I'm very much in two minds about the new live-action adaptation of manga/anime series Dragon Ball, just recently announced. First off, it's always worrying when Hollywood decides to take on a much beloved franchise, more so an Asian one. For one, its various remakes of Asian movies haven't exactly been shining examples of movie genius.
Dragon Ball's always been a love-it-or-hate-it kind of series. Personally, I find it extremely entertaining, very imaginative and totally wacky. Wacky is always good when it comes to anime (Crayon Shinchan, anyone? Ranma?). And that's why it's impressed most people when Twentieth Century Fox also announced that Stephen Chow Sing-chi will be producing the movie. Wacky + wacky = LOL crazy comedy?
Well, hit the pause button on that enthusiasm, please. The casting is a bit weird to me. I'm willing to give Final Destination director James Wong the benefit of the doubt, but Justin Chatwin as Goku? James Marsters as villain Piccolo?
You see, Dragon Ball was inspired by both Drunken Master and the Chinese classic Journey To The West. Like it or not, the settings have an inevitably Eastern feel to them, although series creator Toriyama Akira says:
"The setting of Dragon Ball has a sort of Chinese feel to it, but it's not necessarily China. Exactly where it takes place is uncertain."
Having an all-western cast would feel, well, unusual. Certainly the dialogue is going to be weird. "Hey, Piccolo, I'm gonna kick your ass!"
My friend calls it the westernisation of Asian ideas, or "angmoh-nisation." Take for example also, the upcoming Wachowskis adaptation of Speed Racer. But then again, a lot of anime and manga series are set in "neutral" locations, and there's no shortage of characters with western names. Remember Rick Hunter of the Robotech series? Or just watch the series The Vision Of Escaflowne and see the various blond characters with English names. So it's all pretty fair game for anyone.
But for Dragon Ball, Chatwin as a character named Goku is a bit hard to swallow. Could there be a possibility that they might change some of the character names? Perhaps Goku might become Gary or something? Shudder.
And the difference in expectation between Dragon Ball and Speed Racer? Think about it, the Wachowskis made The Matrix, and James Wong made ... er, The One.