Finding Courage When No One Believes
The Dragon Pearl is the perfect movie to introduce young kids to the concept of a live-action adventure movie. But it’s a low-budgeted piece geared to a very specific age — a child who finds a movie like The Goonies too scary. As such, I ultimately find it disappointing.
Josh (Louis Corbett, Charlotte’s Web) arrives in China ready to spend some time with his estranged father (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park). Instead he ends up hanging out with Ling (Li Lin Jin, 33 Postcards), the daughter of his father’s associate Dr. Li (Wang Ji). The young tweens have nothing to do, so they reluctantly tag along with their parents to the archaeological site they’re excavating. While there, Ling hears a flute melody only she can hear. When she finds a flute a man dropped, she and Josh follow him back to a secluded temple to return it.
When they catch up, the mysterious man named Wu Dong (Jordan Chan, Ip Man: The Final Fight) tells them Ling is the descendant of the emperor whose temple their parents are excavating. As such Ling is the only one who can open the secret entrance to the cave Wu Dong’s family has been guarding for generations. Ling and Josh discover a Dragon within the cave who’s trapped on Earth until his sacred Pearl is returned. When Josh and Ling try to get their parents to help, they are met with only skepticism. Thus it’s up to them to find a way to retrieve the Pearl.
Every aspect of the movie caters to a young audience. There is no foul language, the dragon isn’t scary, and the fight sequences are choreographed with slapstick in mind as opposed to violence. The plot also whizzes along at a breakneck speed with the kids finding the temple in what feels like a matter of minutes. Personally I could use some more backstory being shown as opposed to narrated but I’m not the target audience. Sadly there obviously isn’t enough of a budget to fully flesh out the story’s potential. It’s a shame because with the right script and amount of money, this story could be epic.
Sam Neill is billed first and he leads the pack in quality of acting. The young kids are both still new to movies and they hold their own for what the parts ask of them. Jordan Chan overplays his part, yet it’s likely to amuse the target audience.
The Dragon Pearl is a harmless movie which will only appeal to a narrow audience. Parents looking for a safe, kid-friendly movie to introduce their little ones to live-action fare will find this an acceptable if not high-quality choice. However there’s so much unrealized potential I find it hard to recommend.
The visuals are hit and miss. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer suffers from pixilation in unexpected places and the CGI wavers in quality throughout. The practical effects are more hit than miss, sadly. The colors are well-balanced as are the levels — about the only plus I can offer. The audio is stronger with Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 offered. There’s nothing to stress the sound system or test its limits. I wish there was more of a layered audio space to entice me into investing in the film.
Aside from a trailer of the movie, the lone special feature is a digital copy code.
Too narrow an audience range means The Dragon Pearl doesn’t have rewatchability or longevity. Once kids are old enough to appreciate a higher-budgeted more extensive and intricately plotted movie, this one will be shelved. It’s a good choice to stream, but not for much else.