Any movie with Sam Neill in it has me at hello. I love his cool and quirky acting style, laced with a gentlemanly charm rarely seen these days, even if he is playing the Devil himself.
In The Dragon Pearl, he plays Dr Chris Chase, an archeologist and a divorced father to one of the main characters, young Josh (Lewis Corbett). On his way to stay with Dad at an archeological dig in China, Josh meets the daughter of his Dad’s working partner Dr Li. Her name is Ling, and she seems to be able to hear flute music that no one else can.
This is clearly a kid’s adventure film, but it is ably supported by its adult cast, including Sam Neill and Wang Ji as Dr Li, as well as much loved Hong Kong actor Jordan Chan as the flute player and monk Wu Dong. Chan is great fun, providing some nice comedy moments as well as some nifty Kung Fu moves.
The two kids are utterly charming. Lewis Corbett as Josh is a well seasoned young Australian actor, while Li Lin Jin as Ling is making her debut in film. The two blend very well, creating a believable friendship that starts off on the wrong foot but blossoms as the two get deeper into their shared adventure.
The adventure starts when Ling and Josh follow the flute player and discover a temple that the monk’s family have been guarding for hundreds of years. Ling is the ‘chosen one’ who can open the trapdoor to the caves below the temple. When the kids get down there, they make an exciting discovery – hiding in the caves is a Celestial Dragon, who has lost her pearl.
Chinese dragons are very different from dragons in western mythology – they don’t breathe fire or hoard treasure, they are benevolent and helpful, and their magic is contained in the pearls they carry in their mouths. This dragon assisted an emperor to defeat an invading army by giving him the magic pearl to use, but the pearl was lost, and the dragon trapped in the human plane until it could be found again.
The dragon is a sumptuous, sinuous piece of CGI in glorious colors that fills the screen – it is very satisfying to see a Chinese dragon so beautifully portrayed. It crackles and sparks as it moves, and is absolutely the best thing in the movie.
Good as the rest is, The Dragon Pearl has some clumsy moments, when things are not fully explained, such as when the kids are reunited with their parents after the first meeting with the dragon. But if you can overlook this, it is an entertaining and enjoyable family movie, with more than a little nod to Sam Neill’s last outing with ancient reptiles in JurassicPark. Let’s face it, he does look at home with these big beasts, mythical or not.