Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva and Bronze Tiger don’t get near the exposure they deserve, but Batman: Soul of the Dragon changes that.
With Batman appearing in over half of all DC Animated Original Movies (the majority of which feature his name in the title), fans could safely expect that Batman: Soul of the Dragon would prominently feature its hero in order to cash in on his enduring popularity. However, they may be surprised to find out that Soul of the Dragon pulls the spotlight from Batman and sheds it on the film’s co-stars. What’s more, the film is all the better because of it.
At first, it almost seems as if Soul of the Dragon might not be a Batman film at all. The movie opens with master martial artist Richard Dragon carrying out a clandestine mission that ends with an exciting action sequence. It’s only following this scene that Bruce Wayne appears, and even once his alter-ego debuts, his scenes in costume are brief. The narrative is far more concerned with introducing and fleshing out his other allies — Lady Shiva and Bronze Tiger — than it is with detailing a Batman origin story told and retold countless times in comics, movies and TV over the years. This is part of what proves so refreshing about the film.
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Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva and Bronze Tiger are far from A-list characters in the comics in which they appear, let alone a feature-length production. They tend to show up occasionally as villains of the comics, their names more present on rankings of DC’s greatest martial artists than in the actual mythos itself. Soul of the Dragon, however, proves just how enjoyable they can be with enough time to shine.
The film puts its own unique spin on each character, the group standing out as an assembly of capable, interesting and diverse individuals with their own contributions. In fact, throughout the film, it becomes increasingly clear that Batman was the underdog of the martial arts school where all four trained, and his gadgets and theatrics are actually a crutch to make up for his lack of fighting ability.
Curiously, the result of downplaying Batman’s ability is that his character also becomes more interesting. He loses the quality of being the infallible master of every skill — a trope that can drain a story of dramatic tension. It gives him a proper place in the story balanced with the rest of the cast, and without Batman elbowing into center stage to take the cleverest lines and flashiest moments, the movie benefits as a whole. Batman’s greatest contribution may be lending his name to the title, hooking in a wider audience who will no doubt still enjoy the film as it is.
Soul of the Dragon proves that stories starring Lady Shiva and her deadly finger can be just as intriguing as any Batman tale. The same goes for stories where Richard Dragon delivers James Bond-ish lines with a wry smile, or where Bronze Tiger consoles a down-on-his-luck kid. They’re far rarer tales, and if Soul of the Dragon gives these characters enough exposure that such stories become more common, then it could well be considered the film’s greatest success.
Directed by Sam Liu and executive produced by Bruce Timm, Batman: Soul of the Dragon stars David Giuntoli as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Mark Dacascos as Richard Dragon, Kelly Hu as Lady Shiva, Michael Jai White as Ben Turner/Bronze Tiger, James Hong as O-Sensei and Josh Keaton as Jeffrey Burr. The film is available now on digital HD and arrives on Blu-ray and 4K UHD on Jan. 26.
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