kelly Hu) and Ben Turner (Michael Jai White), under the tutelage of O-Sensei (James Hong). Now, in order to stop the evil Kobra cult from possibly destroying the world, Dragon and Bruce need to get the gang back together, so to speak.
Though his name is on the film, this isn’t exactly a Batman movie. In fact, Bruce spends more time out of the mask than in it. Even when he is wearing the costume, Batman isn’t the focus of this story—and that’s not a bad thing. After all, we already know Batman’s story, practically by heart. So, rather than focusing on him, we instead explore the character of Richard Dragon. He’s the real star of the show. We also get in-depth looks at other lesser-known DC characters Lady Shiva and Bronze Tiger. In this film, they’re all at least as good as Bruce—and one or two might be better.
The real standout in the cast, though, is James Hong as O-Sensei. Rather than the typical “wise, old teacher” character that we often see in such movies, he’s sharp-witted and sarcastic and doesn’t have time for anybody’s nonsense, bringing a humor to the character that only James Hong can.
The Blu-ray/4K release has a number of great special features, including two full episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, extended previews of upcoming DC Universe Animated films (which also look fantastic), and a featurette called Batman: Raw Groove about bringing the 1970s style and culture into the film. As a side note, Raw Groove features an interview with a history professor from my alma mater, Cal Lutheran University. That’s neither here nor there, but I thought it was cool.
This is a really fun film from start to finish. It’s a loving homage to campy, '70s goodness which doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’d love to see more movies about this set of characters. If you’re into Kung Fu movies and cheesy '70s nostalgia, you’ll definitely want to check out Batman: Soul of the Dragon.
Creative Team: Sam Liu (director, producer), Jeremy Adams (writer), James Krieg (producer), Kimberly S. Moreau (producer), David Giuntoli (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Mark Dacascos (Richard Dragon), Kelly Hu (Shiva), Michael Jai White (Ben Turner/Bronze Dragon), and James Hong (O-Sensei)
Production Companies: Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment
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