Dir: James Wong. US. 2009. 85 mins.

A Hollywood film version of the Japanese manga phenomenon, Dragonball Evolution is puerile childrens’ sci-fi of a strictly B-movie standard.

Produced by Hong Kong film-maker Stephen Chow Sing-chi but entirely missing his inventive stamp, the film is essentially a bland Hollywood dumbing-down of the books and animated TV series beloved by Japanese and Asian consumers for the last 20 years. Although it opened well across Asia a fortnight ago, Dragonball Evolution plummeted in its second weekend of release as disappointed word of mouth spread. Its life in North America and non-Asian markets will be limited to an undiscerning kids’ matinee crowd before it heads swiftly to the small screen.

Running to only 85 minutes, Dragonball Evolution is set in a futuristic world somewhat resembling Japan (but shot in Mexico). The film keeps the Japanese names of the original characters - Goku, Bulma, Grandpa Gohan etc - but the setting is clearly a US teen one, with fresh-faced young Canadian Justin Chatwin (War Of The Worlds) in the lead role of Goku. Asian elements - Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-fat, Asian-American actors including Joon Park and Jamie Chung - are thrown in to the mix, but the story’s spiritual elements are underdeveloped to say the least and the Dragonball mythology is presented as summarily as in a children’s cartoon.

A speedy prologue explains that 2,000 years ago, the evil Lord Piccolo had ravaged the world with the aid of a monstrous demon and was only vanquished by a brotherhood of men who imprisoned him. The film then skips to present day, as young Goku spars with his grandfather (Duk Kim). As a gift for his 18th birthday, Grandpa Gohan gives Goku a mysterious dragonball, explaining that only seven of the balls exist and when they are united a dragon is summoned which can grant any wish to the one who possesses them.

That same day, the green-faced Lord Piccolo (Marsters) appears, somehow freed from his shackles, and in pursuit of the dragonballs. While Goku is off at a party trying to woo his schoolboy crush Chi Chi (Chung), Piccolo descends on Grandpa and kills him but cannot find the dragonball which is in Goku’s pocket. In his dying breath, Grandpa tells Goku to seek out one Master Roshi.

Teaming up with the feisty Bulma (Rossum), who has developed a dragonball energy detector, Goku finds Roshi (Chow) and the three head off in pursuit of the remaining dragonballs before Piccolo gets his hand on them and brings the world to its knees.

Joon Park plays a thief who joins the group in their quest, while Eriko Tamura plays Piccolo’s high-kicking accomplice.

Chatwin has a certain peppy energy, Rossum is cool playing against goody-two-shoes type as Bulma and Chow brings his natural easygoing charisma to the part of Roshi, but they all struggle to transcend the pedestrian material.

A coda midway through the end credits opens the door to a sequel but chances are the only sequels to this Evolution will be made for DVD or TV.

Production companies

Star Overseas

20th Century Fox

Worldwide distribution

20th Century Fox


Stephen Chow


Ben Ramsey

Based on the novel series by Akira Toriyama


Robert McLachlan

Production designer

Bruton Jones


Matt Friedman

Chris G Willingham


Brian Tyler

Main cast

Justin Chatwin

Chow Yun-fat

Emmy Rossum

Jamie Chung

James Marsters

Joon Park

Eriko Tamura

Randall Duk Kim