Michelle Castillo has a report on “Dragonball Revolution,” which, for right or wrong, may be the most-hated film of 2009 that hasn’t even been released yet.
Hell hath no fury like an angry fanboy. At least not when it comes to the box office.
“Dragonball Evolution” is set to hit U.S. theaters on April 10 but it’s already reaching legendary status as the 2009 film fans love to hate on, at least as far as the Internet is concerned. The makers of the live-action film hoped to tap into a built-in audience by adapting the hugely popular manga epic that had already spawned three anime series, 17 animated feature films and three television specials. Fans all over the world love “Dragon Ball” but, well, it’s a thin line between love and hate.
Across the web, fans have been bellowing their anger over the choices made by director James Wong (“The One,” “Final Destination“), who was to looking to streamline and mainstream the “Dragon Ball” mythology, which follows Goku, a monkey-tailed Japanese boy, while he trains in martial arts and searches for the seven Dragon Balls that are said to grant the wish of the beholder.
Fans are frothing on YouTube about the casting, missing characters, the fight scenes and even the hair styles. This is serious stuff to devotees who have followed the manga franchise since it began in 1984 and have shown their allegiance by buying up the tie-in card game, the assorted video games, the apparel and other merch. On IMDB, one fan seemed to think a holy crime had been committed: “I could go on for hours about what they did wrong … may God have mercy on their souls.”
One of the stars, Jaime Chung, who plays Chi Chi, in the film, is asking the fans to give the movie a chance by perhaps waiting until it reaches the screen before putting it in the same category as “Catwoman” or “Speed Racer,” two other Hollywood movies that took hand-drawn fanboy favorites and turned them into spectacular live-action bombs.
“I feel like all movies that adapt some sort of [material], whether it’s a book or a manga or a cartoon, into a film — you’re going to have to take creative liberty in order to change it so that it works for a motion picture,” Chung said. “It’s never going to be the same, and you can’t satisfy everyone. What James Wong did was he adapted it in a way where it still stayed true to the ‘Dragon Ball’ series, with the essence of the characters,” said Chung, who is most famous for being one of the housemates in “The Real World: San Diego.”
At 20th Century Fox, the studio behind the “Dragonball” film, there must be some executives missing the old days when fans just waited for a movie to be released before deciding its fate. The studio leadership watched in horror in recent days as a stolen, near-finished copy of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” became a torrid sensation on file-sharing sites. The FBI has stepped in but, like a man watching his gold coins scatter on a crowded street, the Fox team knows deep down that the damage is already done. (In a twist that will have execs groaning, fans claim that they downloaded illegal copies of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” solely to punish Fox for its “Dragonball” folly.)
This is a new era of relationships between fans and studios. Warner Bros. had a muggle revolt last year when it abruptly postponed the sixth “Harry Potter” film for no reason beyond pure profit-positioning; frustrated fans came after Warner chairman Alan Horn and pledged boycotts when the film reaches theaters this summer. Fan debate raged also this year with the Warner film “Watchmen,” the Holy Grail of serious comic-book films, but unlike the old days where a controversy might propel a film for weeks at theaters, this time the movie generated more Internet traffic than box-office receipts and second-week grosses plummeted 67%.
Chung, for one, has put full faith in Wong, who she believes has made some controversial changes in order to make the film a bit more mainstream to new viewers.
Among some of the major twists include setting the story to take place during Goku’s high school years, as well as casting a Caucasian actor in the role. Other facets that faced the chopping board were fan favorite characters such as Krillin, Tien, and Chaouzu, who were removed in order to make the mythology more manageable.
None of that compares to the change that has fans pulling their hair: What happened to Goku’s towering spikes? The hand-drawn Goku is instantly recognizable for his massive black spikes, which jut out from his head like he has an ebony agave plant growing from his head. Wong opted for a somewhat more mundane level of spikes for Justin Chatwin’s (“Taking Lives,” “War of the Worlds”) natural light-brown hair.
Chang, for one, said sometimes change is good: “I mean you can’t make it look ridiculous,” the actress said. “When you’re doing close-up shots, and he’s wearing a two- foot wig, it just looks ridiculous on film. It’s so different from something that’s from a cartoon to something that’s filming something on film. It’s a completely different world, and it was a huge challenge for James, and I feel like he really overcame.”
Chung also believes the cast was well chosen – despite the fact that they might not look like their traditional Japanese characters. The cast includes Asian superstar Chow Yun-Fat (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“) and Emmy Rossum (“Phantom of the Opera“).
Chung said there are plenty of reasons for fans to give Wong’s movie a chance, whether it’s the high-intensity action scenes (shot with a Phantom HD camera for frame rapidity that slows combat for a closer view) or the care given to make sure each character got their own fighting style (Chung’s Chi Chi, for instance, uses taekwondo, allowing her to “look pretty on the outside, but fight like a dude”).
In an unconventional move, “Dragonball” was released first in Asia (as early as March 12, 2008) and the film has done well despite bootleg copies hitting the market. The film passed the $22 million mark at the end of March, according to Box Office Mojo, and that without any screenings yet in South America, North America or most of Europe.
The reviews by non-believers have also been more kind; Variety’s Russell Edwards wrote of the film: A popular Japanese manga series gets a pleasing if paint-by-numbers live-action makeover in “Dragonball Evolution,” which half-heartedly tries to keep the faith for its pubescent male fan base.”
Chung said “Dragonball” is just beginning its fight to win over fans.
“No one wants to make a movie that people will hate,” Chung said. “We really want people to enjoy the movie for what it really is and to come in with an open mind and to understand where James Wong was trying to come from. Regardless of whether or not the fans will agree with it, they will be entertained. It has so many great elements like a story of love and friendship, and it’s an adventure with loss and sacrifice and finding your inner strength and destiny. I don’t feel like there is a dull moment in this film.”
— Michelle Castillo
“Dragonball Evolution” images courtesy of 20th Century Fox.