I’m not a big fan of comic book movies, or animation, but with a plot that sounded like Bruce Wayne meets Bruce Lee I had to check out Batman: Soul of the Dragon. It didn’t hurt that director Sam Liu was the man behind two animated Batman films I did like, Killing Joke and Gotham by Gaslight. Writer Jeremy Adams had contributed scripts to everything from Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge to Supernatural. I decided not to hold that last one against him though.
Set in the 1970s, Batman: Soul of the Dragon opens like a James Bond film as Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos, Brotherhood of the Wolf, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) infiltrates a facility belonging to Jeffrey Burr’s (Josh Keaton, Voltron: Legendary Defender), leader of the terrorist cult Kobra, with explosive results.
Back in the US he looks up Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli, Grimm), who was one of his fellow students, learning martial arts under O-Sensei (James Hong, Blade Runner, Beast Mode). Joined by Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan,The Scorpion King) and Ben Turner (Michael Jai White, Triple Threat, Spawn) they take on Kobra as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
I have a feeling that Batman: Soul of the Dragon was at least partly inspired by the fact that Marvel is making a film based on Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu which was scheduled for a February release before the COVID pandemic interfered. As a result it’s as much the story of Richard Dragon, a 70s era DC Comics character, as it is a look at the early life of Bruce Wayne. But since that probably wouldn’t have drawn the same kind of attention, it got dubbed as a Batman film, even though he’s really just a supporting character.
The film ends almost mid-story which annoyed me. It also means that Batman will also be in the sequel if there is one. Hopefully it will sideline him as quickly as possible to concentrate on Dragon, Shiva and Turner. They will be the team that any films beyond that will focus on and they need to show they can stand on their own without the help of Batman.
As a martial arts film, Batman: Soul of the Dragon is a nice mix of elements that made 70s kung fu films so much fun. Richard Dragon is obviously inspired by Bruce Lee’s character Lee from Enter the Dragon with his James Bond style antics and uber rich opponent bent on world domination.
There’s even a scene involving a broken bottle that harks back to Bolo Yeung’s villainous turn in that film. This time though, it’s Shiva, the lethal lady who would have been played perfectly by Angela Mao, who gets to deal with it. Ben Turner has the part Jim Kelly would have played, he’s even referred to as Black Samurai at one point. He’s nicely voiced by Michael Jai White who also played a live action version of the character on the show Arrow.
Add in a few more recent martial art film trends such as Soulbreaker, a sword with a link to a snake demon, O-Sensei’s part mystic, part wiseass personality, and, of course, ninjas, which really didn’t become a popular feature of films outside of Japan until the 1980s. There’s even a sword fight on motorcycles lifted from the breathtaking Korean film, The Villainess.
Top it all off with a funky soundtrack and a surprising amount of violence that includes decapitation, fatal throat strikes, and a hanging that earn it it’s R rating and there you have it. Long on action and entertainment, short on plot and characterization, just like the films that inspired it, Batman: Soul of the Dragon honorably follows in the path of its cinematic forefathers. It’s available on DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.