The Dragon Painter (1919)

dragon-painterDVDWhile I would have loved to adore “The Dragon Painter” and the story that unfolds, I can’t say that I did. For a movie made in 1919, Sessue Hayakawa’s film is a wonderful epic with some rather incredible splashes of stark color and sweeping landscapes. Even for a print that’s aged and was nearly lost the picture transfer for “The Dragon Painter” is awfully fantastic with crystal clarity, and an incredible score. Even those who dislike the movie will find some value in the backdrops and set pieces, including Hayakawa’s eagerness to break all stereotypes of the Asian culture.

While it is a very important piece of filmmaking with an incredible statement to make defying all anti-Asian sentiment among the masses that were generally accepted, “The Dragon Painter” isn’t too good. The primary problem, among many, is that Sessue Hayakawa just didn’t convince me that he was this incredibly passionate painter and artist destined to be re-united with his long lost love stolen by a dragon a long time ago. He looks far too spaced and wide eyed to be convinced as passionate, and just resembles a mentally defective man rambling on about nothing at times. As for the story, there are just too much happy coincidences and convenient twists to take it seriously.

Even for a movie made in 1919, I just didn’t buy that this painter would happen on a woman he believed was his lost wife, whose father happened to be an admirer of his work. On the same level, the dialogue suffers greatly, even if it is a translation, with exchanges that are trite and often clunky, with very little emphasis on character and chemistry. Even the greatest of silent film enthusiasts will be hard pressed to recommend it, and this raging movie buff knows how they feel. Hey, no one ever said all legendary films had to be good ones, and “The Dragon Painter” is proof. While I adore its contribution to Asian cinema, it’s just not a good enough film to put it in the gamut of classic silent cinema.