Jackie Chan is imprisoned in the Tower of London in The Mystery of the Dragon Seal

The Mystery of the Dragon Seal

Dept. of Flaming Hot Garbage


There is an inexplicable draw to movies like this one. As humans, we somehow seem unable to stop from subjecting ourselves to such self-harm. It’s why we willingly lick nine-volt batteries. It’s why we bind our ankles with bungee cords and jump off bridges. Curiosity. Adrenaline. Stupidity. 


There was no way this was going to be any good. You knew it when you watched the trailer. I knew it walking into the theatre. And yet, I still did. There I was, bracing myself for the endless torrent of flaming hot garbage that was about to come my way, when my life suddenly flashed before my eyes.

I am seven and watching Jackie Chan in Police Story. I am nine and jumping off a moving bicycle; finger guns at the ready. I am 10 and in the hospital after almost severing my thumb from a “sword fight”. I am 11 and trying to set up traps around my house à la Home Alone and The A-Team. I am 12 and watching Arnie in Last Action Hero. I am 13 and having an argument with friends at school over who would win in a fight. Superman or Batman? Arnie or Jackie? Sly or Chow Yun Fat?


Don’t let the marketing for this movie fool you. This isn’t the long-awaited showdown that will finally put to rest that eternal debate between every schoolchild born in the 1980s. This is not that movie. Even The Expendables wasn’t that movie. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never get that movie.

Anna Churina in The Mystery of the Dragon Seal.

As for this movie, I don’t know what this movie is. Hell, I don’t even know what this movie is called. Depending on where you are it could either be The Mystery of the Dragon Seal, or Viy 2: Journey to China, or Journey to China: The Mystery of Iron Mask. (Not “the” Iron Mask. Just “Iron Mask”. Which, mind you, isn’t a reference to some cool Iron Man adjacent character, but literally about a man in an iron mask. There’s absolutely no “mystery” here though. We find out exactly who he is about 15 minutes into the movie.)

Having three distinct titles for a movie is quite telling. And it’s never a good thing when each of them, in their own way, describe what the movie is about. It displays a complete lack of storytelling vision or direction. In fact, this is a movie in which absolutely no decisions were made. You could call this movie anything you wanted and it would probably still apply.

Rejected bad guys from Big Trouble in Little China in The Mystery of the Dragon Seal.

Here’s what probably happened. By some fluke, the first movie in this “franchise” (which also had three titles: ViyForbidden Empire, and Forbidden Kingdom) happened to make a lot of money. And so, a committee got together and began plotting out a sequel. Answerable to at least seven different production companies (that’s how many logos I counted in the opening credits), the filmmakers seem like they took everyone’s story suggestions on board and then just went with all of them.

The consequence of which is a movie that tries to cram every element from every major blockbuster to come out of Hollywood. Ever.

And this is what we ended up with.


The Mystery of the Dragon Seal is a sequel. But don’t worry if you haven’t seen the first movie, there is an extended voiceover at the beginning that explains everything that happened in the last one. Not that any of it matters.

All of the characters are heading to China because that’s where all the people who watch movies are. There’s a man in an iron mask. There are some left over visual effects from the previous movie. And there is a dragon.

But wait, there’s more.

There’s an extended sequence at sea that’s supposed to remind you of Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s an exiled princess who is “the Mother of Dragons”. Jackie Chan is a prisoner in the Tower of London which is overseen by a prison warden, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who just happens to be called James Hook (Captain?). Jason Flemyng, the sole carryover from the last movie, is unsure of just how much screen time he’s supposed to have. And there are a bunch of bad guys who look like rejects from Big Trouble in Little China.

Rutger Hauer is in this for all of a minute, and he actually died after making this movie. Like in real life.

And I haven’t even gotten to the moments in which English speaking characters seem to have been dubbed into Russian and then back again into English. Or the moments in which characters speak with one dubbed voice in one scene and with a completely different voice in another.

The Mystery of the Dragon Seal is at least eight different movies strung together by about 17 different people. It attempts swashbuckling but comes across as tired. It tries to cater to younger audiences but comes across as pandering. It is an unmitigated mess.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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