Director: Shaun Su
Cast: Jeannie Hsieh, Clover Kao, Eugenie Liu, Kent Tsai, Chloe Xiang, Zhang Yao, Moxi Zhang
RunTime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Sexual References)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 22 November 2018
Synopsis: Dragon Lee struggles with living with his five beautiful, talented, and incredibly strict older sisters. With the transfer of a new girl, Meng, to his class, Dragon decides to trick Meng into becoming his girlfriend so he can escape the control of his sisters. With this new ‘threat’, his sisters set up traps and challenges to try and break up the young couple, but Meng and Dragon grow closer as they head face-on and overcome each challenge together.
‘How to Train Our Dragon’ may sound oddly similar to the Dreamworks Animation, but the resemblance begins and ends with its title; instead, its name is really intended to convey the sentiments of the five sisters at the heart of this wacky, but often over-the-top, comedy romance, who have been protective of their one and only brother named Dragon (Kent Tsai) since he had his heart broken by a girl he had a crush on as a kid. It will be two-thirds of the movie in before we are finally enlightened how Dragon would end up being raised by five older sisters – ever since their parents’ divorce, their father has decided to go on tour after tour around the world; meanwhile, their mother has embraced her newfound freedom and hooked up with boyfriend after boyfriend, and is currently dating an African-American.
The premise is interesting – i.e. a boy who’s pretty much been raised his entire life by five (over)protective older sisters, and now seeks to break free from their supervision/ scrutiny and live his life on his own terms – and at least at the start, it seems like the movie would be as much about him as his five sisters, each of whom are given an animated title-card introduction. The oldest is Kourtney (Jeannie Hsieh), a no-nonsense matriarch who is the primary caregiver of the bunch; Kim (Eugenie Liu) is the second-oldest, a strict but slightly offbeat educator at the school Dragon studies in; Khloe (Zhang Mo Xi) is right smack in the middle, a bookish type great with computers; the second-youngest is Kendall (Clover Kao), a tough-as-nails cookie who is great with a bow and arrow; and last but not least is Kylie (Zhang Yao), sweet and demure as the youngest usually comes.
But it isn’t long before you realise that director Shaun Su, who co-wrote the movie with Chien I-Chueh, actually intends for the focus to be on Dragon and his budding romance with the newest girl in the school named Meng (Hsiang Jie-Ru). Seizing on Meng’s compulsion to be helpful to anyone and everyone around her, Dragon spins a sob story about how his sisters really intend to harvest his organs to cure their respective impediments, and together with his buddy Yun-yee (Berant Zhu), manage to convince Meng to help him break free from his sisters. Oh yes, it really is as silly and absurd as it sounds, but if you’re going to enjoy the similarly preposterous gags that follow, you’d better be prepared to accept this overblown movie on its own bizarre terms of how the world works.
Don’t go questioning therefore why Kendall would be allowed to shoot arrows freely in school without say any of the teachers or principal stopping her. Don’t go questioning too why not the students or the teachers seem to be worried when someone starts throwing bombs around in school, notwithstanding that they explode in colour. And for that matter, don’t even bother asking why it seems like the staff seem practically non-existent, pretty much leaving the students to their own devices and to do whatever they wish to within the school compound whenever they want to. It’s as illogical, ridiculous and farcical as it gets, so if you’re the type that needs to ask and/or understand why things happen the way they do, well you’d be advised to stay far away from this movie.
As is typical of its genre, the third act is soaked in saccharine as Dragon and Meng end up falling in love with each other but are forced to confront the lies between them that brought them closer in the first place. Predictable as it may be, there are some tender moments between the lead couple that are well played by Tsai and Hsiang, who do share some genuine chemistry with each other. Still, however grounded their romance is, the OTT climax literally and figuratively blows it away. Without spoiling it for anyone, let’s just say it involves an intensely jealous lover, a makeshift rocket that can really achieve lift-off, and many declarations of who loves who just before it ends. Again, it requires a huge, even monumental, suspension of disbelief for one to buy into it, let alone be swept away with its mix of comedy, drama and action.
Frankly, we tried very hard to like ‘How to Train Our Dragon’, but it just simply got too ridiculous for its own sake. Sure, we can accept certain distortions or even exaggerations to reality; yet what So seems to be asking of his audience is to completely disregard the bounds of reality. He also does his own movie no favours by not developing the relationship between Dragon and his sisters more deeply, focusing too much on how they make life difficult for him and not enough on how they must love him as much to be this overprotective of him. Only if you don’t mind your teenage comedy utterly specious should you think you would enjoy this movie, which needs a far stronger script and a far better grasp of reality. Heck, its name may be a deliberate pun of the Dreamworks animation, but it shouldn’t play like it was some cartoon should it?
(A lively pace and energetic performances cannot quite save a movie that is too absurd and farcical for its own good)
Review by Gabriel Chong